LONDON, United Kingdom — London-based Central Saint Martins’ continuing ability to identify and nurture excellence for fashion design is beyond doubt. Currently, over half of the designers at London Fashion Week are CSM graduates, while its alumni include the likes of Phoebe Philo, Stella McCartney and Sarah Burton.
Ranked the most influential school in BoF’s global school fashion rankings, it is no surprise that the annual CSM BA graduate show is hotly anticipated, with designers, buyers and journalists all keen to see fashion’s next generation of talent make their first foray onto the catwalk.
“This year it’s very much to do with political events and what the students are feeling. There’s a lot of work that is influenced by feelings of globalisation and mixed cultures,” says Willie Walters, CSM’s longtime BA fashion programme director.
Indeed, this year CSM’s diverse group of graduates number 32 different nationalities. Many of the students’ work has been inspired by their experience of ensuing global political and social concerns, compared to the greater focus on experimentation and craft of previous years. “They will always be interested in technique and craft, but it’s less crafty than it was last year,” says Walters. “For about the past five years it’s been about huge embellishments, really lavish, lots of stitching. [This year] it’s more about the concept — like a silent protest.”
“We have one student from Hong Kong who based his collection on the “Umbrella Revolution” [a series of street protests that occurred in 2014 as part of Hong Kong’s fight for democracy]. Another student looked at Ecuador and the big oil companies destroying the jungle where the tribes live,” Walters continues. “It’s all to do with wherever they come from in the world. They are thinking about their lives today — and, I mean, things are so difficult right now in the world!”
This year's students had a realistic outlook on what life would look like after graduation. While several students expressed an interest in launching their own label, many more have applied to work for fashion brands instead.
As part of their education, “students are learning how to work for a customer or brand,” says Walters. “We did a project with a beauty company called Fresh and [students] had to design uniforms. You’d think that was so un-Saint Martins, but it was a really refreshing project for them [and] that’s how we introduce students to working in the business.”
“There’s barely enough time for us to teach them everything they need to know to be a great designer. We’re teaching [the students] how to create silhouettes, how to communicate, how to illustrate, how to construct — you’ve got to learn how to do that,” Walters advises. “When you leave CSM, you may never do that again. You may work in a team where you have people who create, other people who cut the garments, and so on. But you’ve still got to know your stuff.”
In anticipation of tonight's BA Fashion show, BoF takes an exclusive look inside the renowned fashion institution to reveal six of this year's most promising new design talents.
Sergiy Grechyshkin — Womenswear
Kiev native Sergiy Grechyshkin, aged 35, is one of the oldest students from this year’s class. Previously, the designer worked at a bank in Ukraine for six years, but, he says, “my job didn’t feel right, it didn’t make me feel happy.” Intrigued by John Galliano’s work at Dior, Grechyshkin decided to pursue fashion design. “I started taking some classes like illustration and drawing, and with my sewing machine I started learning how to make patterns,” he explains. “It took me maybe two or three years to get a portfolio ready.”
During his placement year, the LVMH Grand Prix scholar moved to Paris where he worked for Lanvin and Louis Vuitton in womenswear and leather goods. While handbags won’t be making an appearance in Grechyshkin’s final collection, the designer has produced unique metal accessories to be worn like a mouthpiece. "It fits in with my theme of danger and fragility. When the model moves, [the mouthpiece] trembles a bit. I wouldn't say it's an instrument...it's about a combination and having harmony between the shapes and the body," he explains.
Grechyshkin’s graduate collection uses materials such as polyester mesh, wire, paper and vinyl, as well as lace sponsored by family-run craftwork company, La Maison du Sophie Hallette, which has produced some of the world’s finest laces for over 100 years. “I wanted to juxtapose opposite elements, like masculine and feminine, transparent and non-transparent,” he says.
As for the future, Grechyshkin has received a job offer, but declined to reveal where. He is also keen to start his own business sometime in the future. “As someone who hasn’t had much experience in fashion, I do things my own way. Normally, if you’ve been taught one way, it’s difficult to think about things in a different way. I’m happy to have not known that much [about fashion] before I came here.”
Kota Gushiken — Knitwear
Hailing from Yokohama, Japan, Kota Gushiken used to flip burgers before taking an interest in knitwear, when he moved to London in 2011 to pursue a foundation degree. “I wasn't even interested in knitwear at all. I just liked the students from knitwear. That’s how I got into it,” he says, laughing. Touched by his classmates and the energy he witnessed at Central Saint Martins’ graduate show, Gushiken decided to remain at CSM for his BA, instead of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp where he also received an offer.
During his placement year, Gushiken spent a month working for Modateca Deanna in Italy. “She’s an Italian lady who used to have a knitwear factory. She is old now and she has stopped working in the factory since the beginning of 2000. But she has an archive covering 40 years of her career, which is where I worked,” he says. After that, Gushiken completed knitwear internships at Christian Wijnants, Christian Dior Couture and Proenza Schouler.
For his graduate collection, Gushiken took inspiration from the rhythm of African percussion. “If you listen to African drum music, you’ll hear five different drummers, each playing different drums. It’s completely different and sounds really complicated. But once you catch the rhythm, it’s going to be dance-able and the different rhythms make one music,” he explains. “I wanted to visualise this rhythm as a fashion collection.”
American pop icon and graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is also one of Gushiken’s key references. “His art is often considered as a visualisation of polyrhythm and jazz. When I was researching about Basquiat’s paintings and images, appropriation is one of his methods. He drew the Mona Lisa in a really funny and childish way. It’s like making fun of Leonardo da Vinci, and I wanted to do that kind of thing in fashion,” Gushiken says.
Like Gushiken’s playful personality, his designs are humorous and colourful. His graduate collection includes a Mona Lisa-inspired two-piece outfit, where the head is separate from the body, her neck bobbing when the wearer walks.
Looking ahead, Gushiken says: “I really liked New York...but I’m not sure I want to stay and work there. I would like to try find a job in Europe as a knitwear designer for a fashion brand.”
Imogen Wright — Womenswear
Inspired by creative women, British designer Imogen Wright is focused on creating a fad-bucking wardrobe of “practical and fresh” clothes, rather than a collection. “I wanted to make something that is focused on cut and craftsmanship, but is also more sustainable and can last for a very long time,” she says of her classic pieces, all of which have a thoughtful twist on fabric and proportion. “I think it’s important not to make something that can be easily thrown away,” she explains.
Born in Hackney, Wright moved to Devon when she was a child, but returned to London to undertake a foundation degree at Central Saint Martins. She has since completed internships at Peter Jensen, Phoebe English, Louis Vuitton and Alexander McQueen, as well as a stint at Céline where she was a design assistant. “My time there has really informed this collection, how it’s styled and the way I work,” she says.
With many of her understated garments, there’s more than meets the eye. Take a seemingly ordinary white-button shirt hanging on the rail, for instance, for which Wright has developed a technique where the side of the shirt, which opens up to a narrow triangle, is padded inside with a top stitch. “It creates volume, so when the wearer walks, you can see big pleats appear,” she explains.
“I also wanted to include bits of the domestic environment, because the modern creative woman has so many different aspects to her life,” she continues. For her graduate collection, Wright has collaborated with a jewellery designer to cast fruits and vegetables like orange peels and grapes in silver plating, which she has used to make earrings or as decoration on accessories. On the day of the show, Wright also plans to hand sew fresh vegetables onto the garments, to underscore her emphasis on freshness.
Philip Ellis — Womenswear
Philip Ellis is not afraid to get political. “I based my final collection on a narrative about dystopian Britain,” he says, indicating his own outfit, a large shirt made out of stripes from football jerseys that he designed himself. His collection includes a slip dress also made from sport jerseys, a two-piece made from a sleeping bag and deconstructed-cut sweatshirts.
“It’s all kind of based on the wardrobe I would wear myself,” Ellis explains. “I am quite left-winged. With the increased austerity, the NHS sellout and the wake of the EU referendum, there’s a left-winged activism being bred and my collection is based on that. There are references from John Bulmers [a British photojournalist], northern England and cultural aspects of British society, seen in my use of social uniforms like football jerseys.”
Hailing from Chinley, a rural village on the western edge of Derbyshire's Peak District National Park, Ellis studied at Manchester School of Art, before moving to London to attend CSM’s BA. His first exposure to the fashion industry, however, was through modelling, having appeared on the pages of i-D and Another Man, and campaigns for Religion and Trill x Harvey Nichols.
Alongside his studies, Ellis worked for the now defunct Meadham Kirchoff brand for two and a half years. Then during his placement year, he worked at Louis Vuitton for 9 months, before joining Vetements where he assisted Demna Gvasalia for 3 months. “Some people have criticised my collection saying, ‘You can really see the Vetements [influence],’ but I’ve also taken a lot of references from Jean Paul Gaultier and Meadham Kirchhoff. This is everything I’ve been taught and learned.”
After graduation, Ellis will return to Paris to work for Vetements as the brand prepares for its show at Paris haute couture on July 3rd. However, the British designer is hopeful that after working for larger brands, he may be able to set up his own business. “I think it’s very important people establish themselves creatively, but also economically. You need to have the finance behind you and you need to know how the business works,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s a business.”
Joanna Melbourne — Fashion Design with Marketing
A preoccupation with the human body and former training in sculpture informed Joanna Melbourne’s graduate collection. “I think it’s quite natural that if you’re interested in sculpture, you would also have an interest in the human body, because you start to visualise how forms can go onto the body,” she tells BoF. “So I started doing that. I started doing sculptures and reinterpreting them into clothes.”
Born to British parents, Melbourne grew up living in Germany, Switzerland, California and New York, during which she interned for numerous brands, including Marc Jacobs, Trager Delaney and Hussein Chalayan. “Chalayan is one of my influences. Tom Ford as well. He’s been a reference for a lot of things,” she says.
Indeed, taking inspiration primarily from Chalayan and Ford, Melbourne has created a collection of flowing silk dresses in sumptuous, colourful hues — all accompanied by unique padding, created by bonding jersey onto the special foam typically used to make the inside of speakers, around the breasts and bottom to accentuate the figure.
“We have this kind of innate ability to project sexuality onto non-sexual things. I think people project what they want to see,” she says. “A lot of people don’t realise that [parts of this dress] are made of foam so they think the model is a great model. On the model, it doesn’t look that crazy, which is kind of the point.”
With a handful of internships under her belt, Melbourne is looking ahead. “I think when you take so much time and put so much effort in something, you just have to keep going with it. A lot of people run out steam, which is a bit sad. I’ve been sewing like this for six years now, so it’s natural that I’ve learnt a lot in this amount of time and I just want to keep it going.”
Susang Hwang — Menswear
Before becoming interested in fashion design, Susang Hwang studied industrial design and worked for a car company in Seoul, Korea. But after realising it wasn’t for him, Hwang left his job and decided to start over in London. “I was in search of something more expressive, more soft,” he tells BoF.
It may have been an unconventional path, but following his instinct has served Hwang well. The starting point for his graduation collection — a series of monochromatic pieces and tailored suits, with unique details such as flared sleeves to balance out the masculinity of a traditional suit — was looking at the 1960s American car. “I understand car culture more than other things, so I started with it to show my personality and identity. If you look here, I am also interested in custom painting and pinstriping.”
Indeed, another one of Hwang’s key references is the work of Steve Kafka, who has built a reputation for customising cars and motorcyles with his precise yet fluid freestyle pinstriping. “He is a legendary guy in America. I contacted him over email and explained what I wanted to do for this collection, and he loved the approach,” says Hwang.
After receiving permission from Kafka to use one of his tattoos, Hwang began to add the motifs to his designs, hoping to turn an otherwise “macho” look into something more delicate. Hwang envisions two kinds of men: a man with large biceps who could be part of tough biker scene, and another as the English gentleman who opts for bespoke tailoring. “I want to blend these two different types of masculinity in one collection,” he says.
Having already worked at Alexander McQueen and Maison Margiela, Hwang is open with regards to what’s next, but is keen on joining a fashion brand before eventually launching his own line. “I still have more to learn,” he says humbly.