Ask Alexandra: Fashion Design Education

Mary Binding, london college of fashion, student work, fashion design schools, st martins

The lovely images in this blog post are the work of Mary Binding, a recent fashion design graduate of London College of Fashion.

Ask Alexandra is my advice column. Have a question you want to ask me? Fill out the form here.

Hi Alexandra,

I am extremely determined to succeed as a designer in the fashion industry. I am 19 and about to start a 3/4 year course Fashion Design and Technique at l’Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale. My dream has always been to study at Central Saint Martins, but I was just rejected for the BA, so I will go to study in Paris.

Mary Binding, london college of fashion, student work, fashion design schools, st martins

My dream is now to go to CSM to do an MA, when I have finished with La Chambre Syndicale. Since I know you have studied at La Chambre Syndicale, I was wondering how many years you studied there, and how did you manage to get onto an MA course, having not done a BA? I thought that was one of the requirements.

Can you get onto an MA at if you have only a diploma from the Chambre Syndicale? I would also love to hear about your time at La Chambre Syndicale, even though I think the course has changed since you were there…

Mary Binding, london college of fashion, student work, fashion design schools, st martins

Dear Julia,

I joined the three year course at La Chambre Syndicale, and started in the second year, as I’d done a diploma in Canada and already gained a lot of technical skills. I only ended up staying for a year, as an internship in the production department at Sonia Rykiel turned into a job on the design team, and I knew this was an opportunity I had to take. When I applied to Central St. Martins’ (CSM) MA a few years later, I got in based on my professional experience, which they deemed equivalent to a BA. I believe that CSM will make exceptions on their MA course, if you have several years education or work experience, even without a BA, you can usually apply.

When I was there, La Chambre Syndicale was extremely technical, which gave me incredible skills, but there wasn’t a huge focus on design. The best part about the school was the internship opportunities, they had contacts with all of the big brands. Take advantage of this, as its more likely to lead to a job than the internships in London, which are essentially slave labour. I don’t know how the course has changed, but I am presuming it has evolved a bit to meet market demands.

Mary Binding, london college of fashion, student work, fashion design schools, st martins

The important thing for every student in your position is not to get obsessed with studying at CSM. While I can’t say enough good things about the school and the MA course, there are a a lot of other schools that can provide an excellent education. (Here are a few.)

With a good education, you can still be successful, even if you don’t have CSM on your CV. It helps to open doors for you, but many schools will help to open doors, and it is essentially about what happens once you’ve got your foot in the door that will determine your future. Get as much experience as you can, as an intern, and be fantastic intern: work hard, be enthusiastic, be responsible, be pleasant and listen. If the word gets out that you are a great intern in Paris, then you have an excellent chance of getting a job (Paris has way more jobs than London, and if you speak French, there will be a lot more opportunities available to you.) Your dream should not be to go to CSM, your dream should be to have a successful design career. There are many great designers in the industry who are not from CSM and they do just fine. If your talent matches your drive, I’m sure you will, too.

Mary Binding, london college of fashion, student work, fashion design schools, st martins

Images from LCF Showtime. Mary Binding is a 2012 fashion graduate from London College of Fashion, here details can be found here.

  • Roshh Ko

    Central Saint Martins will accept any 3-year (full-time) fashion course for entry to their MA course. I asked one of their representatives a while ago since I was wondering whether to do a diploma course in Poland or not. Otherwise, they accept 3 years work experience in fashion as well. (you need either the experience, or the full-time course) 
    As I’ve read about the Chambre Syndicale I think CSM will definitely accept it as enough for the admission purposes. They told me that it all depends on your portfolio skills (sewing, garment construction, illustration, etc.) rather than what subjects or how many hours have you spent on illustration at school. By the way, the same goes for the Royal College of Art (they however will accept your course only if it is on an undegraduate level (I think La Chambre course is on a BA level) – for example, the diploma course in Poland was a post-secondary education diploma but it wasn’t on the level they required) If you are able to create a portfolio on a BA level – well then, the university is open for you.

    It is best to contact the school you want to apply to (no matter if it’s early). They are very helpful. Actually, Royal College of Art is very, very fast with responding e-mails. CSM is rather slow (call them)

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

     Great comment and info, thank you. One thing I’d like to mention:

    “They told me that it all depends on your portfolio skills (sewing,
    garment construction, illustration, etc.) rather than what subjects or
    how many hours have you spent on illustration at school. ” – this isn’t quite accurate. The portfolio skills they will be looking for are research and development, this is far more important than sewing and garment construction.

  • Jasper

    really disliking the digital double exposures there, but am liking the balenciagesque/90s music video set in the future/space designs though (see janet jackson or missy elliot videos)

  • Julia

    Thank you so much for your reply Alexandra, it’s very interesting and helpful to me!

    Thank you also to Roshh Ko for the great info!

    The main reason why I have been fixated on studying at CSM is because whenever I read about new designers, 90 per cent of them have studied there. Even in the French media. In the last issue of French Grazia, they have a spread on new designers, and nearly all of them are CSM or RCA graduates. I never read about a new designer from l’Ecole Syndicale or Studio Bercot…! Why is that…?

    I have a place at Studio Bercot, as well as La Chambre Syndicale. Right now, I am leaning towards going to La Chambre Syndicale, because their course seems a lot more complete than Studio Bercot’s, who’s course only lasts 2 years ( + a one year internship). 2 years seems like such a short amount of time to me!
    However, there is a much bigger focus on design at Studio Bercot, which is why I am struggling to make my mind up on which school to choose…!

    Do you have any advice to help me make a decision?

    Thanks again.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    I’m afraid I can’t help you with that one. I too was accepted to both, and at times regretted my decision to go to La Chambre Syndicale, at other times, I am glad I chose it over Studio Bercot. They both have a successful roster of graduates, right? That is what is important.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Apply to both and make your decision once you know your options. Let me know what happens! I say CSM is the best option, if you get in.

    And yes, I saw that article on BoF. There has never been a lot of young talent coming out of Paris, but I think that is because the French couture association doesn’t do much to support them.

  • Cheryl W.

    I’m applying for a short course at CSM to see if it’s right for me. Maybe even give me the opportunity to work on that portfolio (and make sure it doesn’t look like a 13 yr old’s fashion scrapbook or something).

    Which portfolio prep course do you think is better (since I don’t have an artistic background)? Orientation to Art & Design or Fashion Folio?

    Also, I’d like to say thank you so much for all the information you’ve been sharing from day 1. It’s simple, informative and really helpful (less complicated than trawling through The Fashion Spot’s education forum). 😀

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Not the best person to ask, as I haven’t worked there is several years and the courses have changed. I suggest you do a few classes, as you’ll meet different teachers and get different advice.

  • Shoshanna Velasquez

    Hi Alexandra,

    I want to study fashion design in Paris, and my wish-list includes Chambre Syndicale, Studio Bercot, Esmod and Istituto Marangoni. What is your opinion on these schools? I wish I get selected to CS but I hear they do not prefer students who don’t have an arts background. Is that true? :( I studied Humanities.

  • Shoshanna Velasquez

    I meant *design background

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    I only know Chambre Syndicale first hand – which in my day, used to be a very technical course with lots of good connections for internships with the top brands. Studio Bercot was a bit more cool and fun and you learnt more design. I don’t know the other ones that well! Check my post about choosing a school, it should be in the Fashion Jobs & Fashion Schools category:

  • Shoshanna Velasquez

    Thanks a ton :) I’ll check out the link.

  • Corinne

    Hi, my name is Corinne and I am only in 8th grade, but I already know I want to pursue a career in the fashion industry. I have researched several colleges (both in and out of state; I live in Virginia) and am very interested in Central Saint Martins. If you have attended there (it sounds like you have!) I would really like to know what your experience was like and suggestions on how to prepare. Thank you!

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Check out my Fashion 101 category and my Fashion Jobs & Fashion Schools category – both will have information about preparing for a job in the fashion world, and the schools out there. You can find my list of categories if you scroll down to the bottom of the page, it is on the right side bar.

  • Tasha

    Hi, I’ve lived in France for 1 year now. I want to go to La Chambre Syndicale next year. The problem is I do not have Bac or A level. Where I come from which is Singapore, most of us do not take A level but I have experience assisting fashion designer,sewing etc. Can I enter the school with no A level / bac and show them my portfolio instead?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Your best bet is to check with the school directly! Good luck :-)

  • jj

    Hey Alexandra!
    Thanks for the article!
    I absolutely love Haute Couture, I thought Ecole would give me the technical skills and connections for me to go further down that path. It says the courses are in French. Is it foolish if I apply with no knowledge of the language at all…
    I’m on my final year of a fashion BA course and wanted to go for masters.
    And am applying for CSM but how are technical skills and job opportunities after?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Yes, it is very foolish to apply with no French skills as you will absolutely need a good grasp of the language if you want to succeed at the course. That said, it is probably the best one in terms of technical skills. CSM is more about design, although there are job opportunities afterwards for both.

  • Kevyn

    A couple of questions on that note! How fluent do you have to be to acceptable to apply for either schools?
    Are the teachers flexible enough for french learners?
    I’m interested in applying for both