Sunday, 10 October 2010

The First Week of the Rest of my Life

After months of waiting and one week of lectures, I am finally a student at the London College of Fashion. It has been such a whirlwind week that blog writing has been relegated to the back bench for a while. It seems like so much has happened in just a few days, but I'll try to remember and get some of it down.

Here is a week's diary of a fashion journalism student:

Sometimes life likes to have a laugh at our expense. Call it sod's law or just bad timing, but every now and then the world throws ironic obstacles our way. Like Monday: my first lecture, a day nervously awaited like the first day at a new school, and also a tube strike. Just what was needed to top up the old anxiety levels. Luckily I live right near an overground station, so although my journey would take me longer than usual, it wasn't the end of the world. Leaving myself plenty of time to spare I headed to the station with my flatmate who had her first lecture at the same time as mine. (At least this new school student had a friend to sit next to on the journey.)

I'm not going to describe the whole journey (that would be nearly as boring as the journey itself) but the long and short of it was this: packed like sardines, delays, looking at my watch every 5 minutes, terrified of being late to my first lecture then literally running down Sheperd's Bush Road to arrive outside my classroom 5 minutes early. When I got there I was met by a crowd of other students and a note saying our class would start half an hour late because the people in the class before us arrived late due to the tube strikes. So I nipped to the loo, only to come out and find the hallway empty. All my classmates that had been waiting with me outside the room had disappeared. Next followed a manic search for my class. After a morning of stress and arriving 5 minutes early, I ended up walking into the lecture 10 minutes late. It turns out that in the minute I was in the loo the lecturer had found a spare room and everyone had moved there. To make my morning that little bit more fun my entrance to the room was met by turning heads and followed by a talk on how the doors would usually be locked after 10 minutes, and that latecomers were a real disturbance. Thank you universe.

However stressful it may have been I knew it wasn't really the end of the world. I was still there and that was what mattered. The lecture itself was fascinating - the lecturer read aloud from 'The Tipping Point' a book about what is required to make a trend spread (a book which, being the true geek I am and always will be, I later borrowed from the library and have nearly finished reading), and discussed target markets and the importance of aiming your writing for a specific audience.

Despite how interesting I found it, there was one moment when I felt like perhaps I was in the wrong room. I shall call it the Muffin Issue. One of our tasks is to look at a magazine and analyse its target audience based on anything from images to writing style, to content. As an example we were all asked to say what we thought someone who preferred chocolate muffins would be like over someone who chose blueberry. I don't know about you, but I personally like both. As I listened to the phrase "A chocolate muffin person would be..." I couldn't help feeling a little out of place. Was I the only person in the room to find that sentence strange? And isn't judging someone in that way a little, well, judgemental? Am I really the kind of person to judge someone based on the kind of muffin they eat? And if I'm not... do I really want to be? It wasn't just about muffins, of course, it got me thinking about the whole fashion industry. I love fashion and am passionate about succeeding in this industry but I want it to be my job - however much I love clothes I am very much aware of the fact that there is more to life than dresses. In short, the Muffin Issue made me ask myself the terrifying question: is this really what I want?

Stay tuned for the answer...

If Monday was all about new rooms and new faces, Tuesday morning found me back at a very familiar place. You guessed it, Cosmo towers. The night before Clare, one of the fashion assistants, emailed saying they were in desperate need of an extra pair of hands. I told her I had a lecture at 4 but could come in for the morning. Morning: Cosmo, afternoon: LCF. Sounds like a good day to me.

I think that I am becoming a rather familiar face at Cosmopolitan. When I ask for a pass in the morning the receptionists never bat and eyelid or ask me if I know where I'm going. In the postroom they know my name and we always exchange smiles and "have a nice day"s. And when I was here a few weeks ago I shared a lift with Louise Court, editor in chief, who asked me, "So how long are you with us this time?"

In all honesty however familiar it may feel, every time I come back I cannot believe my luck. I still find it incredible to stand in a room where one of the most well-known and successful women's magazines is produced, and even better to feel (if only in a very small way) part of it. Perhaps I could have taken advantage of the late lecture to get a lie-in (I'm still getting used to London life and find myself constantly exhausted from commuting) but why would I do that? It felt invigorating to be doing something that I know is directly linked to my future: every time I'm at Cosmo I gain more and more valuable experience and get an even greater insight in to this industry. So perhaps it was a hectic morning and hard work, but I was feeling extremely happy when I left Cosmo in the afternoon to head to Sheperd's Bush for my first IT lecture.

I wouldn't usually consider myself particularly IT savvy (or particularly interested in computers for that matter) but I found the lecture fascinating. Just to hear about the amazing facilities the university has to offer got me excited. Perhaps I will never have the need to use a 3D body or foot scanner (a machine that scans a person and calculates their exact measurements meaning you can use computer software to design a garment or shoe to fit an individual person exactly) but just knowing the facilities are here makes me feel so lucky to be here. I'm part of something pretty special.

After the lecture I headed to Oxford Street to make use of the library at John Prince's Street. As I spent several hours wandering through the aisles, losing myself amongst the musty smell of thousands of words, I felt completely at home. Everywhere I looked there was a book I wanted to pick up and read, from old tomes on fashion history to glossy hardbacks about different fashion houses. It got better however, when I turned the corner and was met by shelves and shelves of bound copies of Vogue. Surrounded by every copy of Vogue in existence (and not just the English edition, the American and French versions are there too) I was so happy I could have cried.

You know what...? Maybe this is what I want after all.

The fashion journalism course I am studying covers both print and broadcast. Although I may have applied to the course with more of an interest in print, and although writing will always be my main passion, I am actually equally excited about starting to study broadcast. I am very aware of the competition I will be up against as a fashion journalist, both from other would-be editors of Vogue but also faced with obstacles such as an unstable financial environment and the risk the internet poses to journalism. Therefore I am very open to the fact that as a journalist working in the 21st Century I will have to be much more than a writer. The more skills I can accumulate and the more diverse I can be, the more employable that will make me. And that is precisely why I chose this course.

All that sensible stuff aside - broadcast looks like so much fun. After our broadcast lecture, where we were briefed on our end of term projects (to analyse an lifestyle or fashion tv programme and to create a mini programme in groups) we were shown around LCF's very own tv studio. After walking past soundproofed editing suites and through rooms filled with glossy Macs we came to 'The Store'. The name doesn't do it justice. This is a room packed full of all the cameras, tripods, wires, lights, gadgets and gizmos you could ever imagine, all there for the use of LCF students.

I am not a gadgety person, (just like I thought I wasn't a computer person) but I left feeling unbelievably enthused, and eager to get stuck in. Right now I feel like one huge happy sponge, ready and keen to soak up as much LCF as I can.

Hectic is the first word that springs to mind. However, shortly after hectic comes fascinating. Thursdays are the most intense days on my timetable: a 9:30 start at Sheperd’s Bush followed by two lectures at John Prince’s Street, finishing around 5:30. It doesn’t help that the 9:30 lecture is shorthand, which means learning a new and complex language when you’d rather be in bed.

Saying that, I actually loved shorthand. When our lecturer introduced himself as a shorthand enthusiast and confessed to owning over 500 books on the subject I must admit my initial thought was: weirdo.

I left the lesson wanting to rewrite Shakespeare in shorthand. Now whenever I see a blank piece of paper I use it to practice the Teeline alphabet. Now who’s the weirdo.

One of my concerns about coming to a fashion university was that perhaps it wouldn’t be that stretching academically. I have already admitted to being a geek, and it’s true. I enjoy studying something that I’m passionate about, but something that really stretches me. After a few days of lessons based largely around creative thinking, shorthand came as an equally stimulating, but more old-school form of learning. It was actually a welcome contrast to have someone standing at the front of the class teaching me something completely new, and having to rely on my memory to take it in. I love the fact that looking at my shorthand notes is like looking at a piece of paper covered by the random scribbles of a two year-old. What I love more is the excitement of understanding that this scribble means ‘pen’ and that scribble, ‘imagine’.

My shorthand lesson required a completely different way of thinking and made my brain hurt. And I loved that.

However much I enjoyed shorthand, its intensity made me appreciate the special nature of the creativity and discussion involved in my later lectures. I think the combination of both these ways of learning will be what makes for a fulfilling and interesting course.

We have Fridays off so I took advantage of this to get myself back to Cosmo towers. Friday was the definition of a good day. I felt the happiest I have felt since I have been here. No big thing happened, I didn’t bump in to Alexandra Shulman and have her tell me she was thinking of retiring soon and would I please take over, but everything just seemed somehow brighter. I felt as though things were beginning to fall in to place, I felt appreciated and comfortable, and (if only for a day) my panicked “Am I going to make it?” fears fell away.

Now when I leave Cosmo there are none of the sad goodbyes or horrible tears and aching feeling of returning to normality. Instead a wave and “I’ll see you soon”. I still can’t quite get my head around how I’ve got here or how I’ve managed to be so unbelievably lucky, but in the meantime I’ll just thank my lucky stars and work my socks off to keep it that way.

London Living
So far the course itself is proving to be everything I wanted it to be. But, as is life, there are ups and downs to everything. I mentioned how tiring I’m finding commuting and the general pace of the capital. I can already feel that I’m gradually beginning to get used to it, but I still think it will be a while until I’m completely settled in to the rhythm. And I am discovering that studying here isn’t the same as being at a campus uni. There is no student bar within walking distance (no anything uni-related within walking distance in fact) and no canteen to nip to for a lazy meal. Although there were a few great parties fresher’s week wasn’t exactly an earth-shattering event (at least not for me anyway).

The mix of people here is also very different to other places. People come from all over the world, but we’re mostly female (73% in the whole of UAL - probably higher at LCF) and all interested in the arts. It is great to be surrounded by people who share your passion, but some days I just want to listen to someone studying history talk to me about their subject, or even have a light-hearted argument with a mathematician about why I hate numbers.

When I hear about what my school friends have been up to and the type of university life they’re experiencing, I can’t help but feel I’m missing out, and more than a little left out. I don’t really feel like what I would consider to be a ‘proper’ or ‘normal’ student. Perhaps all that means is that I have consumed an unusually small amount of alcohol since I’ve been here, so maybe in the scheme of my life and where I want to end up that isn’t such a bad thing. But nonetheless there are days when I have this niggling feeling there’s something I’m missing.

I love living in London, and there is nowhere else I would rather be (not to mention the fact that, for what I want to do, there is no better place to be). But some days it can be a big, scary, tiring and ironically lonely old place.

These are the downs. But I have also just described a huge amount of ups. It’s swings and roundabouts - and that’s life for you.

This week as well as the amalgamation of nerves and excitement I have felt an overwhelming feeling of beginning. I don’t just mean beginning my 3 years at university. I feel as though I am setting out on the long road towards my future. It may be bumpy in places, but it is the end of the road I have to keep thinking about. I am determined to make the destination worth all the bumps along the way.



  1. I did that whole blueberry and chocolate muffin scenario the other day in media analysis, who teaches you? x

  2. oh and shorthand, it is like a whole new language isn't it? I know my teeline alphabet now, but I need to master the joining of words, I mean who would have thought that tough in teeline is taken as 'tuf' brilliant :)

  3. Hey Jem,
    hope you're having a great time and enjoying your course - it's a woman called Alexia who teaches me (can't remember her last name!) And about teeline, haha I agree- it's funny :)