Fashion designers usually begin their careers as sketching assistants or pattern makers. As they gain experience, designers can obtain higher-level supervisory positions where they oversee a specific brand or fashion line. Motivated and talented designers can obtain creative director or chief designer roles. Some of the most successful designers sell ideas in their own stores, launch their own fashion lines or work for high-end design houses that offer personalized services to clients.
Head of Design
The design head, or lead designer, is responsible for providing a strategic direction for his department and is in charge of the work the design team produces. Although the position requires design development experience and managerial skills, leading a department is usually the first step in career advancement. Sarah Burton was the head of design for women's wear at Alexander McQueen for 10 years before advancing to her current position of creative director for the company.
Chief designer is one of the highest design positions in the fashion industry. Design chiefs determine the company's overall direction. They plan fresh style elements that target various customer bases and implement their ideas in each new collection that follows. CoCo Chanel, who created Chanel No.5 and the infamous collarless suit jacket in the 1920s, was the chief designer for Chanel until she passed away in 1971.
Creative directors, often referred to as fashion directors or coordinators, are in charge of design concepts and presentation. They develop an entire fashion vision from clothing to accessories to advertisement and make it come to life. Creative directors must be detail-oriented, flexible and high achievers. Ricardo Tisci started his career as the creative director of women's wear and haute couture for Givenchy in 1999. With his success came a promotion that included designing clothing and accessories for the men's division.
Fashion designers strive to create their own clothing lines or accessory collections, hoping to sell their ideas and gain a following. Phoebe Philo spent years working for the established company Chloé and eventually moving on to Céline before she debuted her own line. The launch earned her awards for British and international designer of the year. McQueen similarly established his image when his entire collection was purchased by Isabella Blow and his fashion empire began.
2016 Salary Information for Fashion Designers
Fashion designers earned a median annual salary of $65,170 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, fashion designers earned a 25th percentile salary of $46,020, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $92,550, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 23,800 people were employed in the U.S. as fashion designers.