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Career: Fashion Designer

A Day in the life of a Fashion Designer

Ever wonder what Giorgio Armani, Betsey Johnson, Donna Karan, and Ralph Lauren do all the time? Work! Few other professions depend so much on keeping on top of fickle popular opinion and watching what competitors produce. The life of a designer is intimately linked to tastes and sensibilities that change at a moment’s notice, and he or she must be able to capitalize on or—even better—influence those opinions. Designers reflect society’s sensibilities through clothing design. “You have to know just about everything that’s been done before so that you can recognize it when it becomes popular again,” wrote one respondent. Fashion designers are involved in every phase of designing, showing, and producing all types of clothing, from bathing suits to evening gowns. Those with talent, vision, determination, and ambition can succeed in this difficult, demanding, and highly competitive industry. Fashion design can be more glamorous than a 1940s Hollywood musical or drearier than a bank statement, but it’s always taxing. A designer’s day includes reading current fashion magazines, newspapers, and other media that reflect current trends and tastes. He or she looks at materials, attends fashion shows, and works with other designers on projects. A designer should be able to communicate his or her philosophy, vision, and capabilities clearly and comprehensively through sketches, discussions, and, occasionally, samples. No matter what his or her personal style is, a designer must produce a creative, exciting, and profitable product line. As in most professions that produce superstars, it is easy for a competent but otherwise unremarkable designer to wallow in obscurity, designing small pieces of collections, generic lines (the plain white boxer short, for example), or specialties (cuffs, ruffles, etc.). The personality that raises itself above this level must be as large as the vision of the designer; perhaps that’s why the word “crazy” showed up in more than 75 percent of our surveys as a plus in fashion design.

Paying Your Dues

People entering the field should have a good eye for color, style, and shape, an ability to sketch, and some formal preparation in design. An excellent portfolio is a must for the job search. A two- or four-year degree in fashion design is helpful, as is knowledge of textiles and a familiarity with the quirks of a variety of fabrics, but no formal certification is required. Candidates should have a working knowledge of business and marketing. The hours are long for a fashion designer, and the initial pay is very limited. This is one of those hit-or-miss occupations where beginners work as someone’s assistant until, when they can muster up enough confidence in their abilities and sell that confidence to their superiors, they design a few pieces themselves. The superstar rise is an unlikely event, but it happens. Based on the number of “international star designers” in the last 10 years and the number of people who have entered the profession, the estimated odds of becoming an internationally famous designer are roughly 160,000:1.

Associated Careers

Fashion designers who become unhappy with the lifestyle (low pay, long hours, hard work, low chance of advancement) leave the field to do a variety of things. Some of them use their color and design skills to become interior designers, graphic designers, or fashion consultants. More than one quarter of the people who leave remain in the clothing industry, either on the production end or on the institutional buying end. Another 10 percent of them enter the advertising or promotions industry.

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