Can Ergen, from Turkey, leans forward as if to let me in on a secret. “Vogue magazine is a storyteller,” he says. Ergen, 21, is one of 45 students who recently embarked on the first 10-week Vogue Fashion certificate course at the Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design which is based in London’s Soho, just minutes away from Vogue House.
I feel scruffy as soon as I walk through the college doors. The outfit, over which I’ve deliberated for hours the night before and which had seemed more than adequate in my dimly lit bedroom, feels uncomfortably shabby under the bright lights of Vogue.
The entrance hall is dominated by mirrors, which create the illusion of a large, well-lit space. As I stand in the centre of the room, surrounded by reflections of my unkempt self, I realise the mirrors are also a gentle reminder to students not to turn up to school in holed jeans or a stained blouse.
Formally known as the OCN Eastern Region Level 4 Certificate in Fashion (Vogue) (QCF), the short course, which costs £6,600, was the brainchild of Nicholas Coleridge, president of Condé Nast International. A year-long course costing £24,000 will begin in October 2013. The certificate covers the workings of the international fashion calendar, styling and art direction, brand marketing and the luxury and high- street retail sectors, as well as including practical sessions, visits to designers’ studios and talks from figures in the industry.
Ergen is one of only three boys taking the course and describes Vogue as a “bible of fashion”. He tells me he wants to learn the “Vogue way” after studying communication and visual arts at Bordeaux Academy in France and taking art and fashion classes at Parsons, School of Visual Arts and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
“In our everyday lives we carry art pieces on our body. Fashion is an art form and a way of communicating,” he says. “I think we’re really lucky to see the inside of Vogue,” he adds.
As I’m ushered through the building, which looks more like an art gallery than a school, I certainly feel like I’m seeing the inside of Vogue. The library is littered with glossy magazines, coffee-table books and “look books” and is a far cry from most university archives with their stacks of crusty tomes.
The main lecture hall, where the great and the good from the fashion industry gathered for the school’s opening, is softly lit, with interactive screens adorning its flawless white walls. Mirror-panelled doors remind me once again of my below-par appearance. As I’m introduced to the students I brace myself for a gaggle of malnourished beauties in Burberry macs and Chanel sweaters. “I thought it was going to be like The Devil Wears Prada. Absolutely terrifying,” says 24-year-old Camille Lappierre, from Nîmes. “I was surprised by how friendly everyone was. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s true.”
I’m forced to eat humble pie when I discover the students are every bit as earnest and hopeful as I was when I started my philosophy degree. Aged between 18 and 32, there’s a real sense of camaraderie among them.
Although more than half the students hail from Britain and Europe, some have travelled from as far as the United States, Mexico, South America, the Middle East, the Far East, Turkey, Eastern Europe and Australia to take the course. International fashion is represented by 23 different countries, none of which charges higher fees.
One of the youngest here is Alice Carver, 19, from London. Alice is fresh out of sixth form. She decided to take the 10-week course during her gap year while she decides what career path she wants to follow.
“UK university is £9,000 a year. I didn’t want to go to university for three years and study a subject that I didn’t end up going into,” she says.
“It’s good being around people who like the same thing. Everyone wants to be here, no one is being made to study. There’s no rivalry. Everyone is supportive of what everyone else is doing and what experience everyone else has had.”
Naturally, the students look like they’ve just stepped off the catwalk, rather than off the bus. “The night before, I had to throw all my clothes out on to my bed and find the right outfit to wear,” says 18-year-old Julia Wood, from Cape Town. “Everyone has a different style and fashion, but I still feel like I can’t wear my jumper with holes in.”
The Condé Nast college team is made up of principal Susie Forbes, a former deputy editor of Vogue, vice- principal Dr Gary Pritchard, who held the post of associate dean, art, media and design, at the University of Wales, and course director Angela Jones, an educational consultant at London College of Fashion and the Domus Academy in Milan.
The syllabus is broadly divided into three areas: fashion design, fashion publishing and fashion business.
According to Forbes, the school is small enough that, although they can’t tailor the course for each student, they can afford to be light on their feet.
Budding Alexandra Shulmans complete three projects over the 10 weeks and, as long as they cover the learning initiatives, they can choose how the work is presented. “We find our strengths and develop them. It encourages us to be more confident in ourselves,” says Carver.
The college – which loans an iPad to each student for the duration of the course – also initiates Twitter debates for the students every Monday morning (Week 1: Should celebrities become fashion designers?) as a way of incorporating social media into the students’ learning.
The college’s prospectus promises “unrivalled industry links and partnerships, and unique access to fashion insiders”.
“Only at Condé Nast would you be able to get all these connections and all these opportunities to see what is going on in the fashion industry,” says 22-year-old Deanne Banares, from the Philippines, who sees the course as a route into fashion journalism.
“I like how you can put together something intellectual and creative,” she says.
Forbes assures me her students won’t be treated differently when they apply for jobs or internships with Condé Nast publications. “They can apply in the same way as everybody else, but they won’t get special dispensation,” she says. “It’s really important not to make a promise to someone about an internship or a job because people start buying the course for the internship and using us as a stepping stone.”
Instead, she believes the certificate highlights for students the multitude of jobs that exist in the fashion industry. “As a first step into that world, it’s a complete eye-opener for the students,” she says.
At the end of the tour I’m spat out of Condé Nast’s dazzling entrance and on to the bright, dusty streets of Soho, my scruffy attire instantly at home once again.
Impressed as I am with the students’ passion and Forbes’s dedication, a feeling in my gut tells me applicants will be tempted only by the legendary brand, and, at £6,600 a pop, this brand is staggeringly expensive. Still, rubbing shoulders with fashion aristocracy was never going to come cheap, was it?
Cynicism aside, the course offers an exciting approach to assessment and lecturers who are uniquely positioned to help students get their feet in the door of an industry that is notoriously exclusive.
As Forbes rightly points out, they are whizzing through the revolving door of Vogue House as we speak.
By Chloe Hamilton
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