LONDON, United Kingdom — Central Saint Martins’ MA fashion course is praised the world over for consistently producing the industry’s most exciting new designers. From the late great Alexander McQueen to industry darling Phoebe Philo to wunderkind Christopher Kane, the school has produced many of fashion’s most influential creative forces. Headed by Professor Louise Wilson OBE, whose tough love approach to teaching is almost as well known as Saint Martins itself, the notoriously gruelling course pushes its students to their limits, preparing them for industry excellence.
“Nightmare,” is the word Wilson chooses to describe the class of 2012. And perhaps this is the response one would expect from a woman trying to whip the British fashion industry’s latest flock of emerging talent into shape. After all, their graduate collections will be revealed to the public during tonight’s highly anticipated CSM MA fashion show, which, it should be noted, is the only university show presented on the runway at London Fashion Week. But for some, nightmare could also describe the fashion program’s recent move from its cosily dilapidated former home on Charing Cross Road to Saint Martins’ new £200 million King’s Cross Campus.
Indeed, the new building has been both a blessing and a curse for the second year design students, who were uprooted from their familiar Soho studio-cum-classroom this fall, midway through their two-year course of study. And they’ve offered mixed reviews of their new King’s Cross campus, from full on raves about state-of-the-art knitting machines and the industrial architecture, to concerns about lack of access to a print studio and reluctant admissions of missing the historic Charing Cross location. But despite mixed feelings on the new campus, the latest class of designers has proceeded in true Saint Martins style, rallying through the good, the bad and the impossible to create a number of forward-thinking collections worthy of any professional catwalk.
Who will CSM's next big star? Here, in anticipation of tonight’s MA Fashion show, BoF takes an exclusive look inside the renowned fashion institution to reveal five of this year’s most promising new design talents.
When 24-year-old Craig Green first arrived at Central Saint Martins for his foundation course seven years ago, he wanted to be an artist. “Somehow, I ended up trying to make clothes and I kind of thought…why not?” Happy accidents seem to be a running theme in the London native’s creative process. Green, a menswear designer on the program’s textile pathway, discovered the perfect digitally block-printed tie-dye for his workwear-inspired collection due to a projection experiment gone wrong. Green first projected the tie-dye onto his cotton tops and slacks to determine the desired scale for his print. “It was just by mistake that the tie-dye projection didn’t fit the outfit. And the [block printing] was definitely the best thing to do.”
His projection mishap also gave birth to the collection’s running theme of light and dark—each look will be followed by its shadow, crafted out of black, down the runway.
Cults and sects, particularly the chilling children from John Wyndhan’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos (the basis for cult sci-fi film, Village of the Damned) also play a key role in Green’s sharp looks. “I was just kind of obsessed with this religious cult feeling,” says Green. He pushes this sentiment to the extreme via Greek Orthodox-inspired hats and severe hoods.
Images of old-world porters, as well as grammar school lunch ladies, inspire his industrial outfits’ uniform-like edge, as well as the wooden frames and papier-mâché luggage that will appear strapped to the models. “I was interested in this strong utilitarian feeling. And I like the idea of making use decorative,” says Green, who previously worked with conceptual mad men Walter Van Beirendonck and Henrik Vibskov.
As for his postgrad plans, Green wants to go with the flow. “I’m not sure where I’d fit yet, to be honest. Everything’s happened by accident so far so who knows. I’ll keep my fingers crossed,” he says with a smile. He adds, “I just can’t believe that I’m leaving Saint Martins. It’s kind of like being birthed out into the world. But I really want to teach here one day.”
“It’s eclectic!” says 22-year old Timur Kim of the inspiration behind his MA collection. Hailing from Saint Petersburg, Kim, who also did his BA at CSM, pulled influences from early 20th century Russia, as well as the 70s to create his high-impact looks. Combining reversed denim and lush blue bonded velvet, Kim plays with the contrasting textures, weights and connotations of his materials. “It’s denim elegance, basically,” he says. “It’s everyday wear with a touch of luxury.”
The domes that crown Saint Petersburg’s churches inspired his blue flocked bowling balls, which the models will carry down the runway. Russia also helped to influence the strict triangle shapes, which appear in the form of severe denim collars, as well as off-centred abstracted chevrons on his cool asymmetrical dresses and dramatic floor-length skirts. “Something straight and symmetrical has a very old feeling. But, on the MA, we need to add some oddness; we need to do something brutal to make it more young and fresh,” says Kim of his on-point but off-kilter looks.
Standing at his worktable in smart rectangle-frame glasses, a black jumper and jeans, Kim recalls that the Pringle of Scotland Archive project, in which he took part last year, was his favourite CSM experience. “I established my relationship with Louise [Wilson] through this project. She taught me how to work with proportions and colour, and how to add coolness to something very basic; in this case, a sweater.” After graduation, Kim hopes to launch his own line and notes that he admires Christopher Kane’s savvy business sense. He admits that, with launching one’s own line, there’s always the fear “that people won’t like it. We’re all working for a customer and it’s about what they want in the end.” However, he believes it’s essential for designers to stay true to their own aesthetics. “That’s what makes it cool. And CSM teaches you to like your work; to be confident.”
“I want to get a reaction. I’d rather have people say it’s ugly than that it’s just OK,” says 31-year-old Sabina Bryntesson of her MA collection. Hailing from Sweden, Bryntesson’s arms are heavily inked with tattoos of a black beetle and a talon grasping at the earth. “I’ve always liked dark things,” says the designer, who studied at CSM for both her BA and MA. Her fascination with the sinister reigns in her graduate collection. Citing Norwegian death metal and religious sects as primary inspirations, Bryntesson‘s jersey and cotton shirting looks are a cultish take on ready-to-wear.
However, her collection has evolved substantially since she began experimenting in November. Bryntesson originally attempted to capture the unsettling aesthetic of Pinar Yolacan’s artworks and garments crafted from raw meat by working with deconstructed teddy bears. “I started to look at places around my house where they hang up meat. I found it so disgusting but it’s really beautiful and that’s why I started with the cut up stuffed animals,” she says. Although the concept has since evolved into a more refined look, Bryntesson asserts that the unnerving essence remains, and adds that her favourite part of being a CSM student is “the freedom and having the time to develop so many ideas.”
What will take to the runway this evening is a range of tastefully unsettling but sporty looks. Bryntesson merges the elegant, the familiar and the disturbing in her peaked hoods, which, inspired by those used in executions, are adorned with baseball caps or lace. A ghostly white look stems from a photograph of a Ku Klux Klan wedding and minimal black robes are a play on the burka. The palette of stark white, orange, black and grey was chosen for it’s abrasive visual impact. “There’s a strong feeling in these colours,” she says. “They’re so aggressive together. I quite like that.”
Still unsure of her postgrad plans, Bryntesson has appreciated her time at CSM. “Now, design wise, I think I can see things in a whole new way.”
30-year-old Malene List Thomsen isn’t sure how she got into fashion. “I’m from a tiny town in Denmark with only 2,500 people, so I wasn’t surrounded by anything cultural like art or fashion,” she explains. However, today, List-Thomsen has immersed herself in both creative fields and attempts to merge her love of art with her talent for design.
Her MA collection does just this. Inspired by the crude simplicity of artists like Steven Parrino and Michelangelo Pistoletto, as well as military garb and moon suits, List-Thomsen’s looks exude a raw, futuristic edge. “It’s a lot about how [these artists] combine material and turn a flat canvas into something three dimensional,” says List-Thomsen.
Working with semi-leather (a material traditionally used to clean windows) latex and rubber, the collection features straight-cut tops, dresses and pants. “Everything is based on a shirt,” she explains, noting her simple silhouettes and unfinished hems. “It’s not overdone in any way and I think that’s totally what makes it.”
The defining elements of her collection, however, are the rubber dots and rings inserted in each garment. Appearing as solid polka dots, neck and armholes or peek-a-boo circles, the adornments bring a new dimension to List Thomsen’s industrial looks. “I really did it to give the clothes a bit of air so they could actually breathe. They already look like something you could wear underwater,” she jokes, tugging at the measuring tape draped around the neck of her own polka dotted oxford.
List-Thomsen is still deciding her postgraduate path. But she is leaning towards her own line. As for her Saint Martins experience, she says, ”I think what Saint Martins is really good at is seeing who you are. And actually telling you who you are. It’s so difficult for one to define and they do it so well… the tutors and Louise. They see you and they really try to help you get to where you need to be. And I think that’s amazing.”
28-year-old London native Mei Lim-Cooper was a tomboy in her youth. “I always wanted to wear Bermuda shorts or trousers to school. I was outraged that we had to wear tights,” she laughs. Stating she’s “all about trousers,” Lim-Cooper, who studied at CSM for both her BA and MA, translates her childhood appreciation for easy, androgynous garments into her sophisticated MA collection of high-concept knits.
Awarded sponsorship by Loro Piana, Lim-Cooper juxtaposes the label’s lush cashmere, which she’s woven into heritage fisherman’s rib, with brightly coloured nylon used for football socks, to create what she describes as “luxury sportswear.” Pulling inspiration from Tarpaulin, as well as Marc Vaux’s paintings, Gary Hume’s sculptures and Spencer Finch’s fluorescent light works, her intelligent garments begin as flat square jumpers and dresses. With various neck and armholes knit into each piece, one look can be worn in countless different ways.
“My work is always very conceptual and based around pattern cutting. You always start with something flat and then translate it onto the body, so this is almost just taking it back to something really simple,” she explains. Her minimalist approach results in fluid jumpers and dresses that, paired with sporty trousers or shorts, seem to move and change as one walks around the body. “You discover new things as you go around each look,” says Lim-Cooper. “So when you see it from the side, you can see a bit of colour that you couldn’t see from the front.” Lim-Cooper, who will also be taking part in the Bally x CSM project on the 21st, hopes people will feel refreshed after experiencing her collection.
Formerly an intern for Chloé and Hussein Chalayan, Lim-Cooper notes that she appreciates the pressure of the MA course. “I think pressure is part of fashion. There’s always the pressure of the show, and the exhilaration, excitement and build up to that moment. If you didn’t push yourself to that level, you’d never really achieve anything exciting. That’s what we’re here for anyway, isn’t it?”
The Central Saint Martins MA Show takes place tonight, at London Fashion Week. Katharine K. Zarrella is an Associate Contributor at The Business of Fashion.