Condé Nast College: Better than a C+

That the 2012 BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund award should be awarded to a graduate of the famous Central St Martin’s School of Art and Design should come as no surprise to those familiar with the institution’s inimitable record for producing incomparable fashion designers.  Aside from winner Jonathon Saunders, six of the eight finalists were CSM alumni, all of whom – particularly Mary Katrantzou and Roksanda Ilincic – are currently enjoying moments in the fashion sun.

Yet whilst CSM routinely produces the cream of designers, it is harder to stick a pin in precisely which factory the fashion journalist is created in.  Out of the current sample of head boys and girls, only one luminary, Katie Grand, editor of Love was a CSM attendee.  Of the others playing a similar game at home and abroad it would be tempting to write a few Cinderella stories, if it wasn’t for Carine Roitfeld – former editor of French Vogue – openly describing her upbringing as ‘very bourgeois…very, very comfortable.’

Nonetheless, Roitfeld, along with her successor Emmanuelle Alt; the needs-no-intro Anna Wintour and, in Britain, Lorraine Candy all share the honour of having never attended university.  Candy seems the most authentically fairy dusted, having begun her journalism career at The Cornish Times and ending up editor-in-chief of UK Elle.  If it wasn’t heartening enough to know the West Country is not an uncrushable barrier to working in fashion, take further delight from knowing that Jess Cartner-Morley, fashion editor for The Guardian possesses (of all unsexy items) a History degree and Alexandra Shulman, editor at UK Vogue studied at the University of Sussex.

However, perhaps in future years those working in the industry in roles other than designing, including as stylists and journalists, will also share an Alma Mater like those from CSM.  Condé Nast, owner of Vogue, Love, Homes and Gardens, Harper’s Bazaar ad infinitum are opening a college of fashion and design in London in January 2013.  Initially offering a one year Vogue Fashion Foundation Diploma and 10 week certificated courses, the college promises to ‘be recognised throughout the world as a centre of educational excellence – a place where the fashion industry’s best marketeers, PRs, stylists, editors, publishers, and journalists have started their careers.’

The only conceivable block to the masses pouring in is the fees.  The diploma costs £19, 560, four times the Russell Group cost of an MA in Cartner-Morley’s subject History – a qualification two levels higher.  Maybe the idea is that graduating from Condé Nast College, along with a book full of contacts and several completed internships at its publications is, simply, priceless.

Returning to CSM, it has been suggested that the university continues to produce top designers in part because it has done so before and thus its blessed reputation magnetises the interest and funding needed to succeed.  Perhaps Condé Nast intends using their platinum reputation to similar effect.

Without a designated route into this kind of career, there is currently a great importance placed on getting to know the right people and work experience.  Acting editor of Jennifer Dickinson (filling in whilst Candy is on maternity leave) says, ‘So much of it is about who you know and getting the right advice…getting an internship is also important.’

The problem, as Dickinson concedes, is that these internships – as with those undertaken by aspiring designers – are most commonly unpaid and the best ones are in London, where cost of living is high.  This proves prohibitive for those without the financial support or savings necessary.  In this light, a private college with high fees could be seen as perpetuating a practice which already favours the wealthy and well-connected, rather than establishing a more accessible road in.

Perhaps the West Country and the History degree really will prove insurmountable.