This month’s interview column consists of a series of throwback articles, featuring three heads of London Fashion Schools. The third and final interview of the three part series features London College of Fashion’s Frances Corner.
How is a fashion college that recently celebrated it’s 100th anniversary adopting to the rapidly changing fashion industry of today? Is it possible to ‘educate’ and prepare the students into the real tough world of fashion industry world wide? We spoke to Frances Corner, Head of Fashion at London College of Fashion to hear her thoughts on fashion education various issues on ‘Sustainability’, the subject she is actively involved in raising awareness.
Q: What would you say makes LCF special?
A: We offer courses for everything in the field of fashion, so there are courses for every aspect from undergraduate to PhD. For instance, a degree in footwear, accessory, pattern cutting, visual merchandising, eMBA, illustration, styling and even photography, and I think this variety is what makes us unique. Also, when I was appointed as the head of LCF the school was celebrating its 100th year anniversary. The long history of education is another factor that makes us special.
Q: How was the fashion education like a hundred years ago in LCF?
A: The school was set up originally with the aim to help educate women to work at couture houses. So we’ve always had one foot in industry and the other in education, and thanks to that, we have extensive network of relationships with industry partners, so our students are able to experience working in the industry.
Q: That’s very fascinating. The fact that colleges in London are very open and encourage individuality is shown in the vast programmes LCF offers, but it might be difficult for the students to make the right choice because it could be overwhelming if they weren’t exposed to so many aspects in fashion. They might only be interested in fashion design as a concept without realising there are so much more to that, so how should they choose a course that suits them?
A: Absolutely, it can be tough particularly the case now. Because the students are likely to have the traditional idea of what fashion is – they would say they want to be a designer or a fashion journalist but they don’t understand the vast range of jobs that are available in the industry now. So in the programmes we offer, the students are given the opportunity to work collaboratively with students from other courses, for instance a textile student could work with a menswear student whereas a student in accessory course could work with a photography student. Because after all, fashion is a team sport.
Q: Through collaborating with others, is it possible for the students to develop new skills?
A: Yes, certainly. It is because as part of the module, for example they would do some writing on one hand and instagramming on the other. So they are aware that the industry is constantly inventing new ways of distributing, creating and communicating fashion.
Q: Because of how fast fashion is changing, some might think of it too easily and opt out in continuing with their education and do the hard work. Would you say that it’s dangerous for them to think in that way?
A: I think it happens inevitably in any education, whatever discipline you are studying. Some people come solely for the university experience and in my opinion, that’s fine because it’s a process of them growing up as an individual and being exposed to new ideas. We make it clear to them that there’s a range of skills that they can develop whether within the fashion industry or not. In fact, we have some fashion management students who aspire to work for KPMG, which is because they can develop so many different skills here around the fashion industry that other companies are now interested in.
Q: We know that you are very active in promoting ‘sustainable clothing’ and it is a key concept that is brought into courses in LCF too, why is that?
A: It is important for our students to know about these ethical issues around fashion and production of clothing, whether it is the female workers that are underpaid or the environmental factors like usage of water, being able to challenge and understand these issues is key in our education. The students would learn about these ethical implications and reflect on how they can be changed or improved in the industry.
Q: LCF is quite an international college, with students coming from different backgrounds and the goal to change the industry not only in London but perhaps in other countries like India. How would LCF support them after they graduate if they do decide to work somewhere else?
A: We do have projects overseas, for instance we worked with various community groups in India and discuss about the issues in the industry. Also, we have lots of connections with other institutions globally, which allows our students to get first-hand experience in working overseas and in different areas of fashion. The most fundamental factor is that the students need to have the mindset to bring positive changes to the industry.
Q: Although ‘sustainable fashion’ is still very difficult to incorporate in a lot of countries, we can all agree that the retailing of fashion is changing rapidly at the moment. As a fashion college, do you think it’s necessary to change the curriculum accordingly?
A: When talking about the issue of change and what the right tools are, it can be different for every student, whether it is a pencil, a paintbrush or a notebook. It depends on how you think and create your own USP. So fundamentally, as a college, we have both the analog and digital. I would argue that the more immersed we are in the internet, the more we want to connect. I think that people want to see how things are made but are divorced from the manufacturing of clothes. So we make sure our students have the opportunity to develop their analogical and textile skills in our curriculum, for example all of our first year students in the design courses have to make a shirt. Ultimately, we want to emphasize that we value the analog thinking, tangible and textile skills.
Q: Do you think ready-to-wear will disappear one day?
A: I think perhaps there will be a bigger opening between the niche artisan clothing and the mass-produced manufactures in the industry. Nowadays we have debates about the numbers of designers who sell clothings through Instagram. They do not have a flagship store or website. Everything is done on social media and for us, it is about introducing new ideas. But we are most interested about encouraging students to think creatively.
Q: Tell us more about those graduates who are working behind-the-scenes and might not have a big name in the industry.
A: Recently we published a book called ‘Fashion Means Business’ and many of our alumni are featured, for instance British Fashion Council’s NewGen womenswear designer Ryan LO, footwear designer Nicholas Kirkwood, Jennie McGinn, who’s the co-founder of an online shopping platform, as well as Una Burke, who designs the interior of Lexus cars and Florence Adepoju, who set up her own cosmetic brand with lipsticks that are formulated specifically for Caribbean women, which match their skin tones.
Q: What about the Korean graduates? Who should we keep our eyes on?
A: Our Korean students are outstanding. They are well-educated, have fantastic aesthetic and great understanding of technology especially. I think they all come with a good balance of skills and interests. There are a couple of students with excellent tailoring skills as well. We could give you the list and images of their collection to look at!
Q: That’d be great! So how should the students prepare themselves for the course?
A: It depends on where you’re coming from, so if you’re an overseas student, language is the most important, especially in the field of fashion. Because it can be different whether you are talking about clothes or its aesthetics. There’s also a cultural factor to consider, let’s say you’re asked to compare Prada fashion and Tesco fashion. Overseas students might not be familiar with Tesco as much as Prada since they have a different cultural upbringing with UK students. There might also be issues about identity, which has another set of language in its own discussion. So it is highly encouraged to read more contemporary magazines and other fashion texts to broaden their knowledge, even though they might not understand all of it
Q: Lastly, what is your advice for the graduates?
A: Having an open mind is crucial no matter what courses you study. It is important to know that your inspiration shouldn’t necessarily come from another designer in the industry, but rather believing in your own potential and creativity. It is a journey of discovering what your interests and motivations are, as well as how to collaborate with others. Also, it’d be beneficial to do research on the role you would like to take in the future and keep asking questions – whether it is to people in the industry or to us, and tutors in LCF. We always encourage graduates to keep in touch with us and give us updates on what they’re working on, it’s great to talk to them!
Text/ Inhae Yeo
Images/ Courtesy of London College of Fashion
This interview was conducted by Inhae Yeo for Dazed Korea. The article was first published in DAZED KOREA JULY 2016 ISSUE. The published Korean article is also available on OiKONOMOS.CLUB