Alison Jones hears about the future of fashion as Birmingham City University designs students get ready for their final show.

When the fashion graduates from Birmingham City University catwalk their final year work as part the New Generation Arts Festival one of the students will be missing the show.

Outi Viitalahde, who is originally from Finland, will be on a plane bound for Italy for a job interview as a designer with leading fashion house Max Mara.

Outi is not the only Birmingham City student to have attracted the attention of the industry's elite. The college has also supplied interns for Stella McCartney, Giles Deacon and Vivienne Westwood.

Students who graduated last year have gone on to jobs as buyers for Ralph Lauren Polo and for John Rocha at Debenhams, to work as a garment technologist for Monsoon and in public relations for Next, as well as for local manufacturers, like Steel and Jelly.

The Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BIAD), which is part of the university and which includes the School of Jewellery, is the largest centre for art, design, and media education in the UK outside London and is rated as one of the top 10 institutions of its kind in the country.

Jane Grice, the BA (Hons) fashion design course director from BIAD who is responsible for organising the fashion show, says: "We get more than 500 applicants for to study for the BA in fashion and we have more than just that one course. We also offer a BTEC national diploma, a BA (Hons) in fashion retail management a BA (Hons) in textile design as well as MA in fashion textiles and fashion media.

"We attract students from all over the world - Europe, China, India."

The students show is included as part of the New Generations Arts Festival and in the past has attracted the support of such famous names as Betty Jackson, herself a Birmingham fashion graduate, and Brownhills-born Erin O'Connor who has been hailed by Karl Lagerfeld as "one of the best models in the world".

Renowned for her unique sense of style, Erin was so impressed by the work of the graduates that she commissioned a jacket from one of them.

The fashion show, on June 18, which is being staged at Millennium Point, will feature the work of 22 designers.

Fashion director Lee Lapthorne, who was born in Birmingham and who studied at the university when it was University of Central England, will be bringing his expertise as an event manager to it.

"The show is slightly outside the digital utopia theme of the New Generation Arts Festival" says Jane Grice. "It will showcase the final degree projects of 22 students. You can't really give that a theme because it would restrict their individuality in what they are trying to do.

"They negotiate their own topics with the tutors. The collections range from the very sophisticated and very commercial to the outrageous.

"Not all of the students will have gone the collection route, some will have gone the portfolio route because their aspirations are to go into something like illustration or styling."

This won't be the only opportunity that the aspiring designers will get to exhibit their talents. On June 10 a dozen of the collections will also be featured in the Graduate Fashion Week in London (look up or

"We had a static exhibition last year and got really good publicity from that and we decided the time was right to show again," says Jane.

"It is important for us because it is hard to get the fashion industry to come to Birmingham just for one show whereas in London it brings all the graduates together in one place in one week. It is convenient and puts us on a level footing with other colleges like Central Saint Martins.

"We have tried bringing the mountain to us and now we must go to the mountain."

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