This past Saturday, I was invited to sit in at Teen Vogue Fashion University, a program that lets high school and college students attend a weekend full of seminars featuring some of the top names in fashion giving out tips, tricks, and advice on how to make it in the industry.
Teen VOGUE Editor-in-chief Amy Astley moderated the seminars
The morning began with a keynote address from Michael Kors.
Even the non-fashion world is familiar with Michael after his years as a judge on Project Runway, but it’s his 30 year career as a fashion designer that earned him the honor of dishing out advice to an auditorium packed full of teenagers
Michael’s talk was one of the most inspiring I’ve ever heard from anyone in fashion. He talked about how much he loved fashion, from as far back as age 5. And gave excellent advice on how young people could turn their own love of the field into a career.
Michael and Amy during the Q&A
One of the points I really agreed with, was Michael’s opinion that in the internet age, everyone expects young up and coming designers in particular to be “seasoned pro’s” by age 21. He encouraged teens to make mistakes, ignore the rules, and do whatever it takes to achieve their dreams.
Pointing out that as a designer, “you’re only as good as your last collection,” Michael stressed the importance of never ceasing to learn new things, and experiment with new ideas. “If you think you’ve arrived, you’re over”.
The best advice, which he repeated again and again, and credits with his success: His attachment to his customers, and never being afraid to get feedback from real women.
And for those just beginning their careers, a strong cover letter, but also a very keen sense of style, that shows you yourself can “look fabulous” on the job (regardless of whether or not your clothing is designer) will in Michael’s eyes, make you stand out the most as a potential intern.
A stylish attendee, between seminars
Teen Vogue Publisher Sabine Feldmann, Alexander Wang, and Amy Astley.
The second seminar I attended featured Alexander Wang. The 27 year old designer of the moment also placed emphasis on the importance of internships, crediting his own experiences with helping direct his career. His ideal intern is someone who is “eager to learn,” won’t complain about doing everything, and has their own point of view.
His best advice for aspiring designers—-being flexible and adaptable. Citing the 6month fashion cycle– which he finds to be a long time to be stuck on one idea, Alex told the audience that ideas and inspiration need to be an enduring process. “You’re learning until the day you die”.
Mentioning his own decision to drop out of college as a defining point where he knew what was best for the direction he wanted to take his career, Alex said that to really succeed, “you must believe in you first”. “Don’t let anyone say you can’t do it, or you aren’t ready.”
As for what’s in the future for Alex, he says a store in Beijing, and then Europe are next. But designer collaborations, which are in his opinion “so common,” probably won’t happen anytime soon unless it’s something very very different.
Lazaro Hernandez, Amy Astley, and Jack McCullough
Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez, The design duo behind Proenza Schouler spoke extensively about how their education impacted their careers during my third seminar of the day. While attending Parson’s (where Tim Gunn was one of their instructors!), Jack and Lazaro sold their entire joint thesis collection to Barneys.
The fact that Barney’s fashion director was in the audience to see their first collection changed the entire course of their lives. Their best advice for young people who want to pursue fashion is to go to school in New York City. No matter where you are from, attending school in NYC puts you in the center of the world “where the industry happens,” and gives you access to many of the top names and resources in the fashion world.
Along with school, internships with fashion designers played a huge part in shaping the duo’s careers. Both said that an internship is the most important thing you can do “pre-job,” since school itself “can’t teach you everything”. Lazaro expanded on the topic, saying that having your own sense of style, and doing good work are important, along with people who “don’t bitch about menial things” and put in that extra effort.
Like Alex Wang, the Proenza boys stressed the importance of believing in yourself and being “the best you that you can be”. Mentioning that yes, sometimes the “business” side of fashion can be difficult and confusing, Lazaro said that while the business knowledge can come later you must start with an idea and “be different than what others are saying”. The most important thing is to have your own point of view.
But if your desire to work in fashion stems from just wanting to make money? Lazaro says “don’t do it”.
Like many creatives, Jack and Lazaro said there is a fine line between working and not working. Inspiration can strike anywhere, even on your day off. So to recharge, and find inspiration which they find is sometimes lacking in NYC, they travel 2-3 weeks after every season.
At the very end of their panel, I got to ask Jack and Lazaro if they felt that the internet had changed things greatly for young and aspiring designers. Both said yes, definitely, that it’s “changed everything”! And that they personally of course find that critics matter, but they keep tabs on what consumers think, and “like to know what the kids are saying” after the show on things like blogs and twitter.
Sabine Feldmann and Betsey Johnson
After lunch, I was able to make a brief stop at the Betsey Johnson and Whitney Port panels in the Conde Nast building before heading home. Betsey (who is always in such a happy, jovial mood!) entertained an over-capacity audience with stories from the early days of her career, and her stint at Mademoiselle Magazine.
Whitney Port spoke extensively about starting her own line after gaining fame as a reality TV star, and gave advice on how aspiring designers can best deal with naysayers and criticism.
Whitney Port and Mary-Kate Steinmiller
Overall, I had an amazing time at Teen VOGUE Fashion University, and ended up wishing it had existed back when I was in school. If you want to work in fashion, and have the opportunity, I’d strongly encourage you to apply in 2012. You really can’t beat getting firsthand advice from some the biggest and best designers, and editors in the industry.
Even I learned some new things, and went home feeling truly inspired by the day’s seminars. It was definitely affirming to hear so many people agree with what I always say here, and say when I’m asked by young people for career advice: DO AN INTERNSHIP. And do as many as you can.
My university required an internship for graduation, and looking back, I can say doing one (eventually a second, post-grad) put me ahead of the game. And my internship experience was singlehandedly responsible for getting me my first freelance job, and subsequent three year stint as a magazine photo editor.
As many of the designers and editors at Fashion University said, you should never stop learning.
Check back soon for a fresh batch of Spring Fashion internships (always one of the blog’s most popular posts).
You can learn more about Teen VOGUE Fashion University here.
See the full photo set here.
All Photos ®2011 Rachel Scroggins/The Greyest Ghost