13 Fashion Peeps Who Studied Something Else In College

For fashion people and school people alike, September is an important month. As students across the country head back into the classrooms, fashion tastemakers will be descending on New York, London, Milan, and Paris for Fashion Week.

Some of those students sitting in lecture are undoubtedly daydreaming about careers in fashion — and wondering how they can get there. Everyone knows that some of fashion’s biggest names came out of F.I.T., Parsons, and Central St. Martins. But does that mean the rest of us are doomed to sit on the sidelines forever if we don’t want to study fashion in school?

The answer, of course, is an emphatic "no." As Eva Chen, former Lucky editor-in-chief and current head of fashion partnerships at Instagram, often advises, “You should study what you love and intern in what you want to do.” (She was pre-med and then an English major at Johns Hopkins.) For your inspiration, here are 13 fashion heavyweights who didn’t major in the expected (design, fashion, fine art, or art history) — and what they chose instead.
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Photo: Amber De Vos/ Patrick Mullan.
Aliza Licht
For three years, Licht was known to the world only as “DKNY PR Girl”, the cheeky voice behind DKNY’s Twitter presence. Finally, in 2012, she revealed her true identity as SVP for global communications at Donna Karan International and has since gone on to publish a book of advice on how to break into fashion. All this is a bit of a departure from what she studied in college: Licht received a bachelor of science in neurobiology and physiology from the University of Maryland.
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André Leon Talley
The former editor-at-large for American Vogue was already on the radars of fashion obsessives before The September Issue, and his appearances in the 2009 documentary launched him into popular consciousness. Known for his imposing presence (he’s 6-foot-6) and, of course, for his sartorial prowess, Talley studied something that probably comes in super handy during Couture Fashion Week — he majored in French at North Carolina Central University and went on to receive a Master’s in French Literature from Brown.
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Kate Spade
Kate Spade, founder of the accessories brand that shares her name, grew up far from the world’s fashion capitals: in Missouri. For college, she went first to the University of Kansas and then to Arizona State University, where she studied journalism and mass communication. In 1993, with a stint as an editor at the now-defunct Mademoiselle under her belt, Spade launched her company with a line of handbags, gradually turning it into the billion-dollar business it is today.
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Miuccia Prada
After receiving her PhD in political science from the University of Milan, Prada (are we allowed to call her Dr. Prada?) took over her family’s small leather goods business in 1978 — and proceeded to take it to unbelievable new heights. We don’t know if she’s ever needed her doctorate as the label's head designer, but we’re guessing that having the intellectual chops to get one of those doesn’t hurt when you’re at the helm of one of the world’s most profitable luxury brands.
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Thakoon Panichgul
Panichgul explored a few career paths in fashion prior to landing in design. Before presenting his first line under his name in 2004 and winning a Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund award in 2006, he worked in fashion production and merchandising, and also spent four years as a writer and editor at Harper’s Bazaar. His major in college? Business, at Boston University.
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Donatella Versace
Donatella Versace wears many hats at Versace Group — as chief designer, vice president, owner of 20% of company shares, and sister of the label’s founder, Gianni Versace. After Gianni's death in 1997, Donatella, who had cut her teeth designing accessories, a children’s line, and finally Versus, the offshoot brand Gianni Versace created for her, took on his role as designer for the entire house. Long before her brother made their family name a household name, Donatella Versace studied literature at a university in Florence.
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Vanessa Friedman
To be a fashion critic, you probably need to have spent your school years memorizing the entire history of clothes, right? Wrong. Vanessa Friedman, fashion director and chief fashion critic at the New York Times, studied history — of the general sort — at Princeton. But her lack of an academic background in fashion hasn’t stopped her from penning incisive analyses of countless collections for the Financial Times, InStyle UK, and, since 2014, the Gray Lady.
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Manolo Blahnik
Carrie Bradshaw’s favorite shoe designer was raised and home-schooled on a banana plantation in Spain. In the ’60s, his parents sent him off to the University of Geneva to study politics and law, hoping he would become a diplomat. Instead, after just a semester, he jumped ship for literature and architecture. After college, during a chance meeting with the legendary Diana Vreeland in New York, the then editor-in-chief of American Vogue urged Blahnik to focus on shoe design. Needless to say, he took her advice, launching his first collection in 1972.
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Chiara Ferragni
Who said fashion writing doesn’t pay well? Chiara Ferragni, the Italian blogger behind The Blonde Salad, is now raking in up to $8M a year. Given that fact, her parents are probably happy she abandoned her original plans — she founded TBS while still a law student at Bocconi University. She hasn’t left behind the world of academia entirely, however; earlier this year, her success story became an official Harvard Business School case study.
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Giorgio Armani
After witnessing the effects of WWII, Armani began studying medicine at the University of Milan (also Prada’s alma mater), but left three years later to join the army. His first foray into fashion was as a window dresser at a Milanese department store. After many years working first in merchandising and then as a freelance designer with a focus on men’s fashion, he established his namesake brand in 1975 and, by some accounts, is now the most successful Italian designer ever.
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Susanna Lau
Unlike many other widely read fashion bloggers, Lau dipped her toe in the 9 to 5 world before fully embracing blogging. After graduating from University College London with a degree in history, Lau — otherwise known as Susie Bubble of Style Bubble — worked briefly at a digital advertising agency before launching her blog in 2006. Since then, she’s become a familiar face at fashion shows and a contributor to publications like Elle and Dazed.
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Mario Testino
A Vogue mainstay and cross-generational favorite of the British royal family (he shot Princess Diana’s last major portrait session and most recently documented Princess Charlotte’s christening), Lima-born Mario Testino has a 30-year career photographing fashion’s biggest names — and sometimes their passport photos. Before he became fashion photography royalty, though, he studied economics at the Universidad del Pacífico and the Pontificia Universidad Católica, the latter of which is basically the Harvard of Peru.
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Photo: Gregory Pace/BEImages/Rex USA.
Phillip Lim
Garment making runs in Phillip Lim’s family. When he was growing up in Southern California, Lim’s mother was a seamstress at a factory. At California State University, Long Beach, however, he started off as a business major. He told Esquire, "Coming from a traditional Asian-American background, there were a couple things I could be: a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or a businessperson.”

Lim realized three years in that he hated what he was studying and decided to switch to home economics. Eventually, he made it to New York, where his eponymous label 3.1 Phillip Lim was born in 2005.
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