William Fan, Natascha von Hirschhausen and Isabel Vollrath are three German fashion designers who have one thing in common: They are all graduates of the Weissensee Art Academy in Berlin.
The college is located in the east of Berlin and was founded in 1946, just one year after the end of the Second World War. Today the building complex is a listed building: it is a small, very individual and artistically designed campus with lots of green space and hidden corners designed by the students themselves.
In addition to sculpture, stage and costume design or visual communication, the curriculum of the state art college also offers a bachelor's and master's degree programme in fashion design. The Bachelor's programme takes four years. The special feature of the course is the interdisciplinary foundation year: "In the first year, students from all subject areas are taught the artistic and design basics together in an interdisciplinary way and also get to know our many workshops for the first time," Heike Selmer, Professor of Fashion Design, explains in an interview with FashionUnited. The large campus includes a total of 13 workshops. Here the students learn handicraft skills such as knitting, sewing and weaving, work in the computer studio and bookbindery and visit the wood and metal workshop.
The Fashion Design Department is located on the third floor of the main building. From the second year onwards, the main course of study takes place there. In semesters three to eight, students work on projects, plus follow intensive cutting lessons, subjects ranging from fashion illustration and CAD to materials science, as well as theory seminars in costume history and fashion sociology.
The projects extend over a semester and have an overarching theme. In recent years, for example, the themes were "Luxury" or "Sustainability and Craft", Selmer says. Keeping in mind the overarching theme, the students are encouraged to be very autonomous in the design of their projects: "The project themes that we specify are free and serve as inspiration. The students decide for themselves how to use this input," Selmer explains, "At Weissensee you have the opportunity to work very artistically and freely - there are few limitations and we try to make a lot possible."
Students are also free to choose the topics of their theses. As a rule, graduates' design collections consist of about 6 outfits for the bachelor's degree and final year students also write a theory paper. Selmer emphasises that "the students set individual priorities. So the final projects include everything from a bag collection to embroidery work to a freely draped collection.
"Our job is to recognise the students' potential, to encourage it and to equip them with as many tools as possible to help them succeed professionally in the end," the professor says. Once a year, all students get the opportunity to showcase the results of their creative work. The school holds a big fashion show in which all classes participate. At this show, Weissensee graduates do not just present their final collections, but it also gives them the opportunity to showcase their other work.
Last year, two students from Weissensee Art Academy won prizes at the European Fashion Award Fash in the Bachelor category. Idan Yoav took first place with his graduation collection "Nomads for love". His fellow student Lihi Mende ended up in second place with her collection "The Space".
Interest as a driving force
As with many fashion design courses, a portfolio is key when applying to the Weissensee Art Academy. The application process starts with an online application. Then, selected applicants are asked to submit a portfolio. About 50 students go on to the next application round during which they have to take an aptitude test.
"What we want to see are, of course, ideas and creativity, an interest and good energy. An interest in doing artistic work, an interest in fashion," Selmer says, looking through the submitted portfolios. Those who are among the lucky chosen ones get to come to the art academy for the aptitude test - or rather the aptitude week. There, "every day one or two new tasks await the applicants," Selmer explains. The tasks cover a wide variety of areas. In addition, each person who is invited has a personal interview with the application committee. Selmer cites interest as the most important quality that applicants should bring with them: "I think that is exactly the motor that helps to make the best use of this study programme".
The school at a glance
- Address:Bühringstraße 20, 13086 Berlin
- Website: https://kh-berlin.de/
- Study programmes:a Bachelor and Master in Fashion Design
- Degrees: Bachelor of Arts / Master of Arts
- Standard period of study Bachelor programme: 8 semesters
- Tuition fees:none, only a semester contribution of 320 euros
- Number of students:about 17 in the first semester
- Supervision:by four professors, two art teachers and staff and teachers in the workshops
The joy of fashion
The Bachelor of Fashion Design "is intended to enable students to pursue a qualified professional activity in the various areas of fashion and to develop their own creative position and design identity. The degree programme promotes independent designer personalities according to design, aesthetic, social and ecological criteria," says the website of the art academy. But how is this put into practice? "For one thing, we offer the students intensive professional input to accompany the projects, delving into topics such as sustainability, for example, and practising different types of design and working in teams," says Selmer. "Above all, we give students the freedom to bring individual topics and provide a breeding ground for their own ideas to grow."
After graduation, all the doors of the fashion world are open to the graduates. However, many continue their studies directly in the Master's programme, especially if they plan to found their own labels later, the professor says. Brands founded by Weißensee Art Academy alumni include Michael Sontag and Perret Schaad. Master's student Laura Gerte has also already ventured into the German fashion industry and showed her collection at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Berlin 2022 in the German capital.
Video: MBFW.berlin via YouTube
"I think what they all have in common is a great curiosity and a strong will, an urge to explore and enjoy fashion. And maybe also a hope to do something better," Selmer concludes.