German fashion giant Hugo Boss has long paid close attention to young designers. The annual competition it sponsors offers a prize of €3,000 shared among its winners, a useful sum for any struggling student. But what is remarkable is that Hugo Boss’s award does not go to one of the world-famous fashion design colleges such as London’s Central Saint Martins or New York’s Parsons. Rather, it goes to graduates of the less well-known Staatliche Modeschule Stuttgart – the Stuttgart State Fashion School.
The 2017 Hugo Boss Fashion Awards saw a proud Frauke Schüle collect the top prize for her baseball-inspired menswear collection, with the two runners-up presenting collections based on mountain biking and hiking – it must be something to do with the spectacular terrain in these parts. The collections are placed on public view in the Baden-Wurttemberg design centre.
The arrangement is, of course, a two-way street. As Wolfgang Reimer, Stuttgart district president, has noted, the awards ‘offer the graduates interesting insights and perspectives in a well-known and international fashion company’, while the fashion company gets to spot and, sometimes, take on new talent – some 10% to 20% of graduates are hired by Hugo Boss.
The relationship is a close one – Hugo Boss has been working with the Stuttgart State Fashion School for some 30 years. And that is not simply related to Hugo Boss’s history – the company has ties to the locality, having been established in 1923 by tailor Hugo Ferdinand Boss in Metzingen, a town near Stuttgart. It also reflects standing of the school, across Germany and, increasingly, abroad; Boss is not the only company keen to collaborate with it. Stuttgart-based contemporary jeweller Langani, which uses distinctive metal, glass and wax beads and glass figures in its necklaces and bracelets, has also teamed up with the school to feature its pieces in the students’ final year shows and to incorporate Langani-style materials into their clothing designs. Langani’s other partners include prestigious names such as Louis Feraud.
So what lies at the heart of the school’s appeal? Part of the attraction is its small scale. Each class has a maximum of 24 students, so the two years of training is personal and intense. And the entrance process for the Stuttgart State Fashion School is particularly rigorous. Would-be students must come to the school prepared: it’s a condition of entry that each applicant must have already had some basic training in clothes-making and design, either vocational or at an entry-level college. There’s even an aptitude test. Small wonder only around a quarter of applicants get offered a place, or that the school is Germany’s only to operate in this way.
Only the best
‘To apply you need a certain creative potential, a sense of fashion and a basic technical/mathematical understanding is important too,’ explains Sabine Dirlewanger, the school’s principal. ‘It’s not just about drawing and sewing,’ she adds: students are taught business management, languages, social skills. Creativity/design is just one of the course’s pillars, the other two being the eminently industry-appropriate disciplines of technical development and product management.
Unusually, each student makes a garment by their second term, one of which goes into production. This may be no more complicated than a T-shirt, but the process is an in-at-the-deep-end exposure to the idea that creating clothing is about more than some producing nice sketches – cutting and printing, fitting, processing, production and logistics are all necessary. ‘And we make some really good T-shirts every year,’ Dirlewanger notes.
Bright young things
The result of completing this tough course is that each student becomes, in effect, state-approved in their training. This is a great advantage, especially when seeking employment with major German fashion brands; many graduates apply for posts with companies such as Jil Sander, Escada and Joop, or up-and-coming names such as A Kind of Guise or Acronym. And that’s where Dirlewanger likes the graduates to be: out there in the industry, rather than pursuing dreams of launching their own labels. That can come later, after they’ve got the basics in place. As she has observed, ‘Fashion is a hard and fast-moving industry.’ Students who complete the Stuttgart course are well-equipped to tackle fashion’s challenges – and are likely to stay the course.