Where Fashion People Actually Went to College

Proof that you don't need a degree from Princeton or Central Saint Martins to make it in fashion.
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Proof that you don't need a degree from Princeton or Central Saint Martins to make it in fashion.
Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

In 2013, Fashionista polled fashion notables — from Paper's Mickey Boardman to photographer Phil Oh to designer Michelle Smith — on where they went to college. Surprise! Not everyone graduated from Parsons or FIT, or even studied fashion or design. But no matter what schools or majors these superstars list on their LinkedIn profiles, they all gathered valuable lessons from their college years that continue to shape their careers today. (That said, Missguided founder and CEO Nitin Passi seems to have spent his semesters immersing himself in, erm, extracurricular activities.)

So let's revisit the concept, but with 28 more power players who excel within their own creative fields, including Teen Vogue's Elaine Welteroth, Bill Blass Creative Director Chris Benz, RewardStyle founder Amber Venz Box and Saks Fifth Avenue Fashion Director Roopal Patel.

Photo: Alison Brod

Photo: Alison Brod

Alison Brod, Founder, Alison Brod Marketing + Communications

College: Tulane University

Major: Communications

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? New Orleans, especially when I was there, was like being on Mars — it has its own food, language, music and climate. There was iced coffee long before Starbucks came around... so the idea of submerging myself into niche cultures and taking elements ‎of them is forever instilled into my psyche.

Amber Venz Box. Photo: Amber Venz

Amber Venz Box. Photo: Amber Venz

Amber Venz Box, President and Co-Founder RewardStyle and Liketoknow.it

School: Southern Methodist University

Major: Corporate Communications & Public Affairs

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? My favorite professor, Kathy LaTour, taught me that great communicators say exactly what they mean and cover all of the information they need to share in the least number of words possible. 

Aya Kanai. Photo: Jessica Juliao

Aya Kanai. Photo: Jessica Juliao

Aya Kanai, Executive Fashion Director at Cosmopolitan and Seventeen and judge on Lifetime’s "Project Runway Junior."

College: Oberlin College

Major: Double Major in Visual Art and Religion with a minor in East Asian Studies

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? Being in meetings where you need to pivot ideas on the fly and working in a world with daily shifting priorities, the most important thing is to be able to think critically and express ideas well. I learned this in college and use the tools I got there everyday. 

Bhumika Arora. Photo: Bhumika Arora

Bhumika Arora. Photo: Bhumika Arora

Bhumika Arora, Model

School: DAV College, Sector — 10, Chandigarh

Major: Business Administration

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? Work ethics, calculative risk taking, being innovative, being updated, honest judgement about myself and my performance, teamwork, constant learning, being observant for better results, staying positive for motivation, healthy competition and much more. I think the big takeaway is just being a more well-rounded person for today's world.

Caroline Gogolak, left. Photo: Hunter Abrams/BFA.com

Caroline Gogolak, left. Photo: Hunter Abrams/BFA.com

Caroline Gogolak, President, Co-Founder of Carbon38

School: Harvard University

Major: BA in South Asian Studies 

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? I wrote my senior thesis on the Indian textile industry. I focused on this one fast fashion company called Fabindia and loved how they built a luxury and accessible brand. They were focused on sustainability and revitalizing the cottage industry in India. It was a truly unique business model and taught me how to think different than big corporations. You don't have to be like everyone else.

Chelsea Goldman. Photo: Chelsea Goldman

Chelsea Goldman. Photo: Chelsea Goldman

Chelsea Goldman, Creative Director, C.F. Goldman

Schools: Central St. Martins, London College of Fashion

Majors: Foundation Degree, BA in Womenswear

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? How little sleep I can actually function on... more seriously I learned how to explore ideas and push the boundaries of creativity.

Chris Benz. Photo: Chris Benz

Chris Benz. Photo: Chris Benz

Chris Benz, Creative Director, Bill Blass

School: Parsons School of Design

Major: Fashion Design

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? I learned about managing an astronomical workload — and fast. Fashion and design is so much about making quick decisions and moving on. Art isn't made according to a schedule, but design is! Also about working with people. Guess what? Everyone has their own nutty issues and that I'll assure you is especially true at fashion school. It's about just doing exactly what you believe in and repeating it over and over.

Daniel Lawson. Photo: Daniel Lawson

Daniel Lawson. Photo: Daniel Lawson

Daniel Lawson, Costume Designer of CBS's "The Good Wife" and "Limitless," Clothing Designer for British luxury clothing brand 35DL, Jewelry Designer for DL for PONO By Joan Goodman and Brand Ambassador for Dryel

School: Northwestern University (undergrad) and Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University (graduate)

Major: BS in Theater from Northwestern and MFA in Costume Design from Rutgers

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? I learned very quickly in college that being able to collaborate while maintaining your individual artistic integrity is key to being a good and effective designer. I also learned that acquiring knowledge is a lifelong endeavor.  

Elaine Welteroth. Photo: Teen Vogue

Elaine Welteroth. Photo: Teen Vogue

Elaine Welteroth, Editor, Teen Vogue

School: California State University, Sacramento

Major: Communication Studies with a concentration in Public Relations, and a minor in Journalism

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? In college I learned the value of vision, resourcefulness and trusting myself… nothing is handed to you that you don't hustle for. Whether it's going from a small town college in California to the magazine business in New York City or chasing a story you believe in, it all starts with having a dream, an idea, an original thought. And then being brave enough to make it happen.

Eric Wilson. Photo: Ben Gabbe/Stringer

Eric Wilson. Photo: Ben Gabbe/Stringer

Eric Wilson, Fashion News Director, InStyle

College: New York University

Major: Journalism and Fine Arts

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? How to write a lede, how to handle adversity, how to ask an indelicate question, how to ride the subway, how to navigate a sample sale and how to ask for a better table.

Fernando Garcia. Photo: Mireya Acierto/Stringer

Fernando Garcia. Photo: Mireya Acierto/Stringer

Fernando Garcia, Co-Founder and Designer, Monse; Co-Creative Director, Oscar de la Renta

School: University of Notre Dame

Major: Architecture 

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? Teamwork, patience and to always have fun.

Hillary Kerr. Photo: Hillary Kerr/WhoWhatWear

Hillary Kerr. Photo: Hillary Kerr/WhoWhatWear

Hillary Kerr, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Clique Media Group

Schools: University of Southern California (undergrad) and New York University (grad)

Majors: BA, English Literature from USC and Master's in Journalism from NYU

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? The most valuable thing I learned in grad school is the importance of ideas. My professor Gary Belsky — who was the editor-in-chief of ESPN The Magazine, at the time, and is an incredible teacher, editor, writer and human — constantly reinforced that concept. He showed us time and time again that ideas are everything, and that if you don't actively create, pursue or recognize great ideas, you shouldn't be a journalist or editor. He also reinforced the idea that you always have to keep your eyes, ears and mind open, in pursuit of that important creative spark, because you never know where a great idea will come from. 

Isa Tapia. Photo: Isa Tapia

Isa Tapia. Photo: Isa Tapia

Isa Tapia, President, Isa Tapia

School: Parsons School of Design

Major: Fashion Design BFA in Arts

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? Everything! My school was the best foundation, and — guess what — Tim Gunn was my dean!

Jeff Johnson. Photo: Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson. Photo: Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson, Co-Founder and Creative Director, The Arrivals

School: University of Colorado, Boulder (undergrad) and Pratt Institute (graduate).

Major: Bachelors of Environmental Design ("basically a hippie version of an architecture undergrad") at University of Colorado, Boulder, and a Masters of Architecture from Pratt Institute

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? Take that inspiration, grit and passion you felt in school and run with it. Dreams are meant to be chased, they won't come to you.

Jennifer Bruno. Photo: Jennifer Bruno/Town & Country

Jennifer Bruno. Photo: Jennifer Bruno/Town & Country

Jennifer Bruno, Vice President/Publisher, Chief Revenue Officer, Town & Country

Schools: Colgate University and University of Glasgow, Semester Abroad

Majors: Sociology and Anthropology

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? I wrote nine essays when I applied to colleges, all titled "Work Together, Win Together." This was a mantra I lived by as an athlete through three sports in high school and as a competitor on the Track and Field team at Colgate. From studying sociology, to competing as a sprinter individually, to running a relay race as a team, I have always believed that collaboration among peers inevitably leads to success. Needless to say, "Work Together, Win Together" is something I still preach each and every day in the office.

Kate Davidson Hudson. Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Kate Davidson Hudson. Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Kate Davidson Hudson, Co-Founder, Editorialist

School: George Washington University

Major: Dual — Liberal Arts and Journalism

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? How to edit and churn out written copy quickly, which is a hugely useful tool today when deadlines in the digital world are more and more imposing.

Katie Ermilio. Photo: Krista Anna Lewis

Katie Ermilio. Photo: Krista Anna Lewis

Katie Ermilio, Founder, Katie Ermilio

School: New York University — Gallatin School of Individualized Study

Major: Visual Culture

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? The number one thing that I draw on is the ability to be proactive, an invaluable skill that was essential to designing my own major at Gallatin and vital to running my business now. 

Katie Warner Johnson, left. Photo:Hunter Abrams/BFA.com

Katie Warner Johnson, left. Photo:Hunter Abrams/BFA.com

Katie Warner Johnson, CEO and Co-Founder of Carbon38

School: Harvard University

Major: History of Art and Architecture, Chemistry and French Minor

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? I remember having a mini epiphany (i.e. breakdown) in the stacks of Widner Library as I began to outline my thesis and realized I had never really had a thought of my own. I am your typical type-A female: a terrific executer who paints in the lines. I was very good at regurgitating a lecture, but pretty crummy at shaping my own opinions. I realized I had two semesters to change that, so I settled on a topic with very little research previously compiled, and decided to dive head first. It was a messy, somewhat poorly written result, but one that I was proud of because it was every inch of me. I think that was my first entrepreneurial experience. I have been hooked ever since!

Laura Kim, right. Photo: Mireya Acierto/Getty Images

Laura Kim, right. Photo: Mireya Acierto/Getty Images

Laura Kim, Co-Founder and Designer, Monse; Co-Creative Director, Oscar de la Renta

School: Pratt Institute

Major: BFA Fashion

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? Lots of fun internships that connected me to the industry, teachers I met at college, who still help me with my work and finding new talents for Monse.

Linda Kearns. Photo: Linda Kearns

Linda Kearns. Photo: Linda Kearns

Linda Kearns, President, Costume Designer Division, Matchbook Company

Schools: MIT, Princeton

Majors: Mathematics, Public Affairs 

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? When my favorite class at MIT was Theatre with A.R. Gurney, I should have known a career in the sciences was not for me. Even working at the Chemical giant DuPont, I found the one job related to fashion with the Lycra brand. I think ultimately you gravitate to what you love. Analytical thinking combined with creativity and passion is a winning combination that can serve you well in most any job.

Maria Gangemi. Photo: Maria Gangemi/M. Gemi

Maria Gangemi. Photo: Maria Gangemi/M. Gemi

Maria Gangemi, Co-Founder, Chief Merchant, M.Gemi

School: Boston College

Major: Art History and Economics

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? Art History, love of learning, never leaving a city without having seen or learned something new.

Micaela Erlanger, left. Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Micaela Erlanger, left. Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Micaela Erlanger, Celebrity Stylist

School: Parsons School of Design

Major: Design and Management

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? So many applications, from Excel to InDesign and Photoshop. More importantly I learned the skills to operate and run a small business: strategy, management, scaling your business, critical thinking and critique.

Monica Botkier. Photo: Monica Botkier

Monica Botkier. Photo: Monica Botkier

Monica Botkier, Founder and Creative Director of Botkier New York

School: NYU Tisch School of the Arts

Major: BFA Photography

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? NYU had a an extremely academic arts program and I really wanted to become a fashion photographer. I learned how to work through my creative process and apply that passion as well as make deadlines. Both very important in any business, especially fashion. I also learned to stick to my guns and take criticism constructively; a lot of personal growth happens in college.

Nicole Miller. Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Nicole Miller. Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Nicole Miller, Designer/President, Nicole Miller

Schools: The Rhode Island School of Design and L'École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne

Major: Apparel Design

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? Everything from the fine arts background at RISD to the haute couture techniques at Chambre Syndicale. At RISD I studied painting and 2-D design. This has been really helpful when I re-color prints and have to visualize things. I also took tailoring, pattern-making, draping and illustration — all tools I use every day. At the Chambre Syndicale we did extensive draping so it's very helpful when I am looking at my pattern-maker's muslin to be able to tell her how to fix it and make it more aesthetically pleasing.

Nitin Passi. Photo: Nitin Passi/Missguided

Nitin Passi. Photo: Nitin Passi/Missguided

Nitin Passi, CEO & Founder of Missguided

School: Newcastle University

Major: Business Management

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? Honestly, the most useful thing I learned in college was how to roll a joint!

Rachel Schechtman. Photo: Rachel Shechtman

Rachel Schechtman. Photo: Rachel Shechtman

Rachel Shechtman, Founder & CEO, Story

School: Colorado College

Major: Economics

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? Don't be afraid to do something you have never done before.

Roopal Patel. Photo: Roopal Patel/Saks Fifth Avenue

Roopal Patel. Photo: Roopal Patel/Saks Fifth Avenue

Roopal Patel, Senior Vice President, Fashion Director, Saks Fifth Avenue

School: New York University

Major: Marketing

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? You have to follow your instincts and go with your gut. That lesson always remains a constant for me. When I don't listen, I always ask myself why I did not go with my initial thought. 

Tracey Manner. Photo: Tracey Manner

Tracey Manner. Photo: Tracey Manner

Tracey Manner, Vice President, Fashion & Business Development, Think PR

School: Louisiana State University

Major: Communications, Public Relations

What did you learn in college that you use in your work today? I learned how to manage my time and meet deadlines. I wanted to enjoy my time at school, but you never miss an LSU game. I use this "system" today with both work and my personal life. Balance is key.

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