Photography Mitchell Sams

what makes a good student?

From Walter van Beirendonck to Fabio Piras, course leaders from 10 of the world’s top fashion courses answer the question.

by Jorinde Croese
15 October 2018, 7:28am

Photography Mitchell Sams

Is a fashion degree worth the money in 2018? As a new wave of students enroll and apply to colleges, i-D and 1 Granary take a closer look at fashion education and beyond, to better understand how to make it in one of the toughest industries to crack.

What makes a good student? It’s a question as old as the Ancient Greeks, and one that can provoke many different answers in a world populated by seven billion people and counting. But is there such a thing as a typical good student? What do tutors really think any individual needs in order to excel? For those who wonder, we asked ten leading fashion course directors around the globe what that term actually means for them. Here’s how you can make the best of yourself for yourself — and if you really wish, please a tutor or two along the way.

Note: this is useful not only for students, but every person who wants to push themselves to the next level.

Zowie Broach, Head of Fashion Program, Royal College of Art, London, United Kingdom
“A good student is BRAVE. Committed. Imaginative. Able to design not held by arrogance or the past legacies, but driven by a cultural ownership. A storyteller. Flexible to new knowledge and pathways. Elegant professional. Comfortable with failure as process.”

Jonathan Farmer, founder of the MFA Fashion Design program, Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, United States
“Someone who is willing to earn the qualification, not purchase it. Someone who is open to being challenged and understands that education is about bringing a personal perspective to the conversation with generous thought, ideas and meaningful contributions. Someone that is open to giving and receiving positive critique/feedback — ‘YOUR OPINION MATTERS’ — and someone who knows that we should all remain students, because the moment we stop learning is the second that progress, invention and innovation halts.”

Walter van Beirendonck, Head of Fashion Program, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium
“A good student should be ambitious to learn and prepared to go ‘deep’ to push forward their own boundaries. They should also be flexible and open enough to accept critique and guidance by their teachers. Connect that with a huge amount of energy and a willingness to work hard, and one will see better results. A good student develops a well-recognizable signature and personal vision, which I think is extremely important these days.”

Tuomas Laitinen, Head of Fashion Program, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland
“Hard-working, critical yet open-minded, stars in their eyes, but at least one foot on the ground.”

Anita Cooney, Dean School of Design, Pratt Institute, New York, United States
“Good students have what can seem like an alchemical combination of curiosity, imagination, and an enthusiasm (or simply a willingness) to make. Good students are also comfortable with failure. When we fail, we learn what works and what does not. Students succeed when they are willing to iterate; to make and remake in order to master the techniques that enable the creative manifestation of their design concepts. In our fashion design program at Pratt, we emphasize craft (technique), concept (not just ideas), and context (social, cultural, and historical). Technical skill is understood as a way to not only explore and express a concept, but to generate ideas -- we think this ability and process of development is incredibly important.”

Fabio Piras, MA Fashion Course Director, Central Saint Martins, London, United Kingdom
“A good student has an aptitude, interest and commitment to their subject of study. Ideally, they are someone who appreciates that knowledge is a form of learning, and reflection born from being in dialogue with their tutors and peers.”

Shelley Fox, Director of MFA Fashion Design and Society and JOFF (Joffrey Moolhuizen), Associate Director MFA Fashion Design Society, Parsons New School of Design, New York, United States
“The MFA Fashion Design & Society program is very focused on nurturing the strength and identity of each individual student, and from that perspective it is difficult, and we refuse to determine what really makes a good student. We have students at times that struggle at different moments within the two-year program — but this can never be a determining factor of a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ student — as this pertains to the individual processes and approaches a student applies towards his or her development in this program. It’s all part of the process.

“What we do expect from all students is to always push themselves beyond their comfort zone — this is crucial for growth. All students are obligated to be obsessive about their practice and showcase this in a tangible manner within set deadlines. They should be prepared to question their own convictions and be fearless towards the possibility of failing. Utilize the constructive criticism they receive as jumping boards for elevated outcomes in the determination of their identity as designers. They are required to be conscious and critical of the society we live in, the industry — its inherent systems and the responsibility we as creators carry in proposing new improved alternatives. While students are essentially here in the furthering of their independent design identity, being part of this very small program it is essential that all students are able to showcase professionalism, collaboration and positively contribute to a healthy class environment.”

Leah Perez, Head of the Fashion Design Department, Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, Ramat Gan, Israel
“Somebody that allows us and themselves to go through the journey of learning and accumulating new ideas and skills. They must be curious, intelligent, hardworking and humbly ambitious. Good students immerse themselves into the long process and on the way ask questions, doubt and challenge set ideas, and walk roads not taken through experimenting and surprising.”

Simon Ungless, Executive Director at School of Fashion, Academy of Art University, San Francisco, United States
A good student is someone who is engaged and interested in their own development, has a true willingness to do the work, and the ability to be flexible. Our degree program starts with a year of fashion foundations, so we are not necessarily looking for people who are 100% clear on their career path. We like them to be open, and to experience all aspects of the creative process and ultimately industry functions.”

Yoshikazu Yamagata, founder, coconogacco, Tokyo, Japan

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

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