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December 12, 2017
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Susie Forbes in her Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design office. Source: nymag.com/thecut.

"We're not designed to be a feeder college for Condé Nast, but nonetheless, we in effect are the industry," said Susie Forbes, principal of the recently opened Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design, when speaking with The Cut last month. Tucked away on the discreetly cosmopolitan Greek Street in the heart of London's Soho district, the minimalist five-storey building holds the golden ticket for many aspiring young adults. Ever fancied a career in fashion? Well, here's your chance.

It comes, however, with a hefty price tag. The year-long Vogue Fashion Foundation Diploma will cost students £19,560 (excluding VAT), while the 10-week Vogue Fashion Certificate, of which there are four per year, comes in at £6,600 (excluding VAT). Although three scholarships are available, competition is tough: students applied from 43 countries to be part of the first intake.

 Harriet, Tiana and Kelly.
Source: facebook.com.

"Our courses offer unrivalled access - a front row seat into this famously opaque and hard-to-get-into industry. This access, combined with rigorous academic programming, will deliver insight into all aspects of the fashion industry," Forbes told The Telegraph.

But is it really worth it? Forty-five stylish graduate students from 23 countries sat in the spacious monochrome lecture spaces on April 15 to begin the Open College Network-validated Vogue Fashion Certificate course. They will have completed three projects, built a digital portfolio and obtained an OCN Eastern Region Level 4 Certificate in Fashion (Vogue) (QCF) by course-end. Another 45 hopefuls will start the Vogue Fashion Foundation Diploma in October of this year, touching upon similar topics but in greater depth and with the opportunity to focus on specific pathways. They're set to learn everything there is to know about fashion - except design.

"We won't teach you how to hem a dress," said Nicholas Coleridge, managing director of Condé Nast Britain and president of Condé Nast International, when speaking to guests and students at the inauguration party. "What the college will offer is a deep understanding of how the fashion industry works."

Forbes added, when speaking to The Telegraph, "our alumni will leave the college with […] a significantly more informed idea about which part of the business they wish to work in, and a greatly improved chance of attaining that goal."

While the college does not guarantee industry placements or work experience at Condé Nast - "Otherwise students will start coming here just for that," Forbes told The London Evening Standard - they focus on coaxing the British fashion industry's brightest stars into the white-walled building.

Is the college really focused on headhunting the next generation of talent, or is it simply siphoning out the rich from the poor - albeit unintentionally?

"When [British Vogue editor] Alex Shulman came in here the other day, her eyes lit up. Why couldn't they do their brainstorming sessions here? Or model-castings? Anything to bring the world of Condé Nast into the students' laps," Forbes explained. Similarly, some of Condé Nast's best-recognised staff have been lined up as speakers and mentors, while Sir Paul Smith mentioned at the British Vogue Festival that he would also be speaking at "that posh college".

The industry exposure and networking opportunities offered are second-to-none and easily supersede those gained by an internship. While "you can't teach somebody how to be a PR person, stylist, or anything else in ten weeks," said Forbes to The Cut, "what we can show them is what it's like to be all of those things […] hopefully we can give them that light bulb moment."

However, the validity of these courses has come under significant fire, particularly given their cost. While the college openly wishes to be considered as a "determined meritocracy" by charging the same tuition for British and international students, it cuts out a vast majority of willing participants by demanding such high fees, all of which must be paid upfront and without the help of student loans companies. Is the college really focused on headhunting the next generation of talent, or is it simply siphoning out the rich from the poor - albeit unintentionally?

It is a debate that has often plagued the industry, and one I am left in two minds over. To become a fashion journalist, I have had to show headstrong determination and hard work over many years. Rejections came often; internships were near impossible to secure despite being unpaid. The commute into London would eat up six hours of my day, and I had to work a second job to cover the cost of train fares. I got a first-class degree in English, a full-fee scholarship for my Masters, spent time living abroad, and still struggled to get noticed by editors. I would have done anything for the exposure granted by the Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design; yet there is no way I would have been able to fund the tuition costs myself.

I got a first-class degree in English, a full-fee scholarship for my Masters, spent time living abroad, and still struggled to get noticed by editors. I would have done anything for the exposure granted by the Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design; yet there is no way I would have been able to fund the tuition costs myself.

There is little the college can do about the cost. As a private provider without state funding, the high tuition fees will remain an issue - one that will surely hinder many a dream. However, what they have managed to identify is the reason why individuals like myself struggled to get noticed. Speaking with The London Evening Standard, Forbes recalled her conversation with Jonathan Saunders: "he has 2,000 CVs from people wanting to be designers, and he can't recruit for many of the other roles in his company. These types of positions might include sales jobs, showroom managers and business-related roles."

As a supervisor once told me, it has become increasingly harder for employers to tell the good from the bad without inviting them in for internships and seeing first-hand - by which point, the high-demand place has been lost. "You would honestly think we were having to pay some interns to sit at their desk - they look that miserable and unmotivated."

That is the crux of it. The Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design is not asking to be considered as an educational establishment on par with Central Saint Martins, where a BA (hons) degree in Fashion will cost £9,000 per year for home students, and £13,800 for international. It is about offering an unprecedented vocational experience, one that will reveal the magnitude of career opportunities available within the fashion industry, eventually to an intake of 300 students per year.

It is about cherry-picking the most talented individuals and offering them first-hand insights, networking opportunities, and valuable exposure that will ensure their CVs no longer fall to the bottom of the overflowing pile. I just hope it does not come at the expense of those without the funds - for money cannot put a price on talent, energy and determination.

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