Design Schools Are in Fashion

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Design Schools Are in Fashion

This city, the fashion capital of the world, has also become a major training ground for beginning designers from far and wide.
Many foreign designers from Asia as well as from Europe have set up shop in Paris. And many of these new talents received their academic training here.
As a result, teaching fashion has also become a very profitable business.
Paris now has about 20 schools that offer a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses on fashion: from sketching to pattern making, along with the history of the costume or fashion marketing. Tuition varies from $7,000 to $17,000 a year for a two- to three-year course.
The influx of foreign fashion designers to Paris started in the 1970s and early '80s, when young Japanese stylists like Kenzo and Issey Miyake decided to try their luck here.
They succeeded so well that they eventually came to be regarded as French designers. They were followed by more Japanese, such as Rei Kawabuko and Yohji Yamamoto, whose offbeat talents have become very much part of the Paris fashion scene.
Then in the late '80s, designers like Helmut Lang of Austria and Ann Demeulemester of Belgium joined the crowd. Today, no fewer than 10 Japanese, along with Korean, Belgian, British and Turkish designers, are currently showing major spring-summer collections in Paris.
The influx has done wonders for the fashion schools. During the prosperous '80s, the number of such schools grew rapidly, turning out enough graduates to fill the many jobs that fashion companies had to offer.
But starting in 1990, the recession in Western Europe put the brakes on the growth of fashion and new hiring of fashion stylists. Today, the climate of economic uncertainty has damped the hopes of many aspiring young fashion fans, and the enrollment of French students is declining.
To compensate for the loss, many schools are turning to a new clientele, eager to consume and to study Parisian fashion: the developing countries of Asia, such as Korea, Taiwan and China.
L'Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne is one of oldest and most prestigious fashion schools. Founded in 1930, it has trained several generations of high fashion designers including Andre Courreges, Yves St. Laurent and Issey Miyake.
"This year among our 210 students, 60 percent are foreigners," says Olga Saurat, director of the school. Within the last five years, the number of Asian students, most of them from South Korea or Taiwan, has risen sharply.
"In the eighties, most of our foreign students were Japanese," Ms. Saurat said. "Now it's the turn of the South Koreans."
The new students are hard-working fashion enthusiasts who can afford the 49,000 franc ($10,000) yearly tuition
Once they have graduated from a Paris fashion school, Korean students do not linger in Paris, partly because they would have difficulty obtaining a work permit, but mainly because they know that they can easily find work in one of the many ready-to-wear firms that are proliferating in their own country.
Claiming to be the oldest fashion school in Paris is Esmod, which turns out about 1,000 graduates a year. It was founded in 1841 by Alexis Lavigne, the appointed tailor to the court of Empress Eugenie.
Now foreigners make up half of every class at the school. In the last five years, its African and Arab students have been replaced by Asians, most of them from Korea or Taiwan. Although a fair knowledge of French is a prerequisite, Esmod has recently hired and trained a Chinese-speaking teacher to give classes in Mandarin for students coming from China with no knowledge of French.
"Foreign students are often more competitive and eager than the French, who seem to be shying away from what they perceive as a very competitive profession," says Annette Goldstein, director of Esmod.
"Ten years ago, the ambition of most foreign students was to stay in Paris and open their own studio," Ms. Goldstein said. "Their dream was to sign their own collection. Today they are more realistic. They are prepared to start working anonymously for a firm and learn their trade."
Fashion schools are ready to bring the gospel to distant countries that cannot send their students to Paris. Esmod, for instance, has developed a franchising system with schools in 10 countries, including Brazil, Syria, Turkey and Korea.
RUSSIA and China represent a huge potential market, but negotiations with schools there are still in the preliminary stage.
Chung Woo Lee, the daughter of the Korean fashion designer Lee-Young Hee, enrolled at the Korean branch of Esmod after deciding to join her mother's fashion company.
Because she is married, Ms. Lee, 35, could not come to Paris for a three-year course.
"Esmod is the first fashion school established in Korea, and I wanted to learn Western techniques," she said. "Of course, the fact that my mother presents her collections and has a boutique in Paris also had something to do with my choice."
The apprentice designer studied the basic fashion technique sketching and pattern making in Korea. To keep up with the latest trends, she regularly comes to Paris to attend the Esmod summer course.
The technical training that the fashion schools provide may be essential to the students, but nothing can replace a practical apprenticeship, which only a couture or ready-to-wear studio can offer.
At the end of each school year, students compete fiercely to spend one month training in a designer's workroom, even though they receive only a small stipend.
Traditionally, Paris couture and ready-to-wear houses have relied on that abundant supply of young students to take care of the humble but necessary side of the creative process.
At Sonia Rykiel, trainees are allowed to participate in the development of the collections with sketches and ideas but are also expected to "sit and watch" before they propose their own ideas. In most couture houses, apprentice designers are in charge of tidying up the studio, making coffee, following up with fabrics and accessories purveyors and helping with the preparation of the shows.
At Christian Lacroix, whose studio employs about 30 people, fashion students may "look and learn," but they are never asked to sketch or to take part in the actual creation of the collection.
If the apprentices are smart, though, they can spend their time soaking up the designer's creative juices.

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