Rhiannon D’Averc reviews Graduate Fashion Week, picking out the next generation of student designers who appear to have the most potential in the their final collections. With illustrations by Joe Bailey
The Old Truman Brewery is the scene of much student triumph over the course of the months following final exams. Art and photography students showcase their exhibitions here after graduating, and of course it is the home of Graduate Fashion Week.
This is a chance for the best fashion universities to showcase their best students – though some courses choose to put on their shows at different times and in different venues. This is an opportunity also for buyers and agents, who are looking out for the next potential talent to come to the forefront.
Alexander McQueen, after all, was discovered big time at his MA show, which has since gone down in history.
So, who were the best of the bunch this year? Show by show, we break down the designers you might just want to keep an eye on in the next few years.
The Graduate Fashion Week Collective show allows a group of universities to hand-pick a few of their best talents and showcase them all together. Opening the event, it allows us a glimpse of what is going on at universities across the country – and can often predict some of the common themes that we will see throughout the event.
Standing out amongst this collective group were a few students who shone, who we will highlight here. You can also view their full collections throughout the pages of this issue.
Lisa Gerstenfeld at Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts provided the first eye-catching looks of the day. She created coral reefs of applique emerging fullgrown from the centre of a chest, surrounded by swaying fronds of seaweed in zebra monochrome. The collection was truly camp in the richest sense – some of those who got it a bit wrong at the most recent Met Gala could take a tip or two from this student.
At Greater Brighton Metropolitan College, Becky Hanlon stood out with pleated tailoring. One does not need to break all of the rules and do something outlandish in order to make an impact. This tailoring was not unexpected, but it was carried out in an accomplished manner, and that made all the difference.
Her classmate, Nadia Hattabi, also brought up an interesting concept. A bit of the old ultra-violence was referenced in models that walked the runway with bats held across their shoulders, and there was certainly something a bit menacing in the neon streetwear collection. It was something in the way the models carried themselves in the clothes – a feeling, perhaps, of being fed up with the status quo. Interesting script details running on the neon finishings added to the impact.
For the University of Huddersfield, both Chelsea Flinn and Celine Constantinides stood out. Flinn used marbling techniques on shiny puffa jackets, and tailored them into something a lot more interesting. This was one case of fantastic matching with models to garments: something really just worked.
Constantinides produced a very interesting collection indeed. Using black, white, and red exclusively, the collection was all about structure and the presence of circular cut-outs or eyelets. It was a strong collection with real character, of the kind that makes you remember a designer.
Leeds Arts University presented Mabel Tallulah Dunbar, whose patchwork denim at first was nothing new. However, something about the way the androgynous styling paired with the rough scarecrow look worked well. There’s potential here, which perhaps has not yet fully been explored – which is quite exciting.
Catherine Jeffries from Plymouth College of Art created a brand with repeated use of the word ‘BLOKE’ emblazoned over menswear clothing. Against the utilitarian silhouettes was a flash of something less so: irridescent detailing, and thin neon lines that put one in mind of the beam of a finely-tuned laser.
Finally, Lydia Rose at Solent University produced what could only be described as a brightlycoloured Inuit. Ribbon weaving created knitwear that looked very interesting, providing neon lines and pops for the eye to follow. This is a collection that could do with a little finessing, but as the designer naturally develops that skill, she could be about to produce some very exciting shows.
LIVERPOOL JOHN MOORES UNIVERSITY
We were treated to not just fashion but also film from this Liverpool-based course, which focuses on communication as well as design. Heather Smith was the designer who stood out the most for us, providing an excellent demonstration of how to make a point with your collection without ruining the designs.
Instead of ham-fistedly bashing us over the head with slogans that were overworked, Smith opted to produce classic tailoring which demonstrated an excellent set of skills. The slogans, related to “100 years of women in the boy’s club”, were etched on nylon socks and peeked out from the back of belts and handbags. Now that’s the way to wear your cause on your sleeve.
SHEFFIELD HALLAM UNIVERSITY
Sheffield really produced some interesting collections, all held together with strong show branding. This was certainly a course that pushed their students to perform, as well as giving them a tight and polished production to work with.
Jiaru Zhang’s collection consisted of drawn-on plastic jewellery, hanging over clashing-colour plaid skirt suits and dresses. While there were other collections from this University that had a lot of potential, it was sheer consistency that stood out here: this accomplished collection could walk down an LFW catwalk next season.
Another accomplished designer was Shun Yip, whose utilitarian designs absolutely could not be faulted. Not a loose thread or a dodgy hem was in sight. The dark colour palette was brightened by flashes of strong orange, elevating it from the mundane to the special. It was absolutely wearable, and you can expect to see garments of a similar ilk at the upcoming London Fashion Week Mens – certainly on the guests if not on the catwalk.
UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL LANCASHIRE
At UCLAN, Allison Elizabeth Orr’s collection made me roll my eyes on paper. As described in the catwalk brochure, it was made from recycled plastics – in particular, sandwich bags fused together using an innovative process and straws. Here we go, I thought: yet another ‘sustainability matters’ collection which fails to say anything new. Except it did. In person and in motion, this collection came absolutely to life. The clothes not only moved in an ethereal way reminiscent of waves – but they even produced a sound akin to rushing water. For once, this was a case of something “obvious” transformed into art.
Emily Jagger’s collection pipped a couple of other close contenders to my pick. Her use of applique flowers brought a breath of spring into the venue, with a beautiful use of drape and flow to make the clothes work on the models as they moved. A bustier understructuring brought both romance and strength.
UNIVERSITY OF EAST LONDON
The delicacy of Taylor Wilson’s pieces was what stood out the most. Sheer fabrics splashed with ruffles and embroidery represented a certain sense of personal style, a little different to some of the more trend-chasing collections on show.
MANCHESTER SCHOOL OF ART
Jennifer Copeland’s collection wasn’t very ‘new’. It didn’t blow our minds by presenting something we’d never seen before. On the other hand, it was very pretty – and very, very couture. It just goes to show that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel while you’re a student. You can stand out by doing well something that is familiar – in this case, the puffy, romantic layers of tulle in various streaks of sunset colours, toned down to pastel.
EDINBURGH COLLEGE OF ARTS
Michael Treta’s bright floral collection looked like just that – a collection. One of the biggest successes that a student designer can produce is something coherent, that looks like it belongs together. Many students end up producing one or two looks that don’t seem to match, but Treta hit the nail on the head – whilst also managing to create something that looked real, wearable, and fashionable.
Edinburgh put out a great showing on this front, and they certainly look to be coaching students in the right ways to go about building a recognisable brand.
Cristiana Alagna was the only student to really impress at Ravensbourne, in a sea of derivative and uninspired looks. Her menswear tailoring and draping at least looked wearable, though it remains to be seen whether this collection would have made the cut alongside the work from other universities.
No shade, but there wasn’t a lot of competition for Abby Nicholls at Norwich. Her simple tailoring won the day by being gimmick-free; sadly, the other students failed to stand out, making obvious overreaching sweeps or no impact at all, with little ground in-between.
ARTS UNIVERSITY BOURNEMOUTH
Hannah Gait stood out for us at Bournemouth. Her collection featured a particular dress that puts one in mind of a lacy ultramarine pirate, and the prominence of ruffles with tailoring has something so delightfully Clueless about it that we can’t resist. The colour was well-used and in a field of strong contenders, Gait made the cut.
We had a hard time picking just one student to feature at Northampton, with a couple of students showing strong potential. Rebecca Mrazik was the pick that came out on top, with an unusual combination of black over-garments on orange-yellow prints. The clothing featured extremely detailed cut-out patterns, showing an attention to the small stuff which really worked.
DE MONTFORT UNIVERSITY
Edyta Kalisz stood out to use here, with interesting designs and a coherent collection. One thing above all else made it more praise-worthy than the rest: the use of a current trend (the bucket hat) updated with a fresh take (transparent PVC). Let this be a reminder to all students: if it’s on trend when you start designing your collection, it will be old hat by the time you show. Update and invigorate.
UNIVERSITY OF BRIGHTON
Dorothy Williams seemed to take inspiration from Viktor & Rolf with this collection based around frames. Reinforcing the point that fashion is art, the clothing explored variations of the form from headpieces to full-body frames and through to a rumpled canvas. Signatures and gradients increased the painterly feel.
This was one of the better courses in terms of overall quality – several of the designers could easily have been the top pick from other selections.
Farouk Wingfield put together a cowboy-referencing collection that managed to avoid being too obvious, clichéd, or uncool. Actually, it looked infinitely wearable – the kind of get-up you’d expect to see strolling around outside 180 Strand any given September. Denim, tan, mud-brown, flat-brimmed hats, chap-shaped tailoring, shirts, and jackets came together. Perfectly styled with shiny black shoes.
The closing show from universities at GFW saw Cat O’Brien presenting a gothic, kitschy collection that was very much at home in our present revival of all things 90s. Black PVC, fishnets, feathers, satin, lace – it had it all. These looks suit very much the woman who feels that lingerie isn’t just for the bedroom.
Bath Spa University, Birmingham City University and Nottingham Trent University images and thoughts will be available online at londonrunway.co.uk. For all other universities, check out our online issue.