Struggling Designers Need Moxie and Marketing Sense To Make It With AM-Fashion Preview Bjt
NEW YORK (AP) _ Overnight success is virtually unheard of in the fast-track world of fashion. To succeed, top design instructors say, newcomers need two things: plenty of moxie and marketing sense.
″Good designers can be very talented, but if they don’t push to succeed, they’re not going to make it,″ said Mary Barnard, director of fashion at the Ray College of Design in Chicago.
No amount of exposure is too much for a fledgling designer, the instructors say, and the best vehicle for it is awards and contests offered by industry and design schools.
Fashion awards ″help get corporations involved with the schools and get them to know about the talent in the school,″ said Rosemary Brantley, from Otis-Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles.
″Winning an award is very prestigious. It gives exposure. No matter how good you are, if nobody sees it it doesn’t account for much,″ echoed Selma Rosen, from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.
Although awards like the Cutty Sark, The Fashion Designers of America and the once coveted but now defunct Coty offer little or no cash reward, the prestige of winning them can be enough to launch a career.
Jhane Barnes, a 1975 FIT graduate, peddled her wares from store to store before winning a Coty at age 25. That same year, she also won a Cutty Sark award for her menswear designs, and suddenly the industry took notice.
A licensing company approached her offering a contract but she turned it down, opting to try to make it on her own.
But finding financial backing was difficult and a few years later, after winning a second Coty, the Holbrook Co. offered to license her designs. This time she did not refuse.
Financing is often the biggest stumbling block for newcomers.
″To get into the big time, you really need a million dollars,″ said Ms. Barnes, who at 31 may not yet be a household name but is fast winning the respect of the industry and recognition from the public.
Fans of television’s trendy cop drama ″Miami Vice″ know Ms. Barnes through her designs used in the show.
″No company is going to license a designer unless they have won a lot of awards. It’s almost like it’s a criteria,″ she said.
Ms. Barnes feels it is essential for design students to learn the business end of the industry by taking marketing courses, something she says most design schools underscore.
For Ms. Barnes, hard work paid off, but luck - or being in the right place at the right time - also had something to do with it.
After her final fashion show at FIT, Ms. Barnes gave the clothes to a male friend who modeled for her. Not long afterward, the friend was spotted by a fashion buyer in a Manhattan hair salon wearing one of her outfits. He instantly liked what he saw, ordered 1,000 pairs of Barnes pants and put them in several major department stores.
Like Ms. Barnes, students from Otis-Parsons, Ray and FIT agreed that their schools did much to prepare them for life after school.
Devin Burt of Otis-Parsons, who has been entered by his school in a new design awards contest for fashion newcomers, says that in addition to winning awards, students benefit by working with established designers willing to critique their work.
″The best thing school provides is the exposure with the (established designers) because we get first-hand experience with them,″ said Burt. In effect that lets students ″start our career now, not when we graduate,″ he added.
Graduates from the three top design schools are guaranteed some type of job in the industry through the schools’ placement programs, which continue to assist them years after they have left.
″The bulk of (graduating) students are placed in the assistant designer position,″ which could mean anything from sketching and draping to working with salesmen, Ms. Rosen says, and most will hold two or three jobs before winning some recognition.
How many students actually make it? That depends on your definition of success, the three school heads say.
FIT, whose most famous alumni is Calvin Klein, estimates about 50 percent of its graduates achieve success but never become household names.
″The number of people who work very successfully for big houses and are known in the industry is a fairly large percentage,″ Ms. Rosen says. ″If you make a six-figure salary that’s successful even if your name is not on a label.″
Ms. Brantley of Otis-Parsons, sister school of the Parsons School of Design in New York, says a third of their graduates ″will find work very easily, a third will have to look pretty hard and a third will find it difficult.″
At Ray College, Ms. Barnard says, 85 to 90 percent of their students achieve some type of success.
″There are many jobs in the industry where you don’t know the person’s name, but they are successful. Some become buyers, fashion coordinators, etc.″