What's It Really Like To Study Fashion In New York?

  • Career
    What's It Really Like To Study Fashion In New York?

Source: Image supplied by Cristina Velez

My day as a uni student living in Melbourne's south-eastern suburbs typically goes like so:

6:05am

Wake up to the screeching strings of 'M79' by Vampire Weekend. Curse myself for making a beloved song my alarm and so turning me off it completely through negative associations with mornings. Curse the world for existing so early. 

6:35am 

Gulp down my overnight oats and contemplate whether I have enough time to boil the kettle for a cuppa before I leave. Decide I do not. 

6:45am 

Begin the lengthy trek to the city via public transport. Attempt to type an article on my laptop while sandwiched between fellow commuters on the Frankston line. Garner approximately 820469267285 strange looks for wearing a royal blue suit/pink sneakers/Miranda Hobbes green scarf in Melbourne where black is uniform.

8:30am 

Begin my day of classes. Complete a few Buzzfeed quizzes in my lecture. Find out that, based on my movie crushes, my wedding theme will be 'vintage'. How original. 

10:00am

Nip off to buy some tea. Garner another strange look for ordering a beverage other than coffee in a city that survives on the stuff. 

12:30am

Eat a box of Barbecue Shapes between classes. 

4:30pm 

Begin the trip home. Try not to cry when replacement buses are announced. 

6:30pm 

Scarf some leftover pasta and curse myself for not picking up garlic bread for $2 in Woolies. 

7:30pm

Bachelor time! All is well in the world. 

Evidently, my days ooze with glamour but you can't blame a girl for wondering, "What would my life be like somewhere else in the world?" When I studied abroad in Boston, my days involved a lot more tip-toeing through slushy snow so as not to let the salt ruin my suede shoes. Maybe if I lived in Greece I'd fill my hours outside the classroom gobbling gyros with a handsome Swede who may or may not be the father of my child. Sometimes, I even allow myself to wonder what it would be like to study in New York City, arguably the fashion capital of the world. Would I stumble into class five minutes late care of the PB and J bagel in my right hand? Allow my outfits to be inspired by the vibrant cabs, the gritty iron of a fire escape, the wild graffiti of Brooklyn and then promptly find myself street-snapped by The Sartorialist? 

With the urge to know burning, I sat down with Cristina Velez, the New York trained (and now Melbourne based) designer behind the proudly sustainable and ethical Covert Clothing. We talked about application processes, roomie situations, loooooong days, and a helluva lot more as I attempted to uncover for you, dear reader, what it's like to study (specifically fashion because, obviously) in the Big Apple/City That Never Sleeps/any other moniker loved by tourists and loathed by actual New Yorkers. 

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I went to Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. I studied the Associates Degree in Fashion Design for two years. 

Very fancy! So why did you choose this course? 

Ever since I was little, it's all I wanted to do. There was no other option - I was going to be a fashion designer. It was just natural. I was drawn to FIT because it's the best school ever and the best place to learn how to make clothes.

What was the application process like?

I had to do a portfolio. If I remember correctly, they ask for sketches and things you've sewn so I made some stuff specifically for the portfolio. I designed about five looks and submitted pictures of things I'd sewn like an off-the-shoulder skater dress and a cool, tribal-print cardigan. I submitted that and then I was wait listed for a semester. There was a whole group of us that got wait listed and we started at the same time. 

Is it expensive to go to FIT?

No! It's one of the cheapest schools because it's a public school, not a private school. It's still expensive, but not for America. You pay more if you're an out-of-state student and then for dorming. 

So you lived on campus?

Yep. I dormed for one year with a roommate. The first semester we dormed on the street FIT is on and just had a bedroom, and then the second half we had a little apartment with a kitchen. The second year I moved to New Jersey to a studio apartment by myself and just took the bus to school which was super easy. 

What was your average day of classes like?

I had to take liberal arts classes as well as all my fashion ones so I'd have Biology and then Math, and then the same day I'd have Fashion Illustration or Computer Aided Design. I'd have lunch in between and then stay up  till about 11 o'clock at night working on my projects. 

That sounds like a big day. Were you exhausted most of the time?

Absolutely. I lived there basically. There's no way you can slack off - you have to do all your work and do it really well. It's a lot of work, especially when you're just learning how to sew and you're making intricate jackets and things. You have a draping class, a pattern making class and a sewing class so you have at least three projects for construction going on at the same time so you'd have to stay after school. 

Despite being sleep-deprived, was everyone at FIT competitive? 

No, we were all pretty chill. I don't know if it was just because we were a small, close-knit group - we all knew each other because we all started at the same time - but everyone was super supportive and we'd all work together in the work rooms at night. We'd help each other out if we forgot our pins or scissors!

What were some highlights of your time at FIT?

My favourite class was Draping with Professor Boylan - he was the best! It was the most creative class and the most organic way to design something because you're placing your fabric where it looks good to you. You can create something without planning it out. You don't know what you're going to make but then the fabric falls a certain way and guides you. It really helped me find my style in designing. I also got to volunteer at New York Fashion Week, working behind the scenes with all these amazing designers. I helped dress the models and put the goodie bags together, saw all the makeup being done, and then got to watch the show!

What were some challenges then?

The workload, mainly. I was usually taking nine classes a semester and the least I ever took was seven. It's not stuff you can just do from home when it comes to the sewing so you have to stay at school to work. 

What's the biggest misconception about fashion school, especially fashion school in New York City?

I thought people would be really snobby but they totally weren't. I also thought everyone would be walking around all glamorous but the fashion design students were all so tired we were in our PJs most of the time. 

How did you discover your design style while you were studying?

I think it helps seeing how different everyone is - it makes you want to be more different. You see them use a certain technique and then you apply it to your own work but it's completely different because the way you design is different. You bounce off each other and everyone is so creative so it's a really inspiring environment. 

What were your options after you graduated?

You can get assigned to a counsellor who helps you find internships or jobs. I was already working as a designer so I didn't take advantage of that but it's a really good avenue. Your professors are all in the industry - they're designers or have their own companies - so you have so many connections. There's also a show when you graduate. All our garments were in a room and open to the public. That was a good way of getting some exposure. 

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