Welcome back Central Saint Martins BA Class of 2021. Oh boy, didn’t they have it rough? Not to mention that graduating from one of the most prestigious fashion schools in the world puts just a bit of pressure on you but imagine doing it to the pandemic tempo. One day you tune in to the concept just fine and make the zone your home, only to find out the next day that there’s no more workshop access, courses are getting restructured and the end of the world is nigh any time now. What could be interpreted as the sound of dreams getting crushed, some of the students took as a cue to rethink their practices and get back into it. More motivated than ever. The fashion industry’s clock might be messed up but still ticking. It’s up to the next generation of designers to decide how fast they want it to go.
After a year of sweat-marked struggles, nights haunted by unfinished garments and half-realized visions, two months ago, the class of 2021 has slayed the runway, showing off fruits of their creative labour. Countless champagne showers and celebratory tears later, they got served a blank slate and thrown straight into the deep waters of the post-pandemic scenery. No uni-strings attached. Now everyone’s watching how skilfully they can swim through the fashion industry swamp that their predecessors overfilled with mass-produced items and poisoned with unethical practices. Cleaning it all up won’t be an easy process but we stay ever-hopeful. There are seven new reasons to do so.
We caught up with the most exciting 2021 graduates to get an update on their post-CSM life, talk about the future of fashion and making it as young, world-conscious designers. If the revolution is due, they know what direction it should head. Follow their lead.
BA FASHION DESIGN WITH KNITWEAR
I come from an art background. My first exposure to the creative industry was at secondary school, that was the first-ever inspiration I’ve had artists I’d never actually heard of before like Van Gogh, Matisse. Although they’re quite generic references, I wasn’t familiar with them because I’d only moved to London at the age of 11 so everything was new to me. Ever since then, I’ve always drawn inspiration from sculptors, painters, colourists. For my collection, I wanted to reflect on my past experiences, my really early inspirations and find a way to bring that back into the present without doing anything new. My collection is called ‘Beginning of the End’. It’s this idea of going back to the beginning but then the beginning of the end of something. It’s also the end as it’s the beginning of another, different chapter. Everything is refining, revisiting old projects and bringing them back to life. That’s how I usually work and my work is very much about wearable arts and textiles because I have art, photography and textiles background but no fashion. I grew up doing intricate textile pieces. I really wanted to explore that so brought back all of those old inspirations like Georgia O’Keeffe. She is one of my main sources of inspiration. I wanted to use her work in different formats such as knitwear but also embroidery. Bringing these two different worlds together, art and fashion and mashing it together. That’s how I work.
I’d have to say exciting but I’m also nervous because being a recent graduate is a scary feeling. You’re free to do what you want but at the same time, you need to think about whether you want to do crazy things or ready-to-wear pieces. It’s still quite fresh but it’s good that we can finally now do what we really want to do without any restrictions whatsoever. Especially now during the pandemic, it’s been really hard for everybody. I spoke to a lot of people and they feel the same as well. It’s just the guilt of not really knowing what to do or where we need to be but at the same time, maybe it’s a good thing to feel lost. Sometimes we find ourselves when we set our minds free.
From now on, everyone is working towards the sustainability goal because we need to be aware of it. We need to practise in a sustainable way. I know that as a graduate, it’s really hard because you need a lot of money as well to be sustainable. You can’t just take one thing and then cut and sew unless everything is being used. When you’re repurposing something, there still will be waste somehow. It’s hard to be sustainable but at the same time, that’s where the future is heading. Eventually, we will all be green and really aware of the effect that the fashion industry has on the world.
Right now, I’m speaking to a few of my colleagues as we really want to come together and do a showroom for this September fashion week. That’s going to be exciting. That’s the next goal that we want to work towards. It’s kind of given us a purpose in a way, as another project that we can work hard on, do new things, show the work to the world as well and build our own platform in a way but without actually relying on anyone to do it for us. That’s the next step for me.
Follow Lynn on Instagram here.
BA FASHION DESIGN WOMENSWEAR
I do not consider what I’m doing to be a brand as my collection is not really wearable. That was my goal, to make the kind of haute couture that we can’t wear every day. I love the fact that you can use fashion through pattern, cutting and textile as a medium to express ideas. For this collection…I was intrigued by boundaries between fashion and art, so I really wanted to experiment with this idea. It has an artistic purpose and was presented in the form of a performance. The aim is to move the line, to use the body to challenge stereotypes, to open up possibilities of gender and identities and to free men from social straitjackets. About the essence, I wanted to do something like fine art, create more of a sculptural thing.
It’s definitely scary and exciting. Now, I’m leaving London and going back to Paris to study at the Fine Art School of Paris. I really wanted to do that because that school is really freeing. We can just come and use the workshop, so I’m going to study but I’m also going to start my thing at the same time. I’m going to develop my collection, to do other looks. It’s exciting because I will collaborate with different artists, talented people but I’m sad to leave London.
Fashion is always something that plays a significant part in our lives, over history for example with subcultures. But also, for me, a garment can be a medium to express ideas. Fashion was there to venture and address society and people of our time without any taboo. It must be engaged in all of these discourses because they’ve got a role in our lives. It’s what I tried in my collection to be engaged in. All of my collections are feminist, they are exploring the issues of binary and post-gender theories because I was always intrigued by: the importance of them in our lives, what they represent today. I was inspired by Donna J. Haraway’s feminist writing in A Cyborg Manifesto which criticises the identity and politics of traditional feminists on a binary definition of gender. She uses the metaphor of a cyborg to go beyond traditional gender. That’s why the concept of my collection is to metamorphose human beings into non-binary characters, mixing bodies of man and woman. It’s becoming like a third sex or a sub-gender. Fashion definitely has to be engaged and explore the ideas because it’s now important in our lives even if some people are saying that it’s superficial. I think that always all of the designers have something to say.
I plan to do an exhibition in Paris. The exhibition will be called ‘I have no children but I am a mother’ and it’s a collaboration with different young Parisian artists. I’m going to present my collection and do a real performance which is nice, post-pandemic. Afterwards, I’ve got some plans. Hopefully, I’m gonna do some collaborations and develop this collection. Even if I’m going to a fine art school, I want to continue fashion and use fashion as a sculpture, doing sculpture in scenography, in design and photography. I really want to mix everything and create a new world.
Follow Mathilde on Instagram here.
BA FASHION DESIGN WOMENSWEAR
A lot of it is looking at the past, at specific eras, but not really being nostalgic about it. The majority of my final collection and the entirity of my research was based on images that I found that at an estate sale. They’re all from the late 1950s and a good portion of them are from a photography club in Southern California. It’s very interesting seeing these images because it’s taking a snapshot of a very specific time in American history. I’m not American but it is quite fascinating to me. What I was doing was taking images defining archetypes and roles but really trying to remove the nostalgia and remove the very obvious gender roles. It’s a nice starting point to say ‘you know the man wore white shirts and the women wore longer, kind of cocktail dresses’ but my clothing is nothing like that. Nothing. I made zigzags, swirls and waves, and even then, the clothing references are pretty vague. I was a womenswear student and I consider myself a womenswear designer but I wore the clothing. My models were men and women. The way I explain my collection, it’s kind of like a mullet: party from one side but then quite ‘normal’ from another. It’s really interesting, there’s an element to my collection that’s very sincere but it’s not serious.
I’m weirdly not in the place where I can say that I’m a fashion designer. I want to work as a fashion designer but currently I’m not working as a fashion designer. But I’m also quite lucky because in terms of my class, I have a design job and I have another job with the university. Even though I’ve graduated, I’m talking to the people that were my tutors and to the people at uni all the time. It’s a weird thing not being a student anymore… Leaving the studio everybody was like ‘oh, nostalgia. I’m gonna miss this place’ and I was just like ‘I start here on Monday’… Personally, if you’re just doing fashion, it gives you a more narrow view of design. The fact that I’m able to branch out currently while having that deep core of fashion design, it’s been great. It’s really improved my practice. Doing product design has been great in terms of how I see, what I need to do and want to do, really knowing what I actually look for and want in a fashion career.
I have this very strange mix in everything that I do, a mixture of pessimism and optimism. I’m a long-term optimist. I’m always looking at the world like ‘things will get better, will change’. We’re gonna move into new realities of what people consider fashion and how they approach sustainability but at the same time I’m pessimistic when it comes to short term stuff. Are the changes that are happening in fashion right now – such as only digital shows, slower seasons, less turnover – are these things going to continue or things will go back to ‘normal’? I honestly don’t know… There is so much tokenisation in the fashion industry and it’s difficult… As a fashion designer you have a responsibility to look at those things and respond to them but, at the same time, it is very difficult for young designers, and young people, to be able to afford them. Sustainability is important and when you look at clothing I think it’s changing, but when you look at sustainability in the past you only had very niche brands doing it and the stuff that they were creating could’ve been fantastic but they had no ability to get their stuff out into the wider audience. Just because it’s made of hemp, just because it’s using sustainable fabrics and processes, you still need to get it to the public. If nobody is buying it, it’s not sustainable.
I definitely want to work in fashion. I want to be a designer but right now I’m working with my university as a researcher so I work at the intersection of creative financial empowerment. One of the focuses of my final collection was how do you make young creative people leave university with some idea of how to monetize their work in a different workplace. My vision of that is currently quite beyond fashion designing. I’m working with the university right now to research whether or not creating some sort of platform that could help students understand the financial implications of their work as they leave the university and hopefully help them. I consider myself a person of colour so it’s interesting having these talks about greater equality within the university setting, within the art and design world, which are fantastic but there is something that can help everyone which is creative people being empowered financially. You’re talking about more inclusivity among different gender identities, sexual orientations and underrepresented minority groups, and these are really fantastic, but do you know what would be great for all of them? Just to give them more money or at least teach them how to make more money. It’s somewhat of an undercurrent but it needs to be like no you can just do this for everyone and everybody will prosper. That’s something that I’m really passionate about, something that I’m exceedingly interested in.
Follow Amon on Instagram here.
BA FASHION DESIGN WITH KNITWEAR
Society really inspires me and has an important impact on my work. My experiences of living in Paris and London have a strong influence on my vision of art and fashion design. These two cities are very different but complementary. The people that I saw on the streets, modes of transport, different areas of the arts and underground party scenes really influenced my way of thinking and developed my personality. These different cultural surroundings that I had in my life, created my identity and my personality, helped me to learn a lot about myself. That’s what I wanted to reflect through my collection.
Honestly, I am happy. It’s a long time that I’ve been a student, during the art courses, foundations and I’ve done 4 years of BA. Now it’s a new chapter of my life. Of course, it’s a bit scary to go into the industry but I’m very excited and curious to see how it will go. I totally believe that school and education are important but industry experience is totally different. I can’t wait to gain that experience and explore my different career options. Hopefully, I will find the best place for me.
All of these [discourses around sustainability, gender, race and privilege] are important for changing the mind of our society. Personally, I believe that sustainability is extremely important as the fashion industry has one of the worst influences on our planet and society. We still have a lot to do and young designers really have to find different ways of designing with sustainable material and production. I really feel that we are pushed by society to do a lot of things very fast and without quality, particularly in the fashion industry. Designers reflect our society and I truly believe that all genders, races and bodies have to be included. I feel that in our generation the beauty standards have started to change which is amazing as so many interesting beauties exist in our world, not just some stereotype of a young tall skinny model. In contrast, as a negative aspect, I feel that a lot of companies and brands use this movement as ‘trendy marketing strategies’ without having totally honest thoughts about it.
With the pandemic and the lockdown situation that happened in London, we had a very particular year. As I’m a knitwear student, a lot of access to the school’s industrial knit machine was stopped, which affected the process of designing. It was a very challenging situation to do a full finished collection. This is why the knitwear students have been requested to do 2/3 looks. So currently, I’m still working on my collection and trying to finish perfectly for September. As well, I feel like we are pushed by our society to do everything very fast and I wanna take a bit of time for myself after all my years of studies. I will look for a different career option that I can find which corresponds with me best but I’m very positive and excited for the future.
Follow Steven on Instagram here.
BA FASHION DESIGN WOMENSWEAR
I can’t really summarise it yet because I’ve just graduated. I’m not really looking to launch my brand yet, especially considering that over the year it changed so much, including my aesthetic. I’m definitely interested in doing a lot of fluid things, a lot of draped things. In terms of research, it always starts with looking at people and biographies. I take a lot of visual references from graphic design, just to try to help me form a character and help visualise it. That’s where it translates into clothes. [The collection is] half about psychedelia and half is about the Huns which were fourth-century nomads. It’s really looking at their rituals and their profiles, combining that with the graphic research that I had on the psychedelic movement. An interesting thing about them is that they always lived on horseback. They even slept on horseback. That was this kind of narrative of slipping into this psychedelic dream but still having this – without sounding cliché – warrior image and warrior profile. When I’m doing research, it’s never super personal for me because I like to learn about something and show that. Personal elements are coming to it obviously by surroundings.
A bit of both really. When I was graduating, I was very happy to be free because it’s very extreme. You always think about your collection all the time throughout the day. Even when you wake up or go to bed, you’re just thinking about things and dreaming about sewing and things like this. It was quite refreshing to finish but also saying that as well, the extreme of doing something all the time to just being completely now independent, just searching for a job, is a little bit daunting. It was important for me to take a little break and now I’m getting back into the things. It doesn’t feel that scary. It’s something that I’m looking forward to. I just really needed a break and when I graduated, I didn’t finish completely because I was working on a short film that took a month. I’ve never done a film before so it was quite difficult but I’m happy with how it went.
For me, I think it will head to a sustainable angle. When I was making my collection I was asking myself, how can I make this sustainable as a young designer as well? My conclusion that I figured out was that as long it’s wearable and relevant then that is sustainable for me. Those are the questions that the industry should ask themselves when producing this work. Is it relevant? Is it challenging the times or just fitting for the times? Is it valuable? There’s no point putting out work that is not important and there’s no context to it. That’s what people should ask themselves.
Recently I’ve finished the film so that took a long time but it was a collaboration with this music producer called Ashley Taylor. We were working on a song for it, for a whole of final year because I’m quite interested in music as well. I just really wanted a song that summarises what the collection is about because his music is where the concept started from anyway so that was really good. The team was amazing and we’re happy with the results but that was also quite draining because as I’ve said I’ve never done a film before. I edited it and I helped with shooting as well so it was quite intense. Now, just looking for a job, having interviews, working on my portfolio. That’s the kind of flow that I’m in. Looking to launch a career in fashion.
Follow Tom on Instagram here.
BA FASHION PRINT
I would say my focus is on craftsmanship and on handmade. My graduate collection addresses that the best. I’ve always been in love with craftsmanship. I came to England when I was nine, I was trying to learn how to speak English and everything. That’s why I got involved in arts and music because it was in my hands and I could express myself a little better that way. When I came to Saint Martins, I knew that my collection and all of my work that I do is going to be painting prints, weaving things and focusing on everything that’s handmade, kind of couture style. I would describe that as an aesthetic for my label. I also feel like the mood of the maker, when you make something with your hands, can be shown in the garments. Also, I did an internship with Yves Saint Laurent where I worked on bespoke jackets and I really wanted to bring it into my label as well. Even with my diffusion lines, I still want to have that essence that you get in bespoke, handmade garments rather than fast-fashion industrially made pieces, one of two thousand that would be made.
It’s definitely scary. At the moment I’m thinking ‘wow that’s like a new chapter’. I’m not in education. No tutors. I mean obviously, I can speak with them when I want to but it’s less of ‘here’s my work what do you think?’. It’s more like ‘here’s my work, let the world make up their own mind about it’. So scary but it’s definitely very exciting because it’s a new chapter and I’ve been wanting to do it literally ever since I can remember and now it’s my chance to do this. I’m very lucky because my parents, who were both made redundant during COVID, are helping me with my label. It’s a bit of a family affair. It’s really nice and I’m really excited.
Obviously, we’re addressing all the right issues, at least starting to address all the right issues. It’s just that we need everyone to be on board and at the same time accept that everyone is moving and understanding things at their own pace. What I mean by that is, I feel like a lot of issues in the fashion industry come from us going from 0 to 100 very, very quickly and expect all the brands to be sustainable straight away and understand that. I feel like the main importance is acceptance. Everyone is moving at their own pace. Everyone’s striving for the better.
I’m working to finish my graduate collection and hopefully present it during London Fashion Week in September. This collection would be kind of couture wear that’s not going to be available to shop. Then from there on, I will use this graduate collection as inspiration for the future line which I hope to show in February or September to potential stockists and buyers and get the ball rolling on starting my brand. Officially. That’s the plan.
Follow Karina on Instagram here.
BA FASHION DESIGN WOMENSWEAR
I don’t really see my work as a brand. I would consider, kind of cringe, but I would consider myself more of an artist than a fashion designer. I happened to use the medium, the work on canvas almost, to show my narrative, express my thoughts. I would describe my project and my brand as sustainability-oriented. In general, my ideal would be to show, as much as I can, through my practice that sustainability is not a burden to creativity but it’s something you can use to exercise the resourcefulness muscle and also something that we should all like artists, sewers, designers, we should consider to be a base to work with. It’s not like I’m a sustainable designer. I’m a designer.
It was a bit weird because I was kind of looking forward to it. At the beginning, I was frustrated with many obstacles that were due to coronavirus but then obviously, I was really emotional when I actually had to leave and say goodbye to people that really helped me develop my collection physically like some technicians that were really instrumental for achieving what I wanted to achieve in my work. I’m excited and I feel like I’m out in the ocean and I’m looking forward to some land, maybe, to speak in metaphor. In general I feel very good and happy right now.
It was really happening before the pandemic and the pandemic was the moment where everyone stopped. We had time to really refocus and nail down our priorities. I feel very much about the discourse around privilege. I come from a very working-class background. I’m currently on universal credit. Literally, the fashion industry is really trying to push you out as much as possible. It’s not an inclusive environment. I also found myself in a position of having people asking about interning for me and being happy about doing it for free but that’s not how I roll. Work is work and it should be absolutely paid for. Young brands, especially now, have this mindset of paid and unpaid internship. I spoke to many people that are on the same wavelength, if I can’t afford to get some help, I’d rather push it and do something smaller on my own instead of exploiting someone. Years ago, before I started studying at CSM, I was an apprentice upholster and it was paid. Even though I was learning and they were teaching me everything, I was still paid. I was still able to support myself and pay for my rent. But there’s no money in fashion apparently. It’s a bit gross. There’s a narrative now that there’s no money in fashion. I understand that on many levels and I’ve seen that in different areas.
I am actually on a little break because I’m relocating and it’s a bit mad but the intention is to carry on exploring my biomaterials. I’ve worked a lot with bioplastics. I’m making my own materials. I hope to explore a bit more of that at the moment. I’m really excited about some ideas that I have brewing at the moment and I am really hoping to carry on my aesthetic of almost dream-like pieces where the focus is on the feelings and almost emotion state that my looks or pieces or garments, whatever they are bringing. The most incredible and satisfying part of the whole collection process was to have responses from so many people that were saying they were feeling something when watching what I made. It’s not only the curiosity of ‘wow that’s made of eggs’ but so many people were like ‘this really speaks to me’. This is the direction where I’m going. To make people feel something.
Follow Claudia on Instagram here.