LONDON, United Kingdom — Institut Français de la Mode (IFM) has topped BoF’s global ranking of graduate fashion business courses, the first of its type, which evaluated 10 programmes on the feedback of over 1,000 students, as well as educators, HR professionals and recruiters. IFM is followed in the graduate business ranking by London College of Fashion and Savannah College of Art and Design. (To view BoF's full ranking of the top fashion graduate business courses, click here.)
While many of today’s top fashion retail and luxury executives earned their graduate degrees at traditional business schools like Harvard and Wharton, which do not focus on the fashion and luxury sectors, BoF’s rankings examine only programs tailored specifically to the fashion industry. (Several traditional business schools declined to participate in BoF's rankings).
While traditional business schools have their advantages, fashion focused management programs expose students to the industry's specific culture — and web of relationships. But there are some disadvantages for prospective students to consider. For one, the programs are considered less competitive. And many of the top non-specialised business school programs offer tailored courses for fashion and luxury, while also providing transferable business skills that can be applied to any industry.
"As we have seen in the last few years, some of the most successful CEOs don’t come from fashion at all, and even if they do, their success often comes from their sound business sense as opposed to sense of fashion," says Caroline Pill, vice president of global executive search for Kirk Palmer Associates.
She says a specialised course in fashion is not necessarily the key to success in the industry but acknowledges that these programs "will often open doors and allow privileged access to the industry (which remains quite exclusive of course) through internships, networking, career days, guest lecturers etcetera."
Sylvie Ebel, executive director at IFM, says the fashion sector requires a specialist education. "You want people to be close to the ecosystem ... We want them to understand the world of the business and the constraints of the market and the constraints of the production system. It’s a lot of practical experience and you pitch as well. This is something that was important to [founder] Pierre Bergé, even in management or design."
"Brands and companies have always been [at] the core of IFM," says Pascal Morand, executive president of France’s Fédération de la haute couture et de la Mode. "The intense and supportive dialogue with brands and companies has enabled IFM to be in position to anticipate their wishes and expectations in a prospective way."
The schools that top BoF's ranking also give business students proximity to aspiring fashion creatives. "Traditionally ‘creative’ and ‘logical’ brains have been seen as separate, but there is plenty of evidence that those who have studied business have creative ideas and those who are creative can create and run a successful business venture," says Dr Frances Corner, head of the London College of Fashion, which earned second place in BoF’s ranking. The school counts Vetements chief executive officer Guram Gvasalia as a graduate of its strategic fashion management program, and prioritises cross-course collaboration.
But as today's fashion world shifts, so too are the business programmes at fashion schools. "We are emphasising operations and leadership, strategic thinking about consumer behaviour, marketing, brand development, supply, communications, promotion — how are we all getting through this very new world of retail and buying and selling?" says Michael Fink, dean of the School of Fashion at Savannah College of Art and Design, which took the third spot in BoF’s ranking.
"As sectors within the industry blur, a broad education is increasingly invaluable," adds Corner. "We have seen a change in most sectors of industry that is now looking for more ‘soft’ skills in its leaders — creativity, intuition, and rational decision making."
"Our underlying plan of action is: how are we going to get you a job?" continues Fink. "And what we did last year may not be applicable this year."
Top 10 Global Graduate Fashion Business Courses
- Institut Français de la Mode (Paris, France)
- London College of Fashion (London, United Kingdom)
- Savannah College of Art (Savannah, United States)
- Fashion Institute of Technology (New York, United States)
- Polimoda (Florence, Italy)
- Philadelphia University (Philadelphia, United States)
- LIM College (New York, United States)
- Istituto Marangoni International (Milan, Italy)
- RMIT University (Melbourne, Australia)
- Domus Academy (Milan, Italy)
To view the full State of Fashion Education Report and BoF Global Fashion School Rankings, and learn more about our ranking methodology, click here.