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University of Applied Arts Vienna: Studying fashion in the footsteps of Karl Lagerfeld and Jil Sander

By Lara Grobosch



University of Applied Arts Vienna, or 'Die Angewandte' for short, Photo: Birgit und Peter Kainz

Those who are among the lucky 10 percent who are accepted into the fashion class at the University of Applied Arts Vienna learn from the best and have prospering career opportunities. In an interview, Monica Titton, senior scientist at the Fashion Institute of Applied Sciences, tells FashionUnited what students, apart from fashion drawing and sewing technology, have to learn in order to survive in today's fashion industry.

In addition to a strong artistic focus, the fashion department of the University of Vienna is characterised above all by the changing professorship of internationally renowned fashion designers. Karl Lagerfeld, Helmut Lang, Jil Sander, Raf Simons, Vivienne Westwood, Viktor & Rolf and many other well-known personalities have already taught at the university, which was founded in 1867. The British fashion designer Grace Wales Bonner has held the professorship for the diploma programme since 2020. She is one of the shooting stars in the fashion industry and has already received several awards for her label Wales Bonner.

Alessandro Santi, Diploma Collection, 2021. Photo: Alessandro Santi

For the students, the close contact with luminaries in the industry and the practical teaching seems to be almost a guarantee for a successful career. Graduates: they set up their own labels or have found work at major fashion houses such as Balenciaga or Prada.

The applied fashion class:

  • Address: Oskar-Kokoschka-Platz 2, A-1010 Vienna
  • Website: www.dieangewandte.at / https://www.modeklasse.net/
  • Course of study: Diploma course in fashion design (Magister)
  • Tuition fees: approx. 384 euros / semester
  • Number of students: 40 in four years
  • Admission rate: 10 percent
  • Supervision ratio: one lecturer per subject with 10 students

The fashion department is part of the superordinate institute for design, which also includes the subjects of applied photography and time-based media, graphic design as well as graphics and advertising. The fashion department is particularly keen to critically examine the fashion industry in order to prepare students for a changing world of fashion.

"For contemporary fashion production, it is extremely important that students are able to reflect critically on their work and place it in a social context," says Monica Titton. The fashion theorist and sociologist teaches students about fashion history and creative fashion writing. In an interview, she talks about the university, the courses and how the fashion class differs from the fashion courses at other universities.

What makes fashion studies at the Applied University unique?

We are not a mass study. We try to keep up with the changing conditions and offer students contact with people who work in the fashion industry. This provides us with good networking. We have a reputation in the fashion industry and people know that those who have studied with us are well educated.

The fashion class is known for having been led by changing internationally renowned fashion designers since the 1980s. What can students learn from them?

The idea behind this changing line-up comes from the system of art schools. You study in a master class and through contact with a person who has established a successful position in practice, you always have your finger on the pulse of the respective creative area. It is about imparting practical knowledge and providing networks.

Anastasya Shpagina, drawing, Diploma Collection, 2021. Photo: Anastasya Shpagina

In order to study at the University of Applied Arts, those interested must submit a portfolio and take an entrance exam. What do you pay particular attention to when choosing your students?

A high level of artistic and creative competence is crucial for admission to the fashion class. We pay very close attention to the fact that people are able to develop their own artistic vision and have a very distinct visual language and artistic position in relation to fashion. It is very important to us to see where the applicants position themselves and what they want to achieve in fashion - we determine that in the cover letter and in the interviews.

A maximum of ten students are accepted per year. Why did the university choose this small number of students?

We attach great importance to the fact that each and every student has their own workplace in our studio. Because we are only absorbing this small number, we can really focus on nurturing the talent.

Would you like to get a closer look at the fashion department of the applied arts and their premises? Explore the university here with the help of your mouse.

The work rooms of the fashion students at the Angewandte. Photos: Matthias Aschauer

The fashion design degree includes courses in fashion drawing, fashion communication, fashion business, fashion history, and fashion theory. What are the cornerstones of studying fashion design in your eyes?

Well-founded technical training and the development of your own artistic and creative handwriting keep the balance. That is why there are courses in pattern drawing, sewing technology and knitting technology, but also in fashion drawing and creative fashion communication. An important aspect is above all the individual artistic lessons and the central artistic subject, in which a creative, artistic identity is developed. In addition, there are courses in theory and history so that the students can also deal reflexively with the subject of fashion.

At the Applied University we share a curriculum with other courses in the Faculty of Design. Many of the institute's lectures are therefore interdisciplinary. The students complete a certain part with us, but they also attend courses in other departments, for example in the department of design theory.

How can you imagine the individual artistic lessons?

These are so-called corrections in which the student explains the progress of his or her work and collection development. Together with the lecturer who is responsible for the individual artistic tuition, a dialogue will work out what needs to be considered and how this work can develop further. It is about a very personal examination of the work of the students and also about decision support. In this confrontation, the feeling for an artistic language in fashion emerges.

Nikola Marković, Research Map, Diploma Collection, 2021. Photo: Nikola Marković

The fashion design course is actually very practical. However, due to the corona pandemic, classroom teaching had to be suspended for a long time. How did the switch to online teaching go during the pandemic?

We tried to find solutions with the possibilities that the students have at home. The colleagues who teach sewing and knitting techniques were incredibly creative. In the sewing technique course, for example, the students simply used wooden chopsticks to construct a corset. The individual artistic lessons have often taken place via Zoom. Visual communication has become much more important. The students had to learn within a very short time how to document and present their own work well - suddenly the Photoshop courses were in great demand. It was learning by doing, but it worked well.

From the second lockdown onwards, a regulation with the Ministry of Education made it possible for a limited number of students to come to the university and also work with the devices and machines there.

You yourself research, among other things, post-colonial fashion criticism, the influence of digital media and the connection between fashion and feminism. Where do you see interesting topics in the field of research that young fashion designers should deal with?

When I formulate my research interests, the first thing I think about is what is important for the students right now. I try to prepare them for an ever more changing and opening fashion industry in which things are critically discussed for the first time. You need to be familiar with contemporary political discourses on identity, feminism, diversity and sustainability, and you need to know that sustainability is not just about materials and production, but about a broader vision of an alternative fashion system. It is very important to me that the students understand that this system will only change if they also make a contribution. I try to convey to them that solidarity with one another and collective action are extremely important in order to point out grievances and jointly hold the fashion industry accountable.

Larissa Falk, Lookbook, Diploma Collection, 2021. Foto: Lea Sophia Mair & Anna Skuratovski

There is a mood of upheaval in the fashion industry. Fashion houses like Gucci have distanced themselves from classic seasons. What kind of fashion world do you want to train your students for?

We are very much concerned with this question. We have already discussed whether we want to keep the term collection at all, for example. Many labels have started to stop using these terms, and everything is developing more towards the elaboration of a code that is then updated but does not radically change from season to season as it was in the 90s. We train our students for a fashion world in which this extreme hyperconsumption, which was co-produced by the fast fashion industry, is no longer so dominant. We give them an awareness of quality and sustainable production. The way you learn to make clothes here is geared towards long-lasting ownership.

Do you think the current fashion system is still up to date?

I am a strong and articulate critic of the current fashion system, but at the same time, I believe in the enormous emancipatory and creative potential of fashion. In the global fashion industry, consumer habits and production conditions are largely unsustainable and therefore no longer in keeping with the times. This sudden halt triggered by the pandemic gave the fashion industry a brief moment of thought. Do we want to continue like this or do we not want to? And then the fashion industry was also one of the first branches to carry on again and to carry on business as usual. I think cosmetic changes have crept in. In the meantime, every label has a sustainability statement on the website or can no longer avoid publishing a statement, but I have not yet noticed any real change.

Jennifer Milleder, Diploma Collection, 2021. Photo: Irmfried Photographers

What would have to happen to bring about changes in the fashion system??

I think it's very important to learn how protest movements work and how they try to bring about social change. On the one hand, there is the strengthening of solidarity. I think it's very important that this is addressed very clearly at the universities so that solidarity is promoted among the students so that they not only compete with one another but can also act together as a group and support one another. But it is also about showing solidarity with the people who are disadvantaged in this system and who are excluded from the system.

How can young fashion professionals survive in today's fashion world?

In order to assert oneself in the changing world of fashion and in the best case, perhaps even to renew this system, critical-reflexive skills are extremely important. That is why Grace Wales Bonner attaches great importance to research and, when she took up her professorship, she introduced the writing of a written diploma thesis for the first time. At the end of the course, the students deal in more detail with a topic that they have chosen themselves and that may be related to their diploma collection. Many students converted the theoretical discussion into a beautiful, creative concept that formed the basis for developing the collection.

What entry opportunities do the young designers have after graduation?

There is a great promotion of young talent in Austria and many take time after graduating to develop their work and to take the first steps as their own label. Our graduates' own labels include Petar Petrov, Femme Maison, Sagan Vienna and Kenneth Ize.

But there are also many who take up junior design positions in large fashion houses in the European fashion industry. These are mostly ready-to-wear labels in Paris, London and Antwerp. Former students work for brands such as Balenciaga, Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Lanvin, Raf Simons, OAMC, Prada, Comme des Garçons or Maison Margiela.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.de and it was translated by Andrea Byrne.
Fashion Education
Jil Sander
Karl Lagerfeld
Universität für Angewandte Kunst Wien
University of Applied Arts Vienna
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