Diploma or no diploma? That is the question dominating creative education now. Do you need a degree in arts to make it in the arts? Social media and e-commerce were clearing the path to financial success and cultural relevance for millions of creatives long before coronavirus changed the rules of engagement for most industries, including higher learning. In fact, last year, the United Nations special report identified the pandemic as “the largest disruption of education systems in history.” For the 3.4 million high school graduates in the United States alone, the prospect of continued education is extra daunting in 2021. Rising costs, relocation challenges, and the question of the practical value for college education in many fields contribute to the dilemma.
For those interested in fashion, the virtual alternatives are enticing. The famed Institut Français de la Mode has partnered with FutureLearn to issue micro-credentials. The BoF Education platform offers “bitesize modules” of 2 to 7 minutes each. The well-hyped MasterClass puts you in the front row with the likes of Diane Von Furstenberg and Anna Wintour. Meanwhile, SkillShare features over a hundred DIY classes from illustration to T-shirt design. You could be learning (about) fashion all day every day. But would you? Should you? The pressure to self-curate educational content and self-regulate progress is too much for many. An accredited program can still provide a safer structured environment with a reliable trajectory of attainable goals.
Here are ten fashion programs around the world that run at the vanguard of digital-only and hybrid modes of fashion-forward education. This unrated selection is based on over a decade of my personal professional experience as a fashion critic, brand consultant, and fashion educator. Enjoy and enroll!
SCAD (Savannah, Georgia)
“Art is long. Life is short.” The Savannah College of Art and Design school motto is insightful as it is provocative. Fashion has the power to connect eras and peoples. While its historic campus is located across one of the most famous and infamous American towns, the Atlanta location enables pursuit of opportunities at the Hollywood of the South, the instantly iconic Tyler Perry Studios. The future of fashion and film will be forged in the same fires of streaming and e-commerce.
Marist College (Poughkeepsie, New York)
Just north of NYC, the Marist campus overlooks the Hudson river providing a more serene setting to focus on your creative process. How serious is the college about its commitment to fashion? A brand-new, dedicated Digital Arts & Fashion Building opened in January 2019 with all the state-of-the-art tech at the students’ thimble-topped fingertips. You can catch the 35th anniversary Silver Needle Runway presentation of fashion graduates to experience the Marist style for yourself.
Polimoda (Florence, Italy)
Studying next door to the industry’s most influential business expo – ciao, Pitti Immagine – can do wonders for your future career networking. With the student body of 75 nationalities, it’s as if the coolest study abroad program came to you. Beyond fashion design, Polimoda’s strategic relationship with Spotify makes it one of the most active academic institutions on the platform with exclusive playlists and podcasts. Get your minds and hearts ready for dolce vita!
Shenkar College of Engineering and Design (Tel Aviv, Israel)
Since 1970, Shenkar students and alumni, including the late couturier Alber Elbaz, have been a welcome fixture of the legendary Diamond Exchange District in the Ramat Gan neighborhood. From traditional textiles to nanotechnology, the school is one of the driving forces behind the steady rise in global prominence of Israeli fashion. It helps that the graduate showcase takes place at Fashion Week Tel Aviv, a renowned talent platform. Maybe you too can make fashion history?!
Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada)
One of the largest universities in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in North America proudly champions disruption of the status quo in fashion education, production, and consumption. It is one of the few arts institutions with decolonization as a primary guiding principle along with inclusion and sustainability. Plus, the Toronto fashion scene is the industry’s best kept secret. Makes winters worthwhile! Check out the 2021 edition of Mass Exodus, an intersectional arts showcase.
Fashion Institute of Technology (New York, New York)
The Institute was established one year after the first fashion week took place in New York in 1943. It’s been championing fashion design ever since. A campus at the doorstep of the Garment District allows one to experience the only-in-New-York street style (which is the blood of the industry), behind-the-scenes sweat and retailer tears. The Museum at FIT is one of the most innovative fashion archives in the world. What better place to dive into fashion history while you shape its future?!
Whitehouse Institute of Design (Melbourne, Australia)
How about spending quality fashion time in not one but two style capitals? Campuses in Sydney and Melbourne attract ambitious students from across the Asia-Pacific region. Australian brands such as Billabong, Quiksilver, and Rip Curl defined the surf and skate aesthetics for a generation of carefree yet wellness-conscious consumers around the world. You can contribute to their good vibes only. Check out the graduate portfolios for a glimpse of that Down Under Magic.
Cape Town College of Fashion Design (Cape Town, South Africa)
Established in 1965, #CTCFD is one of the most prominent fashion institutions in Africa. With the critics and buyer attention shifting to local designers (and those of the diasporas) as well as sustainably sourced materials, the last Condé Nast International Luxury Fashion Conference with Suzy Menkes took place in Cape Town pre-pandemic in 2019. The future is bright on the continent with the world’s youngest population. What a great time to engage firsthand with African fashion!
Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (California, USA)
With campuses in Orange C, Bay Area, and Los Angeles, #FIDM offers a quintessentially Californian hands-on fashion experience. Since 1969, the school has been particularly successful in collaborating with the television industry. From hosting four Project Runway franchises to celebrating the five-time Emmy Award winner Marina Toybina, the costume designer behind the hit show Masked Singer. Bold fashion choices at the service of visionary storytelling thrive here.
AMD Akademie Mode & Design (Berlin, Germany)
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, design and arts communications have been the school’s exclusive focus nurturing generations of free thinkers and creative risk-takers across its network of campuses in Berlin and four more cities. Now its alumni are leading Puma, Hugo Boss, Westwing and other lifestyle titans. To boost German fashion cred, I always remind prospective students of the profound impact Mercedes Benz fashion weeks network had on the global fashion industry.