The Portfolio – FASH 2017 Mentoring Day / 29. June 2017
Your portfolio is just as vital to a job application as your CV. We asked the fashion professionals for their top 10 portfolio tips.
By Madeleine Madej
At university, a “portfolio” is usually a documentary record of all the designs produced for your course or final project. This portfolio can often be 80 pages long, which is much too long for an application! It’s also very different from the folder you submit to support an application for a degree program.
The portfolio you submit with a job application offers a snapshot of your best, most significant pieces of work and showcases your talent to the full. It has one goal: to make the reader want to find out more about you and invite you for an interview.
The portfolio is a crucial door-opener, but it can be difficult to put together: producing something that can be understood in a matter of minutes often takes weeks.
10 Top Tips
There are many ways of making a successful portfolio. To help you, we’ve gathered 10 tips from the last four years of the European Fashion Award FASH portfolio mentoring program, which sum up the key principles of portfolio design.
– Clemens Deilmann, Head of Design, Gore Bike Wear, Gore Running Wear
– Arne Eberle, Owner, Arne Eberle press+sales, incl. Berlin Showroom
– Markus Freitag, Founder and Creative Director, Freitag
– Ayako Furness, Textile Designer for Burberry, Erdem, Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen, Givenchy
– Torsten Hochstetter, Global Creative Director, Puma
– Marcel Herrig, Owner of Unicut Design Office, Shenzen
– Joel Horwitz, Senior Lead Designer, zLabels; Head of SDBI’s Mentoring Program
– Hien Le, Designer, Berlin
– Madeleine Madej, Art Director, Berlin
– Christof Nardin, Art Director, Vienna
– Kim Pöhland-Block, Freelance Designer, Another Fashion Agency
– Joachim Schirrmacher, Creative Consultant; Director SDBI
– Michael Sontag, Designer, Berlin
– Thomas Steinbrück, Creative Director, Reebok
– Franco Tettamanti, Fashion Photographer, Paris
– Alana Weissenberger, Senior Apparel Designer, Adidas NEO
1. Know your Target Audience
Who is your portfolio aimed at? You should tailor your portfolio to your audience. Are you applying for a placement/internship or a permanent position? The conventions for these kinds of applications are different from those that apply to competitions, bursaries, media submissions, and freelance positions. In this article, we will give you some tips on submitting an application to companies and designers.
Your application should center/based upon a basic portfolio that is then tailored to each company and the skills they require. You should also make sure that your portfolio highlights different aspects of your work. Sometimes, you will have to swap out pages or adapt them as appropriate: a knitwear collection for children, for example, can be presented under the heading “Knitwear” or “Children”. At other times, it may be better to leave some pages out entirely. If you’re submitting an application to a minimalist fashion label, for instance, it doesn’t make sense to include an opulent suit/dress in your portfolio. Ultimately, you should demonstrate how your own style is a good match for the company.
2. Keep it Simple
First impressions matter, and an application is no different. Ideally, your portfolio should draw in the reader the moment they see it. Remember “Kiss – Keep it simple, stupid” this old principle of communication applies to your portfolio too.
The recipient should be persuaded/convinced by the work inside your portfolio, rather than its experimental design. Familiar content can be presented in a experimental design/ given a lease of life if presented in a novel way. If new content (such as your work) is presented in an experimental style, the reader can quickly become overwhelmed.
While it’s true that many designers like to be surprised, a complicated design and puzzling descriptions, headings, or collection titles that force the reader to “discover” things for themselves can be counterproductive. You’ve worked with your collection for a long time, so things that seem obvious to you might not be so clear to others at first glance. Somebody may very well browse through your portfolio while speaking to somebody on the phone. For this reason, you should communicate the content of your portfolio as simply as possible, leaving no room for interpretation.
3. Clear and Concise: the Structure of Your Portfolio
A portfolio with a few outstanding pieces and a clear focus will make a better impression than a portfolio that contains a little bit of everything. With this in mind, don’t try to include each of your projects entirely. Instead, narrow it down to the essentials and your best work.
European Fashion Award FASH mentees are advised to structure their portfolios as follows:
1. A covering page that clearly states your name. Ideally, the covering page should also give the date and the name of the company you’re applying to (make sure that you update this information before sending off your portfolio to each company!)
2. Portfolios of over 15 pages: Contents page. This doesn’t have to look boring like in a scientific paper/a contents page in a work of non-fiction: set the right tone and draw in the reader using key images and keywords.
3. Your most significant work (usually your final project) is presented over approx. 6 pages.
– Teaser: Take an image of a piece from your collection and use it to build excitement and give the reader an idea of what to expect
– Inspiration and mood boards
– Work method and process: sketches, pattern making/cutlines, photos of material experiments, an image of you using the knitting machine, etc.
– Collection: Large images of 2 to 3 different looks, combined with several smaller images, e.g. 4 small photos to the left and on the right of one large central photo. You don’t have to include the entire collection.
4. 2–3 projects (2–3 pages each).
5. You can end your portfolio with 2 additional projects, i.e. projects involving individual product groups such as denim, presented on 1 page each. Projects of different lengths make your portfolio more dynamic.
6. Details of teamwork/Impressum (see below)
7. Contact: portrait photo, telephone number, address, email.
Ideally, your portfolio should be no more than 20 pages, and shorter if possible. Graduates who have done a lot of placements may need up to 30 pages.
This may seem like not a lot. The trick is to include only your best work: seeing this, the reader will conclude that all of your other work is just as good. Also, remember what result you want to achieve with your portfolio — an invitation to an interview. If you’re then able to impress the interviewer with further content at interview, you’ll be even more persuasive/convinching as a candidate.
Instead of trying to squeeze too much information onto one page, we recommend separating your projects with a separator sheet. The reader will then realize that something new is coming up next. Although this may make your portfolio longer, the reader will be able to click through the portfolio more/separator sheets quickly. These sheets also give your portfolio structure and make it clearer.
4. Use Professional Graphics/Layout
A consistent layout is essential to any portfolio. Rather than having to re-engage themselves with content after each page, the reader is able to orientate themselves within the portfolio as a whole.
To build consistency, graphic designers work with a basic page layout, which is usually created in Adobe InDesign.
– Format. An A4 landscape spread has proven to be successful as a format. This orientation means that a PDF portfolio is easy to view on a screen and can be printed out later if needs be.
Most companies find a PDF more practical than an online portfolio. PDFs also allow you to incorporate hyperlinks to your website, YouTube videos, etc. The PDF should be no larger than 5 MB. Make sure that you give your file a sensible name, e.g. “your name-portfolio”
– Type area: Picture area and picture sizes, text areas, the position and number of columns for title pages and subpages. This ensures a clean, tailored layout. Images and headings also stay in line.
– Typography: Font, font size (headings, body copy, mark-ups). Readability is key here.
– Reader orientation: Include your name (in small font), project title, and page number on each page so the reader knows where they are at all times. A portfolio is read from left to right and from top to bottom. Images are seen first, followed by headings, image captions, and finally the text.
Creating a basic layout that’s both flexible and well-proportioned, with a good balance of large and small elements, is a challenge. Ultimately, while there’s no need for every page to look exactly the same, the portfolio as a whole should have a harmonious appearance. The layout should also emphasize your own personal design language. Turn to journals, fashion magazines, or art books for inspiration when deciding on your basic layout. With your basic layout in place, your portfolio will be so much easier to put together.
5. Use Striking Photos
Never underestimate the power of a good-quality photo. Bear in mind, though, that you’re applying for a job as a fashion designer, not a photographer. Don’t worry — you’re not expected to compete with Vogue! A simple yet good/effective photo of a strong design, taken in your workshop, will always generate interest.
Designs that have actually been transformed into clothing for a presentation, exhibition, fashion show, or the media are especially persuasive: include photos of them/these events! A design that you worked on during a placement/internship is perfect for your portfolio. Add an image of the runway, social Media, etc. These act as a confirmation of your work, every time. When starting a placement/internship or a job, you usually have to sign a confidentiality agreement. If the designs are available in the public domain, however, you can usually use images of them in your portfolio. The recipients of your portfolio understand that, when you’re on placement/internship, you work on designs as part of a larger team, so they will be expecting to see elements of other people’s work.
Es ist völlig klar, dass Sie als Praktikant den Entwurf nicht allein verantwortet haben. Sie brauchen also keine Angst zu haben sich mit fremden Federn zu schmücken.
If you showing pictureres to publicly, i.e. on Instagram or on your website, ALWAYS make sure that you have received permission from the copyright holder.
6. Write Precise Text
Photos are important in fashion, but being able to write concisely about what they show is just as important. Text helps you influence how the reader will view a certain image, provides further information about the context for a project, etc.
– You should include a category on every page, such as: Research, Development, Sketch, Collection, Technical Drawing, Collage, Concept, Making Of, etc.
– Explain where your design was shown in captions beside catwalk photos taken during your internship/placement: f.e. Raf Simons, Paris, Mens Show 16/17
– Concepts should be summed up in a maximum of 2 to 3 sentences, i.e. no more than 300 characters. Sometimes, it may be better to use headwords such as the ones below: “Reconstruction 1945 – Couture – Apron.”
– Provide citations from publications that have written about your work, like the European Fashion Award FASH jury statement. Films, books, or musicals are often promoted with abbreviated quotes: “Fantastic costumes, Elle”. You can do this too, even if you think it sounds a little more reserved!
7. Provide an Insight into How You Work
The most common mistake made by applicants (in addition to submitting a portfolio that’s too long) is that they design their portfolios like label lookbooks. Often, this is the style specified by fashion school guidelines.
Remember, however, that you aren’t introducing yourself to the media: you’re applying to be a designer who will be working as part of a team. It’s therefore crucial that you show your working process, as well as the end result. This information can then/will be used to determine whether you will be a good fit for the team. It’s often possible to divide your working process into the following categories: Experimentation – Variation – Selection – Realization.
If you have skills in a particular product group or technique (e.g. Mood board design, illustration, technical drawing, or draping), make sure that you highlight these strengths in your portfolio.
8. It’s all About You!
Remember: it’s all about you. This means that your name should appear in the title and “Portfolio” should be written in a smaller font. Don’t mention your partners in your portfolio, no matter how unfair this might seem. Instead You can mention any teamwork at the end of your portfolio in the section titled “Teamwork”: Project 1 – Fashion: xyz, Photos: abc, Graphics: 123
This doesn’t mean that you have to have done all the graphic design and photography yourself, though. The purpose of your portfolio is to help the reader evaluate your work as a fashion designer. Tasks that you would be expected to do as a fashion designer, such as technical drawings, should be done by you and nobody else.
9. Select Your Best Projects
Choosing what projects to include in your portfolio isn’t easy, and neither is choosing the right photos! Every decision you make reflects on your work. To put together a portfolio, you need an awareness of your own individual strengths and weaknesses. This is also what makes it such a challenging, time-consuming process.
– Your portfolio should be in-sync with your own personal style in terms of its design. Be brave and leave out projects that are no longer representative of your design language, even if these projects required a lot of time and effort.
– Emphasize your strengths and downplay your weaknesses.
Companies usually employ designers to work on specific product groups or sub-brands, such as sportswear, knitwear, and denim, which are traditionally subdivided into menswear and womenswear.
– Sometimes you become more aware of your weaknesses when compiling a portfolio. Remove or rework any weak items, such as unsuccessful illustrations.
– Add non-university projects to your portfolio if they have had a positive impact on your design profile.
– Anything that sets you apart (awards, placements/internships, or publications, for instance) is an added bonus. Include photos of them in your portfolio. Collections can also be accompanied with the following text: As seen in: a, b, c
– Don’t include a CV or references in your portfolio. These can be sent along with your portfolio as a separate PDF. Increasingly, large corporations are requesting CVs without a photo. You can incorporate a photo into your portfolio, e.g. on the Contact page.
10. Remember to Get an Outside Opinion
Editorial teams work according to the four-eyes principle and fashion collections are given a once over by a stylist before they hit the runway. We therefore recommend that you get advice from another person who can take an objective look at your portfolio. Ideally, they should work in the fashion industry.
As well as helping you choose your projects or photos, your “editor” can also help you find mistakes and typos.
Send your portfolio by email, along with a second PDF of your cover letter and a third PDF containing your CV and references (not as a download). The PDF should not be much larger than 5 MB. Die PDF sollten insgesamt nicht wesentlich größer als 5 MB sein.
If sending your application to a designer rather than an HR department, you may want to include ONE image in your email to peak their interest.
If your portfolio is successful and you’re invited to an in-person interview, a folder containing physical examples of your work is very welcome. The feel and appearance of fabrics and colors is very important.
Print out your portfolio as a book or a brochure or on separate sheets/cards held in a folder. Supplement this with fabric samples, etc.
If you’re going to recruitment events you can print a shorter version of your portfolio as a flyer or fanfold brochure to hand out.
Last but not least: keep a copy of your portfolio with you at all times by transferring it to your smartphone.Good luck with your application!
Madeleine Madej won the European Fashion Award FASH in 2006. She is now a lecturer and art director for fashion brands. www.madeleinemadej.de