How to Become a Couture Designer

Get your designs on the runway with a career in couture fashion design.
Get your designs on the runway with a career in couture fashion design. (Image: Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Couture fashion design is a creative art form that lets you express yourself through apparel and design clothing for specific clients or customer bases. There are a plethora of ways to embark on the road to becoming a couture fashion designer. Even though some well-known designers have been able to succeed with an alternative route, a fine arts education is the best and most credible foundation for an aspiring couture designer.

Obtain a two-, three- or four-year degree in fine arts. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design offers approximately 300 accredited post-secondary institutions where designers can earn fine arts degrees; see Resources for a link to become a NASAD member. Other recommended schools include the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, the Fashion Institute of Technology or Parsons School of Design, both in New York. Schooling programs will teach aspiring designers skills through various fine arts classes. Skills include drawing, pattern making, color composition and form, as well as cutting and draping techniques.

Be ready to show couture design skills when you apply for design school. Reputable institutions typically are very selective and competitive. Have a well-prepared portfolio displaying your most creative sample sketches and designs. Get some sewing experience before applying through internships, apprenticeships or by practicing on your own. You can purchase books to teach you the basics of sewing as well.

Learn the business mechanics behind fashion by interning at a fashion design firm or working for an independent fashion designer, either while you are still in school or shortly after graduating. Couture designers must be extremely creative and organized, and must be familiar with at least the basics of economics. These skills are especially important for couture designers who are also looking to become entrepreneurs.

Gain knowledge of design-related software programs, such as Auto CAD, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, by purchasing the software and learning on your own, or by taking a class that teaches you how to use the software. Due to the ever-changing landscapes of the fashion industry, aspiring designers should possess advanced technical and computer skills to stand out and remain current with industry trends.

Keep an updated portfolio of sketches highlighting recent and past designs to send to the fashion house(s) you are interested in working for, or ask about transitioning your current internship into a full-time design position. Do not be afraid to call and ask exactly what the firm is looking for in a designer. Having an academic education and industry connections will be of great help in the competitive and fierce hunt for internships in this field.

Read the Women's Wear Daily trade paper regularly to keep up with the latest trends and learn a lot of valuable industry information (see Resources).

Immerse yourself in the local, national and global fashion scene. Get acquainted with as many fashion industry insiders as possible by attending fashion shows, parties and other fashion events in your area. Travel to Fashion Week in New York or other events around the world if you can afford to do so. Keep an updated portfolio with fresh new designs to show to people you meet. Do not be shy; introduce yourself to as many people as possible to get your name out there.

Tips & Warnings

  • Prepare early by taking as many of the basic courses as possible, including design, sketching, human anatomy and mathematics.
  • Make contacts throughout schooling. Keep in touch with all professors and peers, as some of them may be valuable contacts down the road.
  • Take advantage of workshops, conventions and showings.
  • Be prepared to work long hours and with little reward for a period of time, possibly for a good part of your career.

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