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I’ve had a number of people write me to ask advice about studying fashion in Paris, so I thought I would write a more general post on the subject. Before I begin, I should mention that I haven’t lived in France in fifteen years, but from what my friends tell me, it hasn’t changed that much.
WHY YOU WANT TO STUDY IN PARIS
1. It’s Paris. And no matter what New York, London, and Milan say, Paris is the center of the fashion world. This alone is a reason to pack your bags and go and study “la mode” in Paris.
2. Great internships. Sure, most cities will offer internships, but will they be at Chanel and Louis Vuitton? Because in my opinion, those brands sound better than Holly Fulton on your CV. And France has a system in place for internships, which ensures no slave labour (like in London and New York.) Basically, they pay you (not much, but it is something) and the internships are well regulated so you get to learn, do interesting things, and be somewhat appreciated. The best part about interning in Paris is that if you are good, you could probably get a job out of it. That’s how I got my job at Sonia Rykiel. Unlike London companies, most of which rely on free labour and have little funds to actually hire any of those people, French companies very frequently recruit their interns. That is awesome.
3. You learn things the old school way. This applies to French fashion schools in general, but certainly when it comes to technical skills. Some may argue this is a con of studying in Paris, but I can tell you right now that if you know the techniques involved in making a couture gown, you can probably stitch something up that looks like H&M. Whereas if you learnt the H&M way, well, I doubt you’ll ever be making any couture.
WHY YOU DON’T WANT TO STUDY IN PARIS
1. The French schools aren’t super famous. Some of you have probably heard of some of them (Ecoles de la Chambre Syndicale, I went there, and Studio Bercot) but the big names are in London and New York. So unless you get an internships at a famous company (and let it be known that those internships are also available to students who study in other countries) the school might not be as valuable on your CV as St. Martins or Parsons.
2. You need to speak French. Unless you go to an American school in Paris (which I DO NOT recommend), French schools teach in French (duh.) And no, they don’t make a million exceptions because English is a more popular language. So if you have no grasp of the French language, don’t bother going to study there. Or learn French first.
3. The bureaucracy will kill you. If you are studying in France, you’ll have to live in France, and that means doing things like renting an apartment, getting a doctor, and possibly even a social security number. The French have a special way of doing these types of things. First, they make it impossible to find the information you need to do it. Then, they make you wait in line for hours. Then someone will tell you something, and you’ll rush off and spend hours collecting the necessary paperwork to proceed. The next person will tell you something different, and that the paperwork you have is useless. Repeat five times over two years. Then maybe you’ll have your social security number. And by the way, to find an apartment, it isn’t first come first serve. They will look at “applications” and choose the person who is best looking (no joke, see number 6) or who earns the most money. It is rare that the student earns more than most applicants, so basically, a nice apartment is VERY hard to find.
4. You need connections. In France, you gotta know people to get almost anywhere (it’s called “piston” in French.) I really lucked out with my Sonia Rykiel job, and then I met people, and then I had connections, but if you aren’t lucky, and you don’t know anyone, then you might not ever get that job/apartment/sample sale invite. I know that the fashion industry generally works on this premise around the world, but in France, it is particularly bad. So many people get jobs because their Dad is friends with someone who knows the directrice de collection at famous fashion house X and he puts in a good word for you. Those are also usually the types of Dads that have pieds-a-terres in Paris (that means an apartment or house sitting empty, used for little Paris jaunts) and they let their kids live there while they study, thus eliminating the stressful process of securing an apartment to live in, leaving them more time to meet people, make connections and get ahead. Win-win for them, lose-lose for us normal folk.
5. Lots of fashion students in Paris are rich kids. I studied with people who flew the Concorde to New York for the weekend (boy, that dates me.) Whereas in London, I felt rich because I could afford the bus everyday. So if you are going to be struggling to make ends meet, know right now that there won’t be many sympathizing with you, although you might get invited to their chalet in the Alps for the weekend.
6. You need to be thin and pretty. Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration, but life in France is a LOT easier if you are. I have a friend who is probably a size 2 or 4, who used to get criticized every time she ate a mini croissant at work. The women would tell she “would never get a husband eating like that.” I have another friend who wasn’t able to get the apartment she wanted because the (male) real estate agent told her that the other girl who was interested made more of an effort to look nice when she came to view the place. And lastly, I once got a bank loan because I was wearing stilettos and a skirt with a high slit. That’s France!
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