World’s leading fashion schools open in Asia to meet rising demand for design education

With few reputable fashion schools in the region, would-be designers from Asia flocked to top institutions in the West to learn their trade; seeing this demand, schools have opened branches in Asian countries including China and India

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 10:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 10:44am

Asia’s creative power has grown steadily in tandem with its economic might, and with that has come rising demand from Asian students for places at the world’s leading fashion design schools.

China in particular is moving rapidly beyond being a manufacturing powerhouse and maturing into a fully fledged fashion player with its own creative young stars.

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Until the early 2000s, study options were few for would-be fashion designers from Asia: move far from home to learn at top educational institutions in the West, or vie for a place at one of only a handful of reputable fashion schools in the region, such as Tokyo’s Bunka Fashion College.

Even if they managed to study fashion design, it was left entirely to them to find fame and fortune in the world’s big four fashion capitals – Paris, Milan, London and New York.

This is no longer the case, however, as the huge potential for growth in the design and fashion sectors has opened up new career paths.

Attitudes towards fashion and creative careers have evolved, and countries around the world with fashion and design schools have experienced an influx of Asian students since the 1990s.

That’s a trend which has accelerated even more sharply in the last five years, says Valérie Berdah-Levy, director of the Milan-based fashion and design school Istituto Marangoni’s Paris branch. Nearly 70 per cent of Asian students in attendance are Chinese nationals, representing 7 per cent of all students, and they are closely followed by Koreans, Indonesians and Taiwanese. Other fashion and design schools report a similar mix of students.

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The surge in students from overseas at Western fashion and design colleges has spawned a new trend – schools, not students, are moving.

Parsons The New School for Design in New York, the Savannah College of Art and Design (Scad) in the American state of Georgia, the Istituto Marangoni in Milan, The École Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode (Esmod) in Paris, and other leading private fashion schools are opening branches in foreign countries.

Since opening in September 2010, the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Hong Kong campus, in the Sham Shui Po district in Kowloon, has developed 15 undergraduate and graduate learning tracks approved by China’s Ministry of Education. Scad Hong Kong offers the double lure of an international education with immediate value on the home market.

China, in particular, is a country experiencing a turning point. Art and fashion are developing rapidly
Christine Walter-Bonini

New York’s flagship fashion institution, Parsons The New School for Design, opened a hub in Shanghai, China’s biggest city, in 2014, at the Shanghai International Fashion Education Centre.

Supported by its pan-European parent company Galileo Global Education group, Italian educational powerhouse Istituto Marangoni has in recent years opened outposts in several Asian cities – Shanghai (2013), Shenzhen (2016), and Mumbai (2017). Another overseas branch will open in 2018.

These overseas fashion school branches mainly offer specialist training courses that last from eight weeks to two years, aimed at young professionals seeking to enhance their skills rather than at students looking for a foundation degree in fashion.

While their Asian students seek an international education, most intend to work in Asia after graduating.

“In the medium term, ambitions are to become Chinese brands built on an international vision of fashion and luxury,” says Patrick Kouzmine-Karavaieff, co-founder of the International Fashion Academy (IFA) Paris. He says that, while student exchanges are offered under the academy’s curriculum, few who begin their studies in Shanghai take advantage of this for now.

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IFA Paris is unique in offering two learning tracks since it opened in China in 2002: a fully private one leading to an internationally recognised bachelor’s degree, and a 50 per cent public curriculum, in partnership with Shanghai University, whose graduates earn a Chinese diploma.

Established educational brands are not the only ones entering the highly competitive fashion and design education market. The Condé Nast Centre of Fashion & Design opened the doors to its Shanghai campus in 2015, only two years after offering its first courses in London.

The centre offers everything from one-day seminars to nine-month study programmes, and covers a wide range of subjects, including fashion design, marketing, digital communication and branding, but also fashion illustration, e-commerce and social media.

Asian fashion schools have also entered the market. The Raffles Design School opened its first college in Singapore in 1990, and now operates at 24 locations in 22 countries, including Australia, Italy and Cambodia. There has been talk that Japan’s Bunka Fashion College will open a China outpost. The undergraduate and graduate courses of the China Academy of Art, also known as Guomei, appeared in the closely watched Business of Fashion school rankings in 2017.

For foreign fashion schools, location is as important as it is for real estate developers. “Beijing is the historic heart of China and an undisputed cultural and economic platform, while Guangzhou is the textile heartland,” notes Esmod’s international director, Christine Walter-Bonini.

Walter-Bonini points out that Esmod’s 20 franchised schools share educational programmes but that each campus is inflected with its own cultural influences.

Today’s fashion and design students want more than mere marketable technical skills, she says. “China, in particular, is a country experiencing a turning point. Art and fashion are developing rapidly, while its manufacturing is transforming into a fashion industry with designers and creative brands,” says Walter-Bonini.

Bachelor and master’s degree programmes at such institutions don’t come cheap – undergraduate studies at Scad Hong Kong cost more than HK$285,000 (US$36,350) per year, and those at Istituto Marangoni in Shanghai over US$17,000 per year – but they also offer a wealth of more affordable short courses. These teach immediately marketable skills in a matter of weeks or months, rather than years.

There are practical considerations for students too: for many Asian families, the costs of studying abroad – including room and board, as well as visas – are prohibitive. This makes the Asian branches of international fashion schools an appealing option for them. And there is no shortage of would-be students.

“Everywhere in Asia, we see people keen on creation and who just want to learn,” says Istituto Marangoni’s Berdah-Levy.