We know we don’t need to remind you, but New York Fashion Week will be in full swing soon, and our hearts will be set a flutter for unveiled Fall 2011 fashions. Long before the big names hit the runways, however, they were in classrooms hitting the books rather, the sewing machines.
With the exception of great stories like Karl Lagerfeld, who landed at Balmain after winning a coat-designing contest, many designers took a more conventional route and honed their craft at school, just like the rest of us (if you replaced Psychology 101 with Pattern-making, that is).
Here are the ten essential fashion schools that brought designers like Valentino, John Galliano, and Marc Jacobs out of the workshops and into our closets.
Central St. Martins: As if calling Alexander McQueen an alumnus weren't testament enough, Central St. Martins is the only fashion school with its students' collections featured on Style.com a true mark of an academy the fashion world should embrace. Based in London, they boast an extensive catalogue of courses covering everything from "PR and your Fashion Label" to "Laser Cutting for Textile Design" its no wonder their students are well off jumping into industry waters. Central St. Martins also offers classes over summer, winter and spring breaks as well as weekend classes, so you have plenty of chances to live out your designer dreams. Even if you don't make a name for yourself, graduating students have been known to move on to Louis Vuitton, Burberry, and Dior among others. Not bad for a first job, huh?
Alumni: Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Stella McCartney, Zac Posen, Alice Temperley, Matthew Williamson, Riccardo Tisci (Givenchy), Jenny Packham, Phoebe Philo (Celine)
Parsons the New School for Design: Project Runway fans may recognize this school immediately as host to several of the show's seasons, but long before Tim Gunn graced prime-time and coined the phrase "make it work," he was part of Parsons faculty. With the full advantage of its NYC location and proximity to successful alumni's studios, walking into a workshop to see Donna Karan teaching isn't unheard of. The fashion school focuses heavily on technique: model drawing, haute couture, draping, knitting, and more. In addition, student designs showcased at the end of the year are frequented by industry leaders, designers, and buyers. In fact, that was exactly the golden ticket for the Proenza Schouler boys, whose senior collection was bought by Barney's right off the bat.
Alumni: Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Jason Wu, Alexander Wang, Prabal Gurung, Jack McCullogh and Lazaro Hernandez (Proenza Schouler), Donna Karan, Jenna Lyons (J. Crew)
Fashion Institute of Technology: Sharing a city with Parsons is FIT, the choice school for a frugal fashionista with dreams of designing. At only $3,000 a year for in-state tuition, this school is a great deal with endless resources at students' fingertips. Aside from opportunities to intern at designer houses only subway stops away, their fashion museum constantly hosts exhibitions worth visiting, such as one dedicated to Vivienne Westwood's 80's designs opening next month.
Alumni: Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Nanette Lepore, Carolina Herrerra, Francisco Costa, Reem Acra, Isabel Toledo
Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne: As the official school of the French Fashion industry governing body, this universally acclaimed four-year program is the only school devoted to mastering the art of haute couture. If you're fluent in French and ready for intense, heavily structured classes taught by the rule-makers of haute couture, this prestigious academy is for you.
Alumni: Valentino, Issey Miyake, Yves Saint Laurent, Nicole Miller
Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts: Founded in 1663, the Royal Academy in Belgium is the oldest fine arts institute in all of Europe. The school gained significant recognition in the early 80s, when "The Antwerp Six" (composed of Walter Van Berendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, and Marina Yee) burst onto the scene with their avant garde designs. The academy is not for the faint-hearted, however, as their curriculum is famously demanding.
Alumni: Dries Van Noten, Anne Demeulemeester, Martin Margiela, Kris Van Assche, Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Voss (Peter Pilotto)
University of Westminster: Students at the University of Westminster are offered a unique experience with the choice of spending a year in the industry working under names like Chloe, Chanel, and Moschino before returning for a final year of instruction. Aside from teaching strictly design, the school prides itself on strong connections with fashion industry partners, like Topman and Abercrombie & Fitch. Partners typically work with students on design projects, many of which actually go into production.
Alumni:Vivienne Westwood, Christopher Bailey (Burberry), Stuart Vevers (Loewe)Michael Herz (Aquascutum), Katie Hillier
Fashion Institute Design of Art and Merchandising: As the setting of HGTV's reality show Design School, alma mater of Lauren Conrad, and source of nine Project Runway contestants (including season 5 winner Leanne Marshall), FIDM is no stranger to the limelight. The LA-based school approaches design from every angle, offering courses like fashion design, interior design and graphic design. The school also offers costume design, the results of which you may have seen on the 90s flick Clueless or Disney hit Enchanted by alumna Mona May. The moment you walk in, you know the school is something else. In lieu of typical dreary college decorum, rooms are rich with bright colors and funky art.
Alumni: Monique Lhuiller, Kevan Hall
Rhode Island School of Design: RISD is one of the first fine arts schools in the nation. With a staff of 12, the apparel design major is extremely small and prides itself on developing students' individual aesthetic. Seniors get a jump start at RISD, interning at major New York fashion houses for six weeks. In 2009, some students and faculty designed spring cardigans for GAP. In addition, last fall, students' designs starred in a runway show at Lincoln Center as part of NYFW in collaboration with ELLE magazine, which did special coverage for RISD in their October issue.
Alumni: Nicole Miller, Mary Katrantzou (finished at Central St. Martins)
ESMOD: Although principally based in France, this fashion institute's extensions pan out in fourteen nations, reaching cities like Jakarta, Tokyo, Dubai and Istanbul. Aside from the chance study abroad, a winning factor for ESMOD is its extensive alumni network of over 8,000 working for brands like Elie Saab, Givenchy and Viktor and Rolf. The school provides a strong job placement service that's available once you're in your third year. Needless to say, its unlikely for ESMOD alumni to move back in with the parents after donning their cap and gown.
Alumni: Christophe DeCarnin (Balmain)
Royal College of Art: The Royal College is the only post-graduate school dedicated to art and design. Although highly esteemed in fields with far-flung relation to fashion, such as automotive design and architectural design, its graduates' show is highly anticipated among British press.
Alumni: Erdem Moralioglu (Erdem), Christopher Bailey (Burberry), Camilla Skovgaard, Felicity Brown