I’ve often been met with the question from future students in Fashion Design, of what was the best city for studying fashion design abroad. To this, there’s of course not one right answer.
I can tell you about my own experience. When I was young, I chose to study in Milano. Being from Copenhagen (Denmark), to me Milano was everything, Copenhagen wasn’t; it was warm, glamourous, exuberant, elegant, and a freaking lot of fun. This, to me, when I was 19 years old, was very inspiring (and actually still is). Probably it was closer to my natural style and persona, and therefore I was vey attracted to it. For me, studying fashion design abroad in Milano was one of the best choices, I’ve made in my life. I just loved the place, and it was the beginning of a long and happy career in fashion.
Therefore, based on my own experience, I would always advice people to study, where they feel inspired and can relate to the place, its people, and lifestyle. It has to somehow resonate (this is a really good word, when trying to figure something out), as this awakening of something deep inside you, is the best fundament for creating (as well as making important decisions in general). A school will never dictate its students what to design, but the culture of the place is everywhere and somehow creeps into all design. In the UK, you will feel a natural desire to think out of the box, in Italy to acknowledge the heritage and style, and in Belgium to challenge normal perceptions and codes of dressing. This is not because anybody tells you to, or because people before you chose this path, but because it’s what the place is known for, and this resonates to you. It’s a bit with travelling; as inspired as we can be by certain places, others leave us indifferent. Therefore, my best advice is to choose a place that excites the hell out of you.
If you have the privilege to study abroad, and it’s indeed a privilege that not all families can support, there are many interesting places to choose from. Europe is known for its strong and plentiful prêt-a-porter brands offering a wide choice of styles and a focus on statement accessories. The US is famous for its casual style and modern office look – both with a good price point, and they’re especially strong in garments. While Europe has ITS International Talent Support, the US has CFDA Fashion Awards, and last-mentioned has helped launch a not indifferent number of newer American fashion designers. Then there is of course Asia (Japan excluded), where a whole different thing is going on.
I’ve lately spent quite some time in Shanghai, and I found it to be a really interesting place fashion-wise, as China is in a transition phase. For the past decades, they have been big in production and the (in)famous Made-in-China of mass production. On the other side, when it came to style, never ceased to look towards Europe for creative direction, style, and styling. A part form their traditional dressing, they still don’t have an established fashion culture, or with other words, a style of their own. It’s only a matter of time, before recognized Chinese brands will really start setting the scene, and create something that the Chinese be proud of, and the Europeans will find refreshing.
And exactly this situation of being in a place, where things still have to be invented, defined, and coordinated, offer an important opportunity of creating free of any restrictions, cultures of dos and donts, and too defined types of styles or references. Here everything is still possible. Sometimes a culture with its ‘certain ways of doing things’, heritage, and past decades of dressing used for reference can be quite restrictive, when it comes to creating something new – maybe also because it isn’t really necessary (but that’s a different discussion).
The world is huge, and though I’ve travelled extensively, I’ve only seen a small part of it. I’ve never been to Brazil, Nigeria or Israel just to mention a few. If I speak about Europe, Asia, and the US, it’s because it’s the places, I know the best – not because they’re the most suitable and interesting. As mentioned above, what is ‘best’ is individual, and I can only say to trust your gut feeling – that together with choosing a good school (read more about that here) is a strong combination. For me Milano was the best, and I would have never chosen to study in any other place (well, perhaps Paris), but it was mostly because I really loved the place.
Photo are of Nanjing West Road and Marangoni campus, Shanghai