AIFS Study Abroad Blog

What’s it Like to Study Fashion Abroad?

AIFS Students at the YSL Museum in Paris as they study fashion abroad | AIFS Study Abroad

The following post was contributed by Meg McClure, Academic Coordinator for AIFS Study Abroad who accompanies and supervises AIFS students on the multi-destination Fashion Marketing and Merchandising summer Study & Travel program where students study fashion abroad for a few weeks.

Stop #1: London, England

For the Fashion Merchandising and Marketing traveling study abroad program, the continental destinations of Paris, Milan and Florence are obvious choices for a survey of high fashion. But London? Beyond the trendsetting clothes of Her Majesties Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, where does the capital of the United Kingdom fit onto the map of couture?

Our program’s exploration of fashion begins with the Swinging Sixties and the rule-breaking, trendsetting fashion of Mary Quant and the Chelsea girls. AIFS students stay in apartments that are walking-distance from the King’s Road in the iconic neighborhood of Chelsea, where now-Dame Vivienne Westwood broke all the rules with her punk fashion, and over a decade before her, Mary Quant with her iconic boutique, Bazaar.

The students visited the Mary Quant retrospective at the Victoria & Albert Museum of decorative and applied arts, in addition to the Museum’s impressive permanent collection of fashion relics from Tudor times to Balenciaga. Some even got there early to nab a coveted ticket to the sold-out Christian Dior exhibit! It’s quite the experience for students who want to study fashion abroad.

After seeing Queen Victoria and Princess Diana’s iconic gowns at Kensington Palace, we enjoyed traditional afternoon tea in the Cellarium of Westminster Abbey, where Kate walked down the aisle in her iconic Alexander McQueen gown when she married Prince William in 2011.

AIFS Students, Callie and Maddie, at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London

Our final visit was to the Fashion and Textile Museum on trendy Bermondsey Street, founded by (and home to) British designer and national treasure Zandra Rhodes, whose atelier one of our students is interning with.

Next stop: the City of Lights – and Chanel!

Stop #2: Paris, France

We arrived to Paris from London in a breezy 2 hours and 21 minutes on the Eurostar. Paris is experiencing a heat wave, which will make the sunset cruise on the river Seine that much more appealing. Drifting around the Ile-de-France, we are reminded of the recent fire which threatened the iconic cathedral of Notre-Dame, and it is a relief to see its gothic stone facade intact. 

Our hotel is in the 11th arrondissement, nestled between the high Fashion of the Marais and the history of Bastille, walking distance to the beautiful Place des Vosges and with a quintessentially Parisian street market along the Boulevard directly in front of us twice a week. In addition to the household items and fresh produce for sale, some gifts to bring back home were also acquired, little pots of herbs de Provence and lavender sachets with Parisian monuments embroidered on them. 

AIFS students at Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Paris, France

We take the Metrò across town to YSL. Opened recently, the Musée Yves Saint Laurent is moments from the fashionable Champs Elysees and boasts not only a retrospective of the iconic designer’s work, but also his studio space and work station, preserved as though he had just stepped out for a Cafè au lait. Tomorrow we will attend a fashion show at the iconic Galeries Lafayette!

AIFS Students attending the Galeries Lafayette Fashion Show in Paris, France

Stop #3: Milan, Italy

It’s a hot summer in the city of Milan, Italy’s fashion and commerce capital, but the warm weather doesn’t stop the Italians from dressing to the nines! As we enjoy a guided tour of iconic Via Montenapoleone and the who’s who of high-end boutiques – Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino and more – we notice many of the locals in their finest designer garb.

Armani/Silos is tucked away down a tree-lined avenue, inconspicuous and quiet on a Sunday. The clean lines of the building, once a granary, contrast with the fancy Rococo flourishes of other fashion houses, and those of some of our previous visits, such as to the 19th century Galleries Lafayette in Paris. This is in keeping with the Armani aesthetic. The designer’s 40-year retrospective is laid out over two of the space’s three floors, clothes arranged on mannequins without any barriers or glass cases to obstruct the view, allowing the students to get up close and personal with the designs. Riya Sanghi from Indiana University was breathless in front of a lavishly beaded evening jacket: “this is incredible!”

Tomorrow we will take a day trip to the Lake District to visit the Silk Museum in Como and have a refreshing swim in the lake in the afternoon.

AIFS Students learning about Silk Production in Milan, Italy

Stop #4: Florence, Italy

Florence is the final stop of our Fashion tour, and what a finale. We begin our week with a walking tour of the city center, taking in the Duomo and exploring the medieval lanes of this very walkable city. Our hotel is on the bank of the Arno river, and the walk along the river offers spectacular views of the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s covered bridge which houses some of the city’s most prestigious jewelers.

Our class visits contrast tradition with progress. First we visit the Scuola del Cuoio, the artisan leather workshop in the cloisters of the Basilica of Santa Croce founded following WWII by the Franciscan friars and the Gori family, leather craftsmen, in a neighborhood where leather tanneries have been present since the 1300s. One of the granddaughters of the founder, Beatrice, shows around the factory and we observe craftsmen at work making wallets, belts and other wares while learning about the different types of leather and the process. 

The next visit takes in the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum. Ferragamo was a shoe manufacturer whose designs were worn by many Hollywood stars in the 1950s and 60s, and whose label still makes top quality footwear. The current exhibit at the Museum focuses on sustainability, an important view to the future of the fashion industry, and we see shoes made from cellophane and dresses made from pineapple bark.

AIFS Students at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence, Italy

We end our trip with a flourish at the Gucci Garden, a modern fashion collection laid out like a museum in an elegant palazzo next to the town hall, the Palazzo Vecchio. The outrageous designs and playful spirit are a fitting conclusion to our travels and studies.

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