Grad School Profile: School of the Art Institute of Chicago

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The Master of Design in Fashion, Body and Garment degree is a unique program administrated by the Department of Fashion Design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).  This institution prepares students for a wide variety of post-graduate opportunities.  Attendees take a combination of eclectic classes expanding a broad range of subjects, making this particular graduate program competitive against universities with more focused degrees.

Required classes include art, design and fashion history and theory, along with technical/studio design and research-directed seminars to enhance what is learned in the classroom.  Several electives are offered, allowing students the chance to study specific tracks in their second year.  Every spring, the program culminates with a showcase of scholarly work from graduate students during the SAIC End of Year Show.

A strong point of SAIC is their innovative Fashion Resource Center.  According to the Center’s website, “The Fashion Resource Center maintains a unique hands-on collection of late twentieth and twenty-first century designer garments and accessories representative of extreme innovation.”  Unlike museums and other cultural institutions, which allow scheduled appointments to view – but not touch – archived objects, the Fashion Resource Center provides students with the chance to handle garments and view details up close.  The Center encourages scholars to study its unique collection of 3-dimensional objects, publications, videos,  reference collections and rare books.  Complimented by workshops, lectures and tours, the Fashion Resource Center is an invaluable asset, especially to those focusing on contemporary fashion.

The program requires students to seek out professional opportunities; “Issues in professional practice are built into the entire curriculum, and supplemented by visiting designers from both the fashion industry and related fields.”  The school’s location in the heart of Chicago, Illinois provides many opportunities to work with companies and institutions amidst a well-known, industrious city.  Chicago’s alternative and expansive art market makes it an ideal setting for those wanting an urban atmosphere that lacks the “cut-throat” competition for jobs found in New York City or Los Angeles.

One downside to SAIC’s MDes in Fashion, Body and Garment is its cost of enrollment.  Tuition for the 2011-2012 school year is $1,301 per credit hour, and scholarships are competitive.  Full-time students are required to take 12 credits per semester, so costs adds up.  Teaching assistantships and Federal Work Study may be available within the department and affiliated studios, although they are typically held by second-year graduates and placement is not guaranteed.  Although the degree produces well-rounded students, there are several less expensive university alternatives which should be carefully considered if cost is an issue.

Graduates of SAIC’s fashion department include prominent 1970s fashion designer and milliner Halston and contemporary womenswear designer Cynthia Rowley.  Faculty members consist of “designers, design historians, and working artists” such as Nick Cave (textile artist) and Katrin Schnabl (fashion designer).  A comprehensive list of designers and companies that occupy graduates can be found on the department’s website.

The MDes in Fashion, Body and Garment program is often overshadowed by more specific graduate institutions specializing in Fashion and Textile study, but it should not be ignored.  For the tactile scholar, the Fashion Resource Center is an amazing reserve.  The location is also appealing for those wishing to live in a large city and a small faculty provides students with first-hand assistance in their research and studies.  For more information, please refer to SAIC’s website.

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