The Bath Spa University Fashion Course operates out of a townhouse close to Bath Fashion Museum, at the centre of the city’s World Heritage site renowned for its Georgian architecture and Roman springs.
Established in 2003, this off-site department is a 15 minute walk from the University’s main Art & Design campus. Professor John Miles, former Head of Fashion & Textiles at the Royal College of Art, was the main contributor to the course curriculum which tries to address some of the criticisms levelled at UK Fashion Education. It aims to provide students with an understanding of the fashion industry as a whole, while developing their creative, design and technical skills.
This curriculum combines technical considerations and design thinking in one creative endeavour. To be successful, the creative process must feed from rich original concepts aligned with technical constraints. Bath Spa Fashion students are expected to develop a unique and original handwriting visible throughout from design to pattern cutting and construction.
In partnership with the neighbouring Bath Fashion Museum, the course offers an integrated programme of Historical and Cultural studies. Lectures and weekly handling sessions at the Museum help foster understanding of the cultural and social development of fashion.
Bath Spa Fashion Design Curriculum
The curriculum is designed to develop curiosity, encourage creativity and enable originality. Supported by strong links with the industry, the development of technical and professional skills underpins the course objectives.
Bath Spa prides itself on a rather old school delivery of the programme; its facilities lend themselves to an Atelier atmosphere. Each year group has its own studio, with pattern cutting tables and industrial sewing equipment; students are encouraged to view this environment as a place of work to be visited daily.
They also have full access to all the workshops available on the main Art & Design campus; these include screen-printing, digital print, laser cutting, machine and digital embroidery, dying facilities, knit, metal work, plastics, and 3D printers. The school also has a specialist Art & Design library providing an ideal environment to teach the various aspects of fashion.
Every year students work on a minimum of one live project for the industry. Second year students are also required to source their project briefs from a fashion brand or a label. Sourcing, interim feedback and final presentations of the project to the client develop the students’ communication, negotiation and entrepreneurial skills. Projects for the likes of Sonia Rykiel, Alice Temperly, Mulberry and Addidas also provide students with excellent industry contacts.
A small team of dedicated and experienced industry professionals deliver the course. The relatively small cohort (26-30 in each a year group) means that it can be taught in a working studio environment.
Visiting lecturers are regularly invited to share their practice and specialist knowledge. Julian Roberts has lectured on Creative Cutting, Richard Gray on Illustration and Portfolio presentation, Eric Shakespeare on Tailoring and Joe Richards shared his experiences working for Dior, Celine and Mark Fast. The course’s external examiner, Brian Kirkby of Boudicca, also has a valuable input.
The Bath Spa Fashion department is not afraid to give students a realistic insight into the fashion industry, a sector of the economy that is more about hard work than glamour!
Despite not being assessed for it, every student at Bath Spa is encouraged to undertake placements and internships in the UK or abroad. They may also assist London Fashion Week Show Producers and work for Bath in Fashion.
Final year students enter national and international design competitions, take part in the British Fashion Council Colleges Council Preview and show at London Graduate Fashion week (LGFW). Each event gives students the opportunity to showcase their work and network with the fashion industry.
The industry offers a wide and varied range of careers. Bath Spa Fashion graduates work in fashion design, product development, buying, merchandising, journalism, PR, pattern cutting and studio managers at all levels of the market, for manufacturers, brands and designer labels. A number of them have chosen to pursue their studies at postgraduate level in various fashion related fields.
Modeconnect interviews course leader Louise Pickles:
Full story below….
Louise Pickles was Design Director of Ladies Casual and Sportswear for the Dewhirst Group, one of the largest suppliers to Marks and Spencer. Under her tenure in the six years between ‘91 and ‘97, the company tripled its turnover from £30 to £90 million. Headhunted to work in Australia, she helped modernize the Witchery fashion chain – the brand collecting in the process a Retailer of the Year Award at the 1999 Sydney Fashion Week. Louise went on to become the Design Director for Anthea Crawford, Australia. Today she is Bath Spa Fashion’s course leader.
Louise you had a very successful career in the industry. What led you into education?
For many years I recruited designers who had fabulous portfolios but were ineffective within a design studio: they were unable to develop ideas in any depth and to communicate effectively with production. I left the industry in 2003 to take on the role of Course Leader of Fashion at Bath Spa for a then new off-site program. The aim of this program was to address criticisms, including my own, about fashion education in the UK.
Tell us about the fashion course at Bath Spa.
I still consider my role to be that of Design Director, albeit with a very large and inexperienced team! My aim is to keep the working environment as real as possible within an academic environment.
Students are expected to work in the studios five days a week from 9am. I expect commitment and punctuality. This may sound like some boot camp, but students quickly take responsibility for their own work and learn to utilize all we have to offer. They learn to become independent practitioners and thinkers.
Fashion Students often mention time management as one of their struggles.
First year students seem to think that, to quote Professor Basil Kardasis: when God made time, he made plenty of it – he didn’t. Time management is one of the main issues that hinder students’ progress. In my opinion the more time they have, the more time they seem to waste; our policy is to have tight deadlines so students learn and progress faster. This also prepares them for the industry environment.
How do you feel your experience helps you in your current position?
The fashion industry is forever changing. It is frenetic, fickle, highly competitive, dynamic, time pressured and hard work. It is one of the most exciting and rewarding industries to be involved with. My twenty-two years working in the fashion industry underpins everything I do at Bath Spa University.
I feel I must continue networking in the industry, it helps keep things real. I am Creative Director of Bath in Fashion, on the steering group for the BFC Colleges Council and member of the Executive Committee of LGFW.
I try to raise the profile of the course further, find placements for students and ensure our teaching is always at the forefront.
Are you satisfied your objectives for the course are being achieved?
I believe Bath Spa provides the environment and teaching necessary to train individual and creative designers with excellent technical and professional skills. Despite its young age, Bath Spa Fashion course has an excellent reputation. It is thanks to the dedication of the Fashion Course staff who continually raises expectations. Our graduates do well in national design competitions and easily secure jobs. One of our graduates Chloe Jones, won both Womenswear and Gold Award at LGFW 2012, judged by Matthew Williamson, Daphne Guinness and Suzy Menkes – an award won in the past by Stella McCartney and Christopher Bailey – so we must be doing something right!
What do you enjoy the most in your current position?
I enjoy nothing more than to see, within the three years of the course, students grow beyond all recognition. I have at heart the success of every student; not all of them will become fashion designers but I want every single one to realize their true potential and find their place working within the industry they love.
I love it when things are at their most chaotic: they also are at their most real. I love the late night fittings, the inevitable problem solving when things don’t quite go to plan, all year groups working together and the fabulous atmosphere leading up to a final deadline when the studios are buzzing with creativity and emotion!