So You Want to Be a Fashion Designer?

On answering the call to create

In a hyperrealist instance of life imitating TV, fashion design programs saw an increase in applications after Project Runway first aired back in 2004. Since then, we’ve seen a number of other depictions of the industry, from The City to How to Make it In America. Chances are you don’t allow your child to watch HBO, but maybe he or she has caught the fashion bug nonetheless. After all, Alexandra Jacobs has called Polyvore, a website where users can make their own fashion-based collages, the new paper dolls.

It’s important to note, however, that curating digital images is more akin to styling than designing, and watching TV is, well, just that. “To be a designer, you have to be a visual person, but you also really have to love the process of making physical things,” says Grace O’Meara, a fashion design major at Syracuse University.

More often than not, it’s a love that develops early in life. Stella McCartney made her first piece, a jacket, when she was twelve. At the age of five, Michael Kors redesigned his mother’s wedding dress. O’Meara was even younger when her babysitter taught her how to crochet, and she’s been doing crafts ever since. In their entreaties to get her to do her homework, O’Meara’s parents used to tease, “What are you going to do when you grow up, Grace—knit?” It looks like she might do just that; last week, her senior collection won an award for outstanding knit design, and she hopes to work as a sweater designer for the likes of J. Crew or Anthropologie after graduating.

Reality shows notwithstanding, the usual track to becoming a designer is a rather conventional one of school (either a fine arts degree or a bachelor of science in apparel design) and internships. There is plenty children can do to prep before college, though, considering art schools require applicants to submit a design portfolio. “The programs know not to judge high school students on their sewing alone, but they will judge you on your drawing skills,” says O’Meara. Therefore, art classes are a must for the budding designer, and there are even specialized courses, like those at the Westchester Fashion Academy for Children, that teach the art of the fashion sketch. Of course, you could always do copies for practice…so it might be time to dust off those paper dolls