Aspiring fashionistas looking to break into the world of design need more than a good eye and a fantastic sense of style.
“Everyone who picks out a button thinks they are a designer these days,” says George Simonton, a longtime fashion designer and a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “You see all of these so-called designers who are celebrities, but they I tell my students they are pretend designers, they are hiring people to do the work.”
Simonton says that while much has changed since he began his career in fashion 50 years ago on Manhattan’s famed Seventh Avenue, the fundamentals remain.
“You still have to learn the craft,” he stresses. “Yves St. Laurent is my idol and years ago came to visit FIT. The students asked him what the secret to his success was. He said, ‘I learned my craft.’”
We asked Simonton to share his advice for students dreaming of rocking the runway one day.
Master the basics
Simonton always tells students that while technology has obviously made some aspects of fashion design easier, a strong foundation is still key. “Courses like sketching, pattern making and draping are all important,” he says. “You might not have to do it when you start working, but you better know how to do it yourself.”
Develop a thick skin
Like many other creative types, fashion designers can be notoriously protective of their ideas. But Simonton says the best designers are able to take a step back. “My students often say, ‘You really made me have a trained eye,’” he says. “You have to be able to look at your garment critically.” The ability to take criticism and adapt is a key skill in the world of fashion.
Be your best salesperson
In addition to his work as a designer, Simonton made a name for himself as a longtime host on QVC. “During my 12 years on air, people would stop me and say ‘I love the way you talk about your garments,” Simonton recalls. “You have to be a business person and a designer at the same time.” The best salespeople always let their passion for their ideas and collections shine through.
Become a people person
The days of fashion designers being part of the background are long gone, but Simonton says many of the students he meets are too reserved for the industry. “I see students who come into my classroom and they don’t say good morning, they are constantly looking at their computers. But they’ve got to learn how to present themselves,” says Simonton. “Because you’re going to be presenting your ideas to your boss, to your sales people and to the press. So you better start learning how to do so.”