Graduates from fashion's "cradle" of talent chase elusive dream

LONDON Tue Feb 19, 2013 1:04pm EST

A model presents a creation from the Meadham Kirchhoff Autumn/Winter 2013 collection during London Fashion Week, February 19, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

A model presents a creation from the Meadham Kirchhoff Autumn/Winter 2013 collection during London Fashion Week, February 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

LONDON (Reuters) - As London Fashion Week closes, Britain's budding designers must tackle the challenge of finding employment in an economy where most recent university graduates are struggling for work and in an industry that is notoriously competitive.

London has a reputation as a cradle of new fashion talent, with the Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design boasting an illustrious list of alumni including Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Christopher Kane and John Galliano.

The London-based school showcases its graduate talent every year in a show for fashion week, luring headhunters looking for up-and-coming talent to offer their labels.

A lucky few will be tapped on the shoulder for positions at top brands. But most will have to settle for employment that doesn't advance their dreams beyond internships that pay little or nothing at all and jobs on the bottom of the career ladder.

More than one in three of all recent UK graduates were employed in lower skilled jobs in the final three months of 2011, according to the UK statistics office.

Veteran fashion journalist and trustee of graduate fashion week Hilary Alexander told Reuters the numbers of graduates also seems to be increasing each time she attends the show at Central Saint Martins.

"Every year there seem to be more...Obviously they all can't become fashion designers," Alexander said.

Figures from the University of Kent show there are more than 4,000 textile and design graduates in the UK competing for around 500 jobs every year.

"We have the talent. That has unquestionably been our strength for decades," Natalie Massenet, founder of online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter and Chairman of the British Fashion Council said at the start of London Fashion Week.

Central Saint Martins student Eilish Macintosh, who won the L'Oreal Bursary Award for her collection of black jersey dresses decorated with rope in hangman knots, said she would love to find a job but has no offers at the moment.

"To be honest I'm just going to see what opportunities come up," Macintosh said.

Marie Rydland moved from Norway to London to take advantage of the city's fashion scene.

Rydland, who presented a menswear collection of floor length ivory kaftans with a patchwork of silver and blue embroidery said job hunting would have to wait until after her exams.

"Everybody makes their portfolio and then it's about going out there and getting contacts," she said.

WISH LIST

Designers at London Fashion Week said that a great attitude, creative vision and work experience were key traits for any new hires entering the country's 21 billion pound ($32.6 billion) fashion industry.

"Be prepared to do lots of work experience and work hard at it," designer Alice Temperley advised applicants, describing the job market for new graduates as "terrible".

While Temperley pays all her interns, the pressure to curb unpaid internships has made it harder to get work experience.

Journalist Alexander said the emphasis should be on new innovative skills when training fashion students.

"We need to channel the talents into the whole digital arena...(Mary) Katrantzou, Holly Fulton, Peter Pilotto are using digital printing," she said.

Others have expressed concern that fashion schools are not preparing their students well enough for the world of work.

"Many fashion schools do not provide enough training in pattern cutting, which is a fundamental skill for any young designer," Imran Amed, a fashion business advisor, adding that those who do have these specialist skills are sought after.

British designer Paul Smith echoed this after his show at Tate Britain.

"They really need to know how to put a garment together," Smith said. "A lot of people think fashion is just about networking, getting out there - but now it's reality time."

(Reporting by Dasha Afanasieva, Additional reporting by Li-mei Hoang)

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