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BoF Exclusive | Condé Nast College Opens Center in Shanghai

The education arm of the media company behind Vogue, GQ and Glamour is poised for expansion into new territories.
Rendering of Condé Nast Center in Shanghai | Source: Courtesy
By
  • Hettie Judah

LONDON, United Kindom — Almost two years after the first students stepped inside the slim, angular portal of London's Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design, the media giant's international arm is set to launch a sister institution in Shanghai, with the possibility of more sites in other countries to follow. The Condé Nast Center of Fashion & Design Shanghai, as the new college is officially dubbed, is located in a dedicated 1,500-square-metre facility on Mid Huaihai Road, which is also home to Hermès, Louis Vuitton and the K11 Art Mall. Courses are set to commence in the autumn.

“The idea of the [London] college came about when we were exploring a number of [brand] extensions,” explains Nicholas Coleridge, managing director of Condé Nast UK and president of Condé Nast International. “We were having success with the Vogue Festival, with the Wired conferences and with GQ Men of the Year Awards and we had the idea of education because it seemed to play to our strengths. It started as an experiment and now feels very much like a growing concern.”

Shanghai is a magnet for ambitious young people, who often find that their university education hasn't fully prepared them for the standards of the fashion and design industry.

The London college — which offers validated fashion industry-focused courses of ten weeks and a year, as well as a range of short, non-certificated classes — can accommodate a total of 80 students at a time. To date, 450 students have passed through the college, with the figure expected to rise this year with the introduction of more short courses and a range of Miss Vogue weekend classes catering to 16- to 18-year-olds. The fee for the year-long Vogue Fashion Foundation Diploma is £24,000 for the current academic year.

“What we try and do is give people an understanding of the fashion industry within one year that might take seven or eight years to learn on the job,” explains Coleridge. “We have two USPs. One is that Susie [Forbes, principal of the Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design] has been able to get amazing speakers — designers, in particular — who come when they’re in London visiting their stores. The other is that students quite often come and sit in on editorial conferences here [at Condé Nast] and get a view of the working side of fashion.”

Students at the London college currently have 15 contact hours each week, including talks from industry speakers. Students also work alongside professionals in the field and their coursework involves tackling what Forbes calls “real business conundrums” posed to them by companies like Jaeger, Louis Vuitton, ASOS, Glamour and Fenwick. She adds that prior to launching the London institution, Condé Nast had underestimated desire for hands-on creative training and, in response, the school has boosted its technical facilities, adding a photographic studio and video editing suite.

The Shanghai school will differ from Condé Nast’s London school in that it will offer a technical creative course in advanced fashion design. The student body will also be almost entirely Chinese, in contrast to the more international mix of the London institution (where overseas students representing 50 countries make up about half the student body) with classes offered in both Chinese and English. Furthermore, more of its courses are aimed at postgraduate students and the curriculum will be tailored to the requirements of the market.

The localised approach is likely to be a marked feature of any future expansion of Condé Nast colleges, according to Coleridge: “In the same way that there isn’t a central formula for Vogue magazine — what the 21 editions have in common is their high quality, but each reflects the DNA of the individual editor and market — so it is with education.”

In recent years, much ink has been spilled on the oversurplus of fashion graduates being produced each year relative to the number of actual jobs available in the industry, but both Forbes and Coleridge are adamant that the student body they are moulding will meet an actual demand. “There perhaps aren’t the jobs to meet the students coming out of design courses, but there’s no end of jobs in the fashion industry,” says Forbes. “We’re kind of the only people training the students for those other roles.”

Indeed, according to Liz Schimel, president of Condé Nast China, there is a serious “expertise gap” between the requirements of China’s rapidly-evolving fashion industry and current graduates in the country. “We and our clients are expanding geographically in China and badly need talent to power that growth,” explains Schimel. “We see great demand coming from recent university graduates who are ambitious and realise they are lacking certain skills and knowledge to achieve their career goals. Shanghai is a magnet for ambitious young people, who often find that their university education hasn't fully prepared them for the standards of the fashion and design industry.”

“When it comes to teaching methodology, studying environment, courses offered and faculty, no other fashion education providers in China can really compare to us today,” adds Dominique Simard, director of fashion education at Condé Nast China. “Many of our courses are unique in China, particularly in the field of fashion media, digital communication, fashion branding, styling and photography. These are all recognised areas of Condé Nast expertise.”

Nothing is yet confirmed regarding future expansion, but Coleridge sees opportunity in taking Condé Nast’s education offering into additional markets. “China was very quick to pick it up and I think there are opportunities in quite a few cities eventually to do education,” he says.

Forbes certainly envisages the London site as a flagship institution inspiring the launch of Condé Nast Colleges of Fashion & Design in other territories, citing India as an area in which there has already been significant interest. “I think that this could become a very big and important business for Condé Nast. It is an excellent fit for us as a business and for all our own partners and affiliates. I feel that they do something together very neatly.”

Condé Nast's education push comes in the context of a wider strategic focus on brand extensions as the company aims to diversify its revenue streams away from advertising with forays into schools, bars, clubs and restaurants.

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