Feeder programmes at key schools may be the secret to landing an entry-level position at a top fashion house
Want to work at Gucci’s design headquarters? Consider applying to Kingston University. Its students have collaborated on projects with the PVH-owned brand. Passionate about tailoring? Brioni, the menswear house owned by Kering, partners with London’s Royal College of Art each school year to hold talent competitions and recruit interns.
Gone are the days of the shot-in-the-dark application. In order to burnish their reputations as employers and recruit top talent, leading luxury houses are developing formal programmes with the best universities.
These feeder programmes — from Kering’s partnership with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) at the London College of Fashion to Sup de Luxe at Paris’ École des Dirigeants et des Créateurs d’entreprise (ECF), which offers both a master’s and bachelor’s degree in global luxury management and is supported financially by Richemont-owned Cartier — are now often the key to landing an entry-level position at a top fashion company.
“It’s more about partnerships these days,” says Karen Harvey, an executive recruiter who places c-level candidates in positions on both the creative and business sides of fashion. “Through these long-term relationships, companies get to meet with the students more than once or twice. It’s not just about glancing through their portfolios.”
But which schools offer opportunities at which brands? BoF examined three of the industry’s top conglomerates to identify both formal and informal partnerships between their labels and the world’s leading fashion schools.
Kering’s formal programmes with universities span both disciplines and regions. “A key objective of the group is to attract, recruit and develop the best people for every aspect of our activities, wherever they may be,” a spokesperson for the group told BoF.
“We want to create an environment where each of us is encouraged to learn, to grow, to fulfil our potential and to have a positive impact. Diversity in the workplace — of gender, nationality, age, background, sexual orientation and talent — enriches us all and is a key driver of creativity and growth.”
For MBAs, the luxury group sponsors the “Kering Luxury Certificate” at international business school HEC in Paris. The programme includes seminars led by Kering managers and visits to Kering brands, as well as an annual competition judged by HEC professors and Kering directors. In 2017, 38 participants from 15 different countries were admitted into the programme, which, according to Kering, regularly results in appointments within the group.
On the creative side, Kering participates in several initiatives, including its partnership with the London College of Fashion’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF), which includes a master’s course in sustainability supported by the company as well as the annual Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion — a monetary prize and/or an internship placement — and an annual talk given by a Kering executive. (At this year’s talk in October, Gucci chief executive Marco Bizzarri announced that the white-hot brand would no longer use real fur in its clothing and accessories.)
At Parsons School of Design in New York, Kering awards two BFA fashion design graduates the opportunity to intern or apprentice at one of its brands, while its partnership with the University of Tsinghua in Beijing includes two programmes: the artistic innovation studio, which helps students create their own workspace, and a scheme that offers financial support to 10 female students.
There are also more specialised programmes within Kering’s brands, including a partnership between La Scuola dei Maestri Pellettieri, Bottega Veneta’s workshop, and University IUAV of Venice, which offers post-graduate training in creating handbags and other accessories. At Brioni, tailors are trained through its own sewing school — Scuola di Alta Sartoria — while other talent is tapped through the Royal College of Art, where the brand supports competitions and recruits interns. Gucci recently partnered with Italian fashion school Polimoda to launch a master’s course in fashion retail management.
Top brands: Louis Vuitton, Céline, Givenchy, Dior, Loewe, Marc Jacobs.
With more than 70 maisons under its umbrella, it’s no surprise that LVMH’s formalised partnerships are quite varied. While the company recruits from traditional design schools including Institut Français de la Mode, Central Saint Martins and Parsons School of Design, it also looks to Harvard Business School, INSEAD and HEC to hire MBAs.
At ESSEC business school outside of Paris, students can be selected for the LVMH chair, a luxury brand-management programme with seminars led by LVMH managers, complemented by company visits and internships. Students also get to work on a real-life project with an LVMH brand manager. LVMH and Dom Pérignon also support ESSEC’s “Savoir-Faire d’exception” chair, a 20-student course that explores the importance of heritage in the luxury industry.
At HEC Paris, LVMH supports a chair in general management in excellence and client experience. Prospective students interested in supply chain and logistics might look to engineering university Centrale Supélec, where the group backs a course on the topic. Milan’s Bocconi University has established a fashion and luxury management professorship in partnership with LVMH, which also supports the luxury track of its MBA programme. In Asia, the conglomerate has teamed with Singapore Management University on a research initiative that aims to shed light on the luxury goods market in the East through unbiased case studies and field reporting.
On the design and creative side, LVMH often recruits interns and entry-level designers from Central Saint Martins as well as Parsons School of Design. In 2016, the group launched “Sustainability and Innovation in Luxury,” a strategic partnership with Central Saint Martins to identify “cutting-edge solutions to address future sustainability and innovation in luxury.” LMVH also offers vocational training through its Institut des Métiers d’Excellence (IME).
For Burak Cakmak, dean of fashion at Parsons, formalised partnerships are not only about work placement, but also about résumé building.
“The immediate benefit for a brand is the ability to learn from the talent and to be able to hire the individual,” Cakmak says. “But it will always be a small number of students who achieve that. No matter if you are directly hired, what matters is what you have on your CV and diversity is critical.”
Top brands: Calvin Klein
The New York-based group welcomes 300 to 350 summer interns into its 10-week programme. And that’s not including those placed in its offices in Europe. (PVH hires 20-25 percent of its interns each year.) “They do real work,” says Dave Kozel, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at PVH. At Calvin Klein, 50 new interns are welcomed each semester.
PVH has working relationships with more than 250 schools globally. While many senior executives graduated from schools located on the east coast of the United States — including the Fashion Institute of Technology, Philadelphia University and the Savannah College of Art and Design — certain schools are pinpointed for certain skills.
For instance, Lehigh University and Penn State University, both in Pennsylvania, often breed good candidates for supply-chain related jobs, while the University of Delaware boasts a strong fashion-merchandising programme. Parsons and FIT are the primary feeders for entry-level design positions. In Europe, PVH regularly works with the London College of Fashion and Kingston University, as well as Hong Kong University in Asia.