Simon Chilvers is now Mens Style Director at Matchesfashion.com. He also writes about fashion for The Guardian newspaper, where he previously held the position of Assistant Fashion Editor.
Can you tell us something about what you were up to before you started the MA Fashion: Culture and Communication (now MA Fashion Journalism)?
I had been to Northumbria University and studied History of Modern Art, Design and Film. I came to London to work in fashion, which was initially in a shoe shop on Oxford Street! Then I worked for an ad agency as a press analyst part time, which I did while also doing a PR job. A tutor from Northumbria put me in touch with a tutor at LCF and I ended up deciding to do the MA.
Why did you choose this particular postgraduate course?
I liked the mix of cultural studies with fashion and I thought LCF seemed like a good school. I also wanted to focus more on fashion than I had on my BA.
Can you give us an example or two of particular projects or pieces of work that you undertook during the course?
To be honest, I think for me, from quite soon on (and I did the course over 2 years part-time) I knew I wanted to focus on menswear and men's issues so everything became very much about that subject matter. I joined forces with a fellow student Anna Moore, and we started working together on writing a book of essays on men and fashion. This became our dissertation - the first time the college had allowed two students to do this I think - and I really enjoyed working on it. It was the best of both worlds; writing stuff on your own but also collaborating with someone else and chucking ideas around together, which is essentially how magazines work.
And something about the structure of the course and how it was taught?
I found all the tutors I worked with to be very available outside of college time, which was invaluable. We had lots of great guest speakers from within the industry too.
What about your fellow students? Can you tell us something about them?
It was a really brilliant mix of international, mature and students like me who wanted to top-up their degree. As a part-timer I wasn't so much hanging out with the course but I did obviously spend a lot of time with Anna, who is still a really great friend. She has set up a really successful styling service which works out of Bluewater and Westfield.
What have you been doing since completing the course?
I have slowly built up a freelance career in writing and styling. Highlights: work experience at Vogue and the Guardian. Winning the Jackie Moore fashion writing award, which meant I got to go to Paris haute couture week and write on it for the Guardian. Writing for British Vogue. Developing a styling career for the Guardian fashion supplements. Over the past 5 or so years I have written for Russian Vogue, Rubbish, Men's Health, i-D and developed my menswear styling for the Guardian. Now I mainly work editorially for the Guardian, writing features, styling the men's high-street spread and main fashion for Weekend magazine and compiling and writing shopping pages. Alongside this, I work for several high-street brands as a stylist. It's a brilliant job, which I love. Working freelance for 7 years has been hard at times but it was definitely worth it.
How do you think the MA helped you with this?
The course really focused my way of thinking critically and looking at fashion in a more broad, cultural way. It also really developed my writing and editing skills. Plus, we had experts coming in to talk to us about their careers, so hands on learning from that point of view too.
And finally - any words of advice for students who may want to follow in your footsteps?
Work really hard. It's such a cliché but working in fashion is not all limos and champers. It's about work experience, sending back clothes from shoots and working with good people (often for free to begin with). My advice is to have a part-time job or two, that are somehow connected to the industry, even if it's just working in a boutique, while you are starting out as it just means you have financial back-up. Contact interesting people you want to work with but don't harass them, drop them a friendly email but remember they might not get back to you immediately. Don't turn down anything to begin with, as you never know who you might meet or what might come of it. My assistant emailed me randomly, I happened to be looking for someone, we met and she has been working with me for over 2 years and she is so busy now with her own work and working with other stylists too. The industry is small so if you are a hard worker, you'll get recommended to other stylists or editors.
Matches interviewed Simon and shared these additional top tips for students with us...
How can applicants make sure they stand out from the crowd?
I think the best way to stand out from the crowd is just to be yourself. Look prepared – as in, if you've got an interview or a work placement, you need to turn up and demonstrate straight off that you've done some research and know the organisation/magazine you're there to work for/interview for.
What key skills do you need to get into fashion?
Initially you need to be patient and prepared to graft hard – getting your foot in the door is the biggest trick so you need to impress people with a brilliant attitude. You obviously need to have a good visual understanding and a creative streak but equally you need to be good with people – in fashion, it's often about teamwork, especially on shoots and in office based roles. You also need to be able to juggle lots of different things at the same time – fashion moves fast and you need to be able to keep up with the pace.
Do you have any motivational words for students aspiring to make it in this very competitive industry?
Drive. Stamina. Ideas. To get into the industry, work really hard, do the groundwork, take on every opportunity that is offered, be open-minded and go the extra mile. Have lots of ideas – all the time. Soak up culture – art shows, film, museums, magazines, books. Set yourself mini goals. Get a blog. Experiment. Read.
For career opportunities at MatchesFashion.com visit matchesfashion.com/careers