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Art & Design careers

Fashion, Textiles & Costume

Pursuing a career in the fashion, textiles and costume industry…

Yves Saint Laurent once said that “dressing is a way of life”. While slightly stating the obvious, he does make a very good point. For the majority of us, it’s as much a way of life as getting out of bed in the morning, bleary-eyed, showering and leaving for work.

Whether you have a passion for fashion or not, no one can deny that it plays a key part in society. From the pleats in your trousers to the diamond sequins on the collar of your shirt, everything has been designed for a specific reason.

While fashion may not save lives, it’s still pretty important.

You don’t have to be a slave to fashion to be able to work in fashion, textiles or costume design. Of course, a genuine passion helps, but having the creativity and innovation that will make you a success is equally as important.

What are the required qualifications for a job in fashion, textiles or costume design?

A lot of candidates entering the world of fashion at the moment have some sort of fashion-related qualification. You don’t necessarily have to get a university degree, but the increasingly competitive nature of the industry means that employers are starting to look for qualifications more and more.

You will not only be competing with fellow aspiring fashionistas, but also with people that are already established in the industry. However, with the right mix of creativity, passion and innovation, there’s no reason why you can’t make your mark.

What is fashion design?

Fashion designers create their ‘range’ for an occasion, based on their target audience, what’s ‘on trend’, what’s relevant and what will sell. You’ll need excellent industry and market knowledge, but more than anything, you’ll need to know what looks good.

Your job will involve sketching ideas for designs, testing different colours, materials and styles, and then finalising the design, before having the clothes made into physical items that people will wear. Part of your role would then involve making sure fashion models look their very best in fashion shows. A successful fashion show could generate an increased demand for your work.

What is costume design?

Costume designers are less concerned with creating clothes for a target audience and considering what will sell best; their task is to design costumes that are required for a certain film or play. It’s all about designing the right item for the right setting and scene.  For instance, if you’re working on a Yorkshire-based costume drama set in the 1930s, you won’t put your lead character in a pair of Calvin Klein y-fronts.

Don’t get us wrong, though; there is still plenty of creative freedom in costume design careers. Usually, you’ll work on the set of a film or theatre production, or design clothes for pop concerts, plays, pantomimes, and so on.

You will usually work closely with the director and a large team to make sure every aspect of the production is cohesive. The costumes, the props and the set all need to correlate. After all, if Harrison Ford had been wearing a tweed jacket and jodhpurs against the futuristic backdrop of Blade Runner, he would certainly have looked a bit out of place.

After you receive initial direction, you’ll have the freedom to go away and use your expertise to design what you think is the most appropriate costume. Your main focus would be on reinforcing the mood of the production, highlighting a character’s personality or distinguishing between major characters. An obvious example of this would be dressing an innocent character in white or a bad guy in dark red or black.

Depending on the way you work and your style, costumes can be made from scratch or revamped from vintage clothing shops, bargain bins and charity shops etc.

What is textile design?

There are a whole load of different jobs you could pursue in the textile industry, and they don’t all involve slaving over a sewing machine for hours at a time. Textile designers create designs for various different printed, knitted and woven fabrics, such as tartan. 

Textile designers need a good understanding of what their customers require, i.e. what the material will be used for, what environment it will be used in and who will use it. In these roles, you’ll usually be in control of the project from start to finish, from taking the initial order to stitching everything together.

Away from the fashion side of things, the textile industry also involves the design and upkeep of everyday products, like carpets, curtains and rugs.

Fancy seeing your designs on the catwalk one day? Or perhaps on the stages of the West End? Well buckle up; it’s going to be a hard slog but once you get to the top you’ll be living every fashionista’s dream!