Best in Class at Central Saint Martins: Drew Henry

Drew Henry Graduate Collection | Photo: Max Oppenheim

LONDON, United Kingdom — For several decades now, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design has developed a global reputation for pushing the boundaries of fashion. For the lucky few who pass through its doors, a degree from CSM culminates in the highly-anticipated press show, which is a platform for CSM’s brightest stars to shine.

And so, in what has become a CSM rite of passage, today students from the college’s BA Fashion program will take their collections to the catwalk in an event attended by the industry’s leading press and buyers, and as in previous years, a select few will capture the attention of its discerning audience.

One of the top new names to watch is South African born Drew Henry, whose graphic minimalist collection had CSM insiders and students buzzing even before today’s big show.

Henry was raised in coal-mining towns before settling in Johannesburg at the age of 17, when he studied at a technical fashion school specialising in commercial pattern cutting and sewing. There, he excelled and quickly rose to the top of his class, setting his long-term sights on London. “I remember reading old issues of i-D and Dazed & Confused and seeing all these designers that had studied at CSM,” Henry told BoF. So in 2009, after completing his diploma, he left South Africa and enrolled in CSM’s Fashion Design with Marketing program.

“The first year, I struggled,” says Henry of his early days at St. Martins. “All these people had design foundations and I was from a different school altogether. I could sew and I could make patterns, but the research, the development, that wasn’t there. It was a good knock for me because I’d had this attitude that I was a big gun. At CSM, it’s an environment where people are incredibly talented and you have to work that much harder to stand out”.

For his final collection, Henry spent hours in the CSM library looking for inspiration from his home country. “I was finding South African references that I had never even seen before: books from 1965 that had been forgotten on the shelves.” And it was there, amongst the old, long-forgotten books, that he stumbled upon the works of photographers, David Goldblatt, Jurgen Schadeberg and Roger Ballen. Their social documentaries of South Africa’s working class became the jumping-off point for Henry’s graduate collection entitled, Intersections.

The collection references the tradesmen and domestic workers of the 60s and 70s-era photos and the “characters” Henry encountered growing up. It also takes inspiration from the indigenous Ndebele and Shangaan people — and these nods are all evident in the menswear-inspired suiting, utilitarian cuts, animal skins and beading. Wide-legged pants and boxy tops are constructed from heavyweight canvas and brightly dyed springbok hides, also indigenous to South Africa. Geometric patchwork pieces based on Ndebele handicrafts are paired with “bibs” in the style of work clothes worn by miners. Overall, it’s a cohesive collection of separates that Henry developed with a “complete wardrobe”, a refined professional woman and the luxury market in mind. I’m striving for “really beautiful and carefully considered clothes,” he explains.

Now that Henry has been accepted to CSM’s MA Fashion program, under the tutelage of the esteemed and feared Louise Wilson, he is looking to develop his craft further and zero in on his clientele.

“It’s difficult to design for a woman I don’t even know,” he says. “That’s one thing that I learned from this collection: that women need to wear these things.”

Indeed, but based on his outstanding debut collection, we’re not worried that he’ll find his target customer soon enough. Bravo!