A Real Fashion Designer: Interviews

Thumbnails from an old portfolio
Now, what I'm going to talk about today is only from my own personal experience. It's certainly not the only way to go about things, and I'm sure there's at least one person out there for whom this method wouldn't work. However, it's a starting point. I just wish there'd been a practical guide to fashion interviews when I left school. I'm pretty sure I've bombed my fair share. But, hopefully this helps someone.

Part I: How to Get an Interview

1. Go to Fashion School. Sorry, you have to. It's the best way to ensure you'll at least have a fighting chance.

2. Have as many internships as you can (but not all at once.)
          Now, if you're a person who's gone to college and then gone to fashion school afterward, I understand the appeal of the accelerated program. That is, in fact, what I did. However, there is something to be said for the amount of opportunity for internship a longer program can offer. The best way to get internships is through your school. Through the internships, you'll meet people, and it's possible they'll want you back again. On the flip side, if you hate it at one of the companies where you intern, you'll just know you don't want to work there. The key here is to try and get at least one year's worth of internships in before you have to apply for jobs. In my experience, the more recognizable the name, the better.

3. Make contacts at your internship and keep them.
          The bigger the company at which you intern, the better this works. What you want to do here is firstly, work hard and be good at your internship. Managers like to have a willing intern who's there to learn and help. The better you're able to do this, the more they'll like you and want to keep in touch. Also, if you're really nice and likeable, that's always helpful, too. Managers know how hard it is to be an intern, so the better you are at dealing with the stresses involved, the more they'll probably notice.
          On most teams, there's usually a person who likes to talk to the interns or give them advice. Though you might find it condescending, pump this person for as much advice and information as you can. They have a job, and they're giving out this information for free, so take it. Chances are, this person will be the one who's most willing to help you find a job when the time comes.

4. Have a LinkedIn.
          The longer I'm in the fashion industry, the more effective my LinkedIn account is. Recruiters will just contact you whenever they have an opening if your profile fits the bill. I will say, though, that this may be less helpful for you in the beginning than it is later on when you have more years on your Resume. Again, though, I think the more big names you have on your list here, the more likely you are to get contacted.

5. Put the word out.
          Remember that person you asked all those questions in #3? Make sure you have a legitimate relationship with this person and as many other fashion industry people as you can. In the beginning this won't be so easy, but the longer you're in, the more people you'll know. But, when you're looking for a job, just put the word out there to some key people that you're looking, and see if they know any HR people or recruiters. You never know. They might...and they also might not. So, be prepared for that.

Part II: What to Bring

Once you've got an interview, your next focus should be what you bring. In fact, in one of the emails you exchange with the Human Resources person, you should ask them if there's anything particular they would like to see. Sometimes they will have a list or a project, and sometimes they won't. If they don't, then you can use the below for a little checklist.

1. Five copies of your resumé.
          Almost invariably, they haven't brought a copy to the meeting, and you may meet with more than one person at any given interview. Make sure you have enough copies to hand out. Also, in case they didn't tell you this in school, your resumé should absolutely not exceed 1 page. Edit it, or use smaller font. They won't read past the first page.

2. Your Portfolio.
          A designer from J. Crew once told me that my portfolio should represent the kind of work I want to do. When you're looking for your first job, sometimes you can't be that choosey, but it is a good thing to keep in mind. Your Portfolio should have three main elements: a special project, flat sketches, examples of work you've done at an internship or previous job.

     - The Special Project.
            No one will tell you that bringing a special project to a first interview is mandatory, but I have found it's quite effective. Essentially, before you find out whether or not you've definitely got an interview at a specific company, start doing your research. You'll want to look at their website in great detail, check out their runway show if they have one of those, and visit a store. Next, you'll want to do a little research on the people with whom you'll be interviewing. You should be able to find the names of the design staff via LinkedIn if HR hasn't already told you. See if you can find their Pinterest. If you can, you're golden.
          After you've done this research and think you've got a feel for what kinds of things the people who already work at the brand like, you'll want to start conceptualizing your project. Put together a mood board for the coming season. This will be much easier for you if you've been making a habit of daily checking design blogs.
          The next part will be the color story. Since you probably won't have access to Pantone chips, you  can do what I do: use embroidery floss and make little bundles of yarn to indicate the colors you'd like to use. Additionally, you might want to include some fabrics, but don't be too crazy with the novelty fabrications. You can probably only wear one really "special" fabric in an outfit, so keep that in mind.
          Now comes the fun part: the sketching. I find it's really effective to have a bunch of thumbnail sketches - like, maybe ten to 20 - followed by five more finished illustrations of your favorite looks. At the end, you'll want to also add a few flat sketches made in Illustrator, just to show a completed project.

     - Flat Sketches.
          Your special project is really only to show that you have a design sensability. What they really need to know, is can you make flat sketches in Adobe Illustrator, and have you mastered this program. So, make sure you've got some really good flat sketches in there that were not made by hand. This is really important.

     - Examples of work you've done at a previous internship or job.
          This is a really cool thing to include, and it shows them you have a handle on the design process. Ideally, this will include but not be limited to the following: A flat sketch, a tech pack and a line sheet, all of which you should have made at your internship or job. Bonus points if your tech pack is from a PLM or PDM program. They like to see this.

Part III: What to wear.

Don't get too crazy. Your portfolio should speak for itself, not your crazy outfit. When in doubt wear black. When in more doubt, make it a dress. Unless you're a guy. Then don't. Look clean, and comb your hair. They know you're young, you don't have to rub it in their face by being slovenly.

Ok. Well, if your eyes aren't hurting from all this text, I hope I've helped you with something today. And if you're not trying to get a fashion interview, I'm sorry you've gotten this far. But maybe it was a little interesting?

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