One look at models on a catwalk and we see them posing, walking, smiling, sometimes not smiling…but we very rarely see them talking. It is for this reason that the notion of language learning in the fashion industry might seem quite farfetched at first glance. However, after scratching the surface it immediately becomes clear that this is a very international business, and just like in any other international setting, knowing languages gives the players of the game an advantage over their peers.
This idea or belief has the full support of one of the biggest industry players – Aldo Liguori, who is global head of PR at Fast Retailing. Fast Retailing is none other than the Japanese company which carries two of the strongest brands in fashion, that is, Uniqlo and Comptoir des Cotonniers. But what interests most about this great man is the fact that he understands how important languages are in an international setting. He, himself speaks five languages fluently, including Japanese, and on more than one occasion he has expressed how he feels that this gives him an advantage over his peers especially when it comes to communication with representatives of the media and also with other colleagues from different parts of the world.
As Aldo continued to explain why he feels that being multilingual is necessary in today’s world, it became even clearer that the fashion industry, with all its glamour and sparkle is simply another situation in which survival of the fittest prevails. Indeed, Aldo believes that without the knowledge of the languages that he speaks he wouldn’t have been able to reach the level that he has reached in his career. He confirms that in his opinion, the trick is to not expect that people will speak your language. Just because Milan is the city that is most usually associated with fashion, does not necessarily imply that all the players of the game are expected to speak Italian.
This is a very common discussion when it comes to languages in general. On a different level and in a different context, something very similar is often discussed in the case of English-speaking countries, which sometimes carry the label of being monolingual (and not doing much about it) because of the fact that English is the world’s lingua franca and everyone who even remotely dreams of doing business on an international or multinational level must, at least, speak some English.
And this translates into fashion as well. Even when it comes to recruiting members of staff, these big companies like Uniqlo make it a point to hire people who are multilingual. The company even offers language training to those who need it, and as for Aldo, he feels that this is vital. “If you are not able to fully understand what someone is asking or telling you, take a step back and ask them to repeat. Even though I started many years ago, that has been a true success factor for me”.
Travelling is one of the highlights of the fashion industry, however, “you won’t get as far speaking only English on these trips”, says Patrick Clark, who is also a languages graduate and currently works as an online editor for the magazine Schön! “Anyone you meet at Fashion Week is potentially a colleague. I’ve created a lot of links in Milan with people by speaking Italian – a photographer we’re working with now is a friend of a friend,” he says.
So by means of conclusion, one might feel safe to say that since most fashion events are held in France and Italy, the two languages to learn if you want a career in fashion are French and Italian, right? Wrong! The events might be based in Europe, however, that is not where the real money is. That is not where the big buyers are. In fact, they are found in China and Japan. On this note, Timothy Parent, founder of China Fashion Collective says that, “there are plenty of times when English isn’t enough for work. Many of the designers I work with only speak Chinese. Building relationships and meeting people are incredibly important, and in China you are extremely limited if you don’t speak the language.”
What is being done about this? Unfortunately not much. In fact, there are currently no joint undergraduate fashion and language courses available in the UK. Although students who are studying in the field of fashion are encouraged to go on exchange programmes in countries where languages other than English are spoken, they are still not receiving proper formal training, and this is imperative if they want to succeed in this highly-competitive industry. As Jana Reynolds, who works as the international development manager at the exclusive N°10_Showroom in Paris, states: “you can get by with English, but it’s more about the quality of communication. Fashion people are very irrational, emotional, neurotic people, and the safer they feel in your company, the further you’re going to get with them.”
Source: The Guardian