The Academy of Art University in San Francisco


The Academy of Art University was founded in San Francisco in 1929. It began as a small, one room drawing class taught by Richard S. Stephens, then the art director of Sunset magazine. He felt that many people he came across in the industry did not have a proper grasp of the classical arts, so he sought to educate them. That one evening class has grown into a school of over 17,000 students studying across multiple disciplines, from fashion and interior design to acting, advertising, and illustration. Today, Richard S. Stephens’ granddaughter, Dr. Elisa Stephens, leads the Academy of Art University, and has steadfastly maintained her grandfather’s vision.

Over the past sixteen years, the School of Fashion has grown immensely under the guidance of Executive Director Gladys Perint Palmer and Director Simon Ungless. Richard S. Stephens’ classical philosophy is still held in the School of Fashion, where every student must learn to cut, sew, and draw– that basic knowledge is the foundation upon which students build their education and ultimately their career. Students study under industry professionals in the fields of fashion design for women’s and men’s wear, technical design, textile design, knitwear design, accessory design, fashion illustration, fashion journalism, fashion marketing, fashion merchandising, and visual merchandising.

The opportunities available to students at the Academy of Art University are truly remarkable – opportunities for learning, collaboration, and opportunities to meet some of the top talent in the fashion industry.

The School of Fashion offers specialized classes in the art of millinery, the couture technique of tambour beading, and even a class dedicated to fashion show and special events production. And our students are always collaborating on the most exciting projects – both within the School of Fashion and with other departments in the University. Simon Ungless believes that this is one of the most important aspects of being a student: “You are much stronger together than you are alone – that collaborative process of working with somebody is so important.” One of our biggest collaborations is 180 magazine. Styling students work with photography students to produce imaginative editorials, journalism students write inspiring stories, and our graphic design students and alumni help to design the overall look of the mag.

And at our fashion shows each year, students have the chance to meet industry professionals and given opportunities to interact with and learn from them. Graduate students present their collections during Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week in both February and September. It is an amazing experience – to see your work on the runway at New York Fashion is a feeling unlike any other. And each May, undergraduate students debut their work at the Graduation Fashion Show and Awards Ceremony. Honored guests come to San Francisco and interact with the students, during discussions, classroom visits, and portfolio reviews – and these interactions encourage consideration for internships around the world. Past guests have included Sarah Burton, Philip Treacy, Suzy Menkes, Oscar de la Renta, Zac Posen, Jean Paul Gaultier, Cathy Horyn, and Alexander McQueen.

Our students come in with such passion, and it is our job to foster that creativity and give them the tools to harness it and make it into something beautiful. As Jean Paul Gaultier said during his visit, ““The Most Important Thing Is Passion – Love, Life, Art, Fashion.”

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