Undercover at UCA Rochester

Have you ever had a mad daydream about walking down the catwalk to take a bow after your first collection gets a standing ovation? Or walking into WHSmiths to buy a copy of your very own magazine? Why are you daydreaming? These things are more than possible thanks to institutions like the University of Creative Arts in the South East of England.

Topstylista went undercover to the open day at UCA Rochester and this is what we discovered…

A brilliantly unusual building designed in the 1930s but built in the 60s, packed from basement to double-height attic rooms with creativity and the production of the future. The world never fails to underestimate the importance of the creative industries but this university stands tall and proud regardless. Previous graduates include Dame Zandra Rhodes, Tracey Emin and the creator of “Where’s Wally”.

Whether you want to design, photograph or write for the fashion world, the Rochester Campus has it all. Yet, the UCA offers a vast array of other subjects spanning its four main university sites, including a course in the London School of Needlework at Hampton Court (only the place where UCA students embroidered Kate’s royal wedding dress.)

The other UCA campuses are: Epsom, Canterbury, Farnham and the studios in Maidstone.

The Open Day at Rochester ran several tours each hour of studios, seminar rooms, exhibition rooms and student digs, while a schedule of presentations about individual courses available was spread across the day. The choice was excruciating! With fashion in mind, however, we went along to the Fashion Design course talk and got more than we could ever have imagined. In a small room of about 20 chairs, tables had been set out with student work from the first year. They were designing with and for Hilfiger Denim. On the other side of the room stood a row of mannequins dressed in unique and amazing styles of denim. Apparently, Hilfiger sent the students a massive roll of denim and a brief and the rest was up to their creative genius.

After a short power-point by a flustered-but-friendly tutor, we were lead around the fashion block by a 3rd year student.

“The best thing about this course is the freedom to express yourself… and the Gerber training.”

For those of us who had no clue what a Gerber is, it is the programme and machinery used to design and make patterns that pretty much every manufacturer uses. It is the most expensive piece of equipment any fashion department could have. So much so that in other institutions, students have to pay extra to be trained to use it. Not at UCA. This part of the fashion course is not only included in the syllabus, it also sets the UCA fashion grads well ahead of students from other institutions in the eyes of employers.

After the impressive rooms packed with sewing machines and ironing boards, we felt it time to explore the university’s media side. Just down the hall from where our Design tour had begun, was the Promotion and Media suite. Sadly, we’d missed most of the presentation going on in this room but hung about afterwards to have a chat with the brilliant tutor once everyone else had shuffled off. Fabulously, she let us have a private viewing of the power-point she’d put together and then arranged a private tour of the media department with a brilliantly bubbly student who couldn’t express just how much she loved the place. Along with several computer rooms (all Apple, obviously) the students have free reign of a photography studio with all the best equipment they could need and plenty of new designs and stylists willing to help with all kinds of projects. This department of the UCA is so successful that they have recently published the third edition of their own student-run magazine, known as Geist, which sells internationally.

By the end of our Open Day experience at UCA, it was fair to say we were more than blown away.

So why not stop day-dreaming and do something about it?

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