"New York City, center of the Universe," Angel croons in the first lines of Rent's "Santa Fe" number, and nowhere can that feel more true than in the fashion industry.
It's why year after year, would-be fashion students flock to one of the city's three major design schools: the Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons and Pratt. "New York is pretty much the epicenter of the fashion industry," says Kelly Brennan, acting vice president of enrollment management and student success at FIT. "It's one thing to be able to study something and another thing to be able to go and put your hands on it from start to finish, and that's one of the things studying in New York can bring you."
Though New York is no longer a major manufacturing center for apparel (most of that's been exported outside the U.S.), the city is still, without a doubt, the center of the U.S. fashion industry. Most American designers as well as the CFDA are based in New York -- crucial for students looking to build connections. "All the fashion studios are here, and as a student looking for internships or a graduate looking for work, to be able to forge those relationships during their studies will help launch their careers," says Sara Kozlowski, assistant professor of fashion design at Parsons.
And there are still plenty of production resources. "I can't even imagine not having the Garment District," says recent Pratt grad Michaela Calotta. "It's an endless resource. There's all these little secret places that have deals and cool fabrics." Kozlowski herself moved back to the city after a six-year stint at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and dubbed the effort of finding good fabrics (most often mail-ordered) a "Herculean attempt."
With so much available in New York, should fashion students even consider going anywhere else? Barbara Bundy, FIDM Vice President of Education, feels Los Angeles is an equally great candidate for fashion students looking for a different experience than New York. "We're responsible for 75 percent of the premium denim around here and everybody wants the California lifestyle," she says. "We have an online career network, and we do probably about 300 or 400 internships each quarter, so there's plenty of opportunities here for students."
Being away from the proverbial center does have its advantages -- namely, those of the fiscal variety, especially if you're in a city like Atlanta or Savannah. "The cost of living in Atlanta versus New York is very helpful," says Christian Harris, who studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)'s Atlanta campus. And even L.A. is a cheaper option than New York. "For a metropolitan environment, it offers various neighborhoods for students," Bundy says, citing Hollywood and the nearby beaches as choices for student living. "They can [also] live downtown and walk to campus -- we don't have our own dormitories, but we work very closely with a lot of apartment buildings down here which offers students the opportunity to live here."
That fiscal benefit isn't exclusive to students -- it also affects the resources schools outside of New York can provide. While sourcing materials can be a challenge in Savannah, Maura Lenahan, a student studying jewelry design at SCAD, says the school can offer its students access to more space and technological resources than its New York peers. "SCAD is very on top of getting all of the up and coming technology," Lenahan says, listing off the many different ways she's benefitted from attending the school, from Rhino certification (a program used by jewelers) to kiln and casting equipment.
Schools in New York often have to work their alumni network to get students access to these same resources. "Where it's important to the curriculum, we find the space, and if we can't then we use our partners," FIT's Brennan says. "It encourages us to partner more," Kozlowski says of Parsons, adding that she sees the scenario as a benefit. "If we can't build a shoe lab, we can at least find a partner that will accomplish that for us by having samples made for our students."
Living in New York, there's no shortage of things to do or see or be inspired by -- but it can also be a pitfall for students who find themselves overstimulated. "We work just as hard down here, but there's a certain amount of intellectual freedom, I think," Michael Fink, SCAD's fashion dean, says. "Everybody's not stressed out getting to school, getting to work, getting home at the end of the evening. They're able to take this environment and really absorb it into your person."
Being away from the hustle also allows students to stretch their legs creatively. Staff at SCAD expressed pride that many of their students weren't worried about the latest hot designer or trend. "I think the outlook on style in a city, everyone can begin to have the same focus," student Jenae Roseen says. "Being in a different city, I think [we have] a different point of view."
At the end of the day, it's easier than ever to be connected to the fashion world, regardless of location. "Is anyone ever really away from the industry anymore?" Fink asks. "We're all tied to the Internet."
Disclosure: Several of these interviews were conducted during a trip to Savannah for SCAD's graduate fashion show, for which Fashionista was provided travel and accommodations.