If you want to be a true fashionista you’ll need to have a reasonable command of the English language. Why? Well, for a start many of the world’s leading designers are British or American: Vivienne Westwood and Paul Smith, Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs, to name but a few. The world’s best designers, such as Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace, and Jean-Paul Gaultier are all able to discuss their designs in English quite comfortably, despite being non-native speakers.
Fashion is a truly international industry at every level and it’s growing. In fact it’s growing 4% faster than any other industry as we emerge from the global recession. It’s also an industry that provides a vast array of career opportunities, from designing and manufacturing to styling and reporting.
Designers set the fashion trends for upcoming seasons when they show their collections, usually at one of the fashion weeks around the world, such as London, Milan, or New York. This is the top end of the fashion industry. The UK has what is generally regarded as the best fashion school in the world, Central St Martins in London. Famous alumni include designers Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney. It also has its own language school, because of the huge volume of overseas students studying there.
Magazines cover the trends set by the designers and publicise them. Most of the industry’s top publications, such as Vogue, Elle, and Marie Claire are based in English speaking countries. It’s also common place to find a British Editor at the helm, such as Joanna Coles at Marie Claire and Anna Wintour at Vogue. A typical fashion shoot at a glossy magazine might involve a British stylist, a French photographer, and a Russian model, all using English as the accepted lingua franca of the industry.
Retail takes the trends supplied by the designers and turns them into affordable, off the peg pieces, with ever increasing speed. Some of the big high street fashion players can take garments from the catwalk to the store in as little as three weeks. Buyers for international chains, like Zara and H&M, source fabrics and manufacturers all over the world.
Fashion is a terribly tough, unforgiving industry to work in though, both in terms of talent and looks. A designer starting out at a famous British design house early on in his career once asked a pattern-cutter there what he did if he made a mistake, ‘You go home and you never come back’ was the reply. Rumours abound of design houses who refuse to hire anyone over a size eight, or magazine headquarters with a sign in the women’s toilets, saying “Do not vomit in here”. Anna Wintour is allegedly the inspiration for the character of Miranda Priestly in the Devil Wears Prada, and nicknamed “Nuclear Wintour” due to her ferocity. One hapless assistant was once told never to speak to her directly. The story goes that when she saw her boss fall over in the corridor, she was too terrified to offer to help and so simply stepped over her and kept on walking.
In the end though, fashionistas accept the long hours and demanding bosses, because fashion is a creative industry. That creativity inspires everyone from the designer’s first idea for a new collection, to the photographer choosing the perfect light for a shoot, to the fashion journalist laying out a page, and the stylist putting together an outfit. And whether you’re forging a career in fashion or following it at a distance by flipping through the pages of Vogue, English is the one accessory you can’t be without.