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BY THE STUDENTS OF CENTRAL SAINT MARTINS

  • The stuffy art school that got spiced up – legendary RCA tutor Wendy Dagworthy reflects on 4 decades of fashion

    Jul 31, 2014 • Fashion, Industry, Interviews, TutorsComments (0)

    “I’ve learnt to encourage students; I don’t damn them. I’m obviously critical, but you have to be constructive and tell students how to work forward, how to move on in the future – as opposed to, you know, saying ‘that’s a load of old shit’.”

     

    Wendy Dagworthy sits in her serene white office at the Royal College of Art, one week before her last official day at the college. It’s July, 28 degrees, and approximately 700 metres away, Marina Abramovic is staring visitors down in the Serpentine Gallery.

     

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    Dagworthy, who has taught some of the most brilliant designers in the fashion industry (Alexander McQueenSarah BurtonChalayanErdem -the list goes on) is modest, calm and extremely positive – a trait she’s undeniably refined, having taught at CSM and RCA for 25 years. She wears a white dress, her silver hair is tied up in her signature chignon and her metal bracelets that cover 1/2 of her right arm resound with every move she makes.

    After graduating from Hornsey College of Art, Wendy started her own label, and designed stage clothes for Roxy Music, who she joined on a coach when they performed outside of London. The most outrageous costume she made for Bryan Ferry was “a toreador’s outfit, like a bull fighter’s costume”. She reminisces the bell boy outfit she made for the For Your Pleasure album, and pyjamas. “I did lots of pyjamas for him, when he had his tonsils out. I made him some pyjamas for when he was in hospital, with his initials on. That was a key thing of mine, I did lots of shirts with initials,” she says, with a slight raspy voice.

     

    She remembers going to New York with a group of her contemporaries – let’s say the British predecessors of the Antwerp Six. One of their biggest markets was America. “There was Jasper ConranJohn GallianoBetty JacksonKatharine Hamnett and me,” she says. “We rented a suite in a hotel and had someone organising appointments for us from right across America, because it was during New York Fashion Week.” They had a party at ‘Little Mel’s’, which was a groovy club at the time in New York, and Katherine and Wendy went on Good Morning America.

     

    They all decided to join forces, for London was very disjointed at the time. Although there were the London Designer Collections, The Clothes Show and The Design Studio, it was very fragmented, with lots of different groups of designers, alongside those working alone. There were no platforms for labels to actually sell. After having thrown a few buyer/press events in hotel suites and ballrooms in The Ritz and Montcalm Hotel, they decided to go under one venue at Olympia, and have a tent down there for the shows, which is ‘sort of when it became London Fashion Week.’  “It was good but you know, we just played it by ear really, did what you thought you should be doing. There was no set way of doing things. It was quite exciting.”

     

    She designed for her own label for sixteen years, until the ’89 recession kicked in and she had to close her business. At that time, the Saint Martins’ course director had just left, and, having been an external examiner at the college, she was offered a promotion. “I’d closed my line that November, so they asked me if I’d be willing to take over, and many years later I was still there.” Teaching has always come naturally for Wendy, as she’d always taught when she had her own company. Though not on a regular basis, she’d go to different colleges all over the country and “maybe set a project, come back in the middle and do some tutorials, and then go back and critique it.”

    “I’ve been an external examiner for probably every college in the country – and a few international ones – so I’ve always done it. Until I started doing it full time, which sort of came naturally.”

     

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    In 1998, RCA poached her for a job, to “spice up a slightly stuffy art school.” an aim which she has achieved pretty well. “The staff are very different from before,” she says, “and there’s a fantastic cultural mix of students from all over the world. We really want students to do what they believe in, and have the confidence to do what they believe in, challenge what’s going on, but also really enjoy themselves. To enjoy what they’re doing and find their own personal identity, through their own personal search.”

     

    What then, I ask, has changed in the students since she first set out to teach? “Jobs are scarce and there are many more students coming out, so they’re aware of what they need to do in order to get that job. I think they’re more aware of being marked, a lot of them seem to worry about the marks they get, rather than what they’re doing.” At the RCA, the students aren’t marked, which allows the students to take risks and to put the focus on themselves and their own progress, – not where they stand within the group. “It doesn’t matter if one project doesn’t work, it’s fine. They learn by that experience and they learn from their mistakes, so that’s where we’re slightly different. Passionately, she talks about the fact that the MA at RCA is two years.” I find that one year MA’s are a bit short, it’s not enough time to really develop yourself in a proper way. I think also because of the high overseas fees and UK fees, it’s obviously cheaper to do a one year MA and often students are doing it just for the name, ‘I’ve got an MA’. That’s not the important bit, it’s the actual doing of it that’s important.”
     

    But how has Wendy, once called the ‘high priestess of fashion‘, actually developed herself? “I’ve learnt a lot! I’ve learnt a lot from the students, and you do learn a lot from them. It’s not just me giving, they give too. It’s a mutual experience, and particularly MA students. They are brilliant to work with because they’ve made that decision to have another two years, after everything, with all the debts they accumulate in the BA. So they’re really dedicated and really want to be here. I think I’ve learnt to encourage. I encourage students, I don’t damn them. I’m sort of encouraging with their work, obviously critical, but you have to be constructive and tell students how to work forward, how to move on in the future. As opposed to, you know, saying ‘that’s a load of old shit’,” she says, adding that she is completely objective. “There are so many different styles; so many different people, that you cannot be subjective.”
     

    Wendy is definitely a nurturer, perhaps sometimes a mother to her students. She’s got two sons, aged twenty-four and twenty-six. “When I first started here, my sons were quite small and now I’ve realised they’re the same age (or older) than the students I’m teaching. It’s quite weird actually, the changeover, “oh god, you could be one of my sons!“. I always think of myself as being a similar age, I don’t think I’m old enough to be one of their mothers!

     

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    In a previous interview, she has said that she can often spot who’s going to be big. Can she still – with the presence of social media catapulting young designers in the ‘online fame stratosphere’ within hours? “Yes, often you can. It’s not just talent, it’s also having the personality and professionalism to do it as well. Sometimes you get disappointed and think ‘oh god, those fantastic students!’ and then they haven’t really got anywhere. But it’s having that personality as well, and a goal. I think with a lot of them, there’s no ego as such, they’re nice people as well. People like Hussein Chalayan, he’s great, great to teach as well, he was dedicated to what he was doing. Giles - brilliant. Eley Kishimoto, she was brilliant. Christopher Raeburn, he was great, always had the gift of the gab. James Long, he just worked and worked.” There’s so many of them, she cannot choose a favourite.

     

    I ask her whether she thinks if the designers who have become very famous, have remained the same in terms of their their integrity or personality. “I’d like to think so, I don’t think you change, and if you do, that’s slightly dangerous. Don’t believe in your own press. You go down quicker than you went up!” Press, she thinks, hasn’t changed much since the seventies. “I think you have to be careful of press because they can actually lift someone up and say ‘oh, they’re the next John Galliano’ or something like that. That’s when students read their own hype and believe it. So press should be careful not to over-elevate,” she says. “I just think it’s silly to think who’s going to be the next so-and-so…
     

    The fashion press, in her eyes, should just report truthfully what they see; and they shouldn’t hammer anyone. “Sometimes I don’t think they realize the work that goes into doing a collection and a fashion show. Both by students and by designers. I think they need to actually understand a bit more how hard it is; it’s you that you’re putting out there. And then if someone slams you, it’s very soul destroying.” She denies ever having had a soul destroying moment during her long tenure of teaching. I mention that she strikes me as a very positive person. “I think I am, you can’t just regret and look back, you just need to move on and get over it.” she responds. It shows that she looks into the future. What does she predict for fashion, then?
     
    “Not just relying on the fashion show. The fashion shows are so costly, but they’re still great,” and she adds, “But I think younger designers are going to start looking at new ways of presentation, in which you can actually see the clothes better and you can film something to get your ideas across. It’s a good opportunity. Show where you need to, but do something of your own that’s different, that actually suits your clothes.”
     

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    The British Fashion Council are going from strength to strength, with helping young designers. “They’re making sure it’s of a standard, because it used to be a lot of young designers starting on their own, too early. If someone bought something, they don’t know how they were going to get it made, or know how they were going to pay to get it made, so therefore deliveries would be late, upsetting the buyer so they wouldn’t come back. I think London was getting a bit of a bad name for that. But now, I think it’s much stronger. London is an exciting place. Fashion, I don’t think just exists on it’s own, it’s interconnected with music and magazines and books. The whole lifestyle.” But the relationship between music, fashion and art has changed, she mentions. “I think in the eighties, music and fashion were really related. I think a lot of the club wear was designer stuff, or they used to wear their own things. You know, designers used to go to clubs and wear it. So I think it was much more related I suppose. I don’t go to clubs anymore, my sons do I suppose, but it doesn’t seem so fashion related.”

     

    Why does she think it’s gone downhill? “In the eighties it was all new, and the whole club scene was very new. I suppose at St Martins for instance, the music scene came from art college. Roxy Music was at Manchester Art College. So I think maybe that’s the reason. The music industry is slightly different, it’s more manufactured now, and they wouldn’t use a young designer, or choose the clothes themselves sometimes.”

     

    What she really thinks is lacking in fashion now, is money. She often thinks that people believe designers are rich, which is not the case unless you work for the big companies in Paris, Milan or New York. (Unless you’re Christopher Bailey, “then you get paid a fortune!“) “I think we need to value the designer and their role. It’s a very important role and it’s one that we shouldn’t forget. I think that’s why it’s so bad, really, that the government are withdrawing so much money from the colleges and universities. They’re being asked to fund themselves, so to speak. When I was at college, we got a grant that we could actually live on, and it was brilliant,” she says, making passionate gestures that triggers her bracelets to orchestrate a fitting tune.


    Dagworthy reckons it’s a pity that the government can’t see the value in the creative industries, because science needs it. “Scientists don’t know what to do with what they’ve done, whereas the designers take it and use it,” she says. “I also think it’s good for business students and fashion students to get together and somehow combine, or link the two. Because fashion designers aren’t always business minded. Therefore, it’s good if they can meet up with someone who understands them, so they can do their own roles, but respect each others role.” The RCA supports their students in different ways, business-wise, such as the FuelRCA initiative, which is a mentoring scheme for designers and artists.  

     

    Having been at the front lines of fashion innovation for four decades, fueling change and progression, the time has now come for leisure in the best possible way. Traveling? Most certainly. Destination? India. A place where more clanking bracelets will undeniably be bought.

    Words and photographs by Jorinde Croese

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  • ‘No means No – Alex Fury talks about ‘words’ with Laura Bradley

    Jul 30, 2014 • TalksComments (0)

    Last night, Laura Bradley (AnOther magazine) spoke with Alex Fury (The Independent) about ‘words’ at the Design Museum, for their #wordweek. Bradley started off by saying, “He has just surrendered his second bedroom to an ever expanding wardrobe (and I’ve seen it, it’s pretty epic),” before going into more detail about how he started to write about fashion.

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    Alex Fury grew up in the countryside of Manchester, the Pennines, and bought his first issue of Vogue in June 1996. Initially thinking that Vogue was as expensive as a designer dress, he thought that he couldn’t possibly ever afford it. He then went on to buy magazines every month and when the shows were on, used to buy newspapers everyday. “It was before the internet, because I’m old these days”, Fury said. His writing style is passionate, “I think that’s because I actually appreciate and notice distance in other peoples’ writing, and I could never be like that.”

     

    Fury always liked clothes, and initially wanted to be a fashion designer. “Then I realized I didn’t want to be a fashion designer, I wanted to be John Galliano – and I was never going to be John Galliano, so I stopped trying to.” After dropping out of fashion design, he went to study at St Martins. “It was always there, I kind of knew that there wasn’t anything else I could do. I wasn’t conditioned to do anything else, unless I’d be incredibly unhappy.”

     

    Fashion History and Theory was his course of choice, which was not specifically focused on journalism, but rather on curating. “It’s more academic. The first year is entirely focused on fashion history from 1300, through until today. At the end of it, you would do a thesis and then work with an institution. My year worked with Kensington Palace and curated an exhibition. So really, it was, I would say, less journalistic and more curatorial and historical. It was perfect for me because it reflects the way I write, and also the way that I think good fashion writers write, which is with the knowledge and the background of the subject—so you can actually back yourself up when saying something’s good or something’s shit!”

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    Who are his favourite journalists? He has always loved what Cathy Horyn writes, but thinks she’s quite a cold fashion writer. “She writes very personally, but she’s not in love with fashion. It’s something I can appreciate and I really love her objective eye, it’s very interesting. It’s the same with the way that Vanessa Friedman writes; they’re similar.” He also admires Susannah Frankel and Suzy Menkes, who, on the contrary, write very passionately. “I think it’s interesting to contrast those types of fashion writing. We can then interpret the same shows differently, and I think it’s more to do with personal taste.”

     

    Fury confessed his love for Vanity Fair, “I love that I pick up Vanity Fair and read the financial articles. I know way more about Sarah Palin and Bernie Madoff than I should really know. But that’s because they write in a fascinating way. It’s a bit like a very high-class version of Heat magazine. That’s why it’s so great, because it actually pulls you in.”

     

    Bradley and Fury went on to talk about reviewing fashion week at SHOWStudio, seven years ago (a time when there were “no iPhones”). With the intense pressure of having to deliver, Fury says he’s learnt to ‘formulate an opinion quite quickly, and not to overthink something.’ He goes with his gut. “If I like it, I don’t listen to other people. I’ve done that before. I’ve hated something and listened to other people tell me they liked it, and then I’ve written something and looked back on it and went ‘that isn’t what I thought’. If I really didn’t like something and someone else thinks it’s good, that’s when you’re questioning yourself if you’re hating it for the sake of hating it. I can write about things that I hate much easier than writing about the things I love. It’s easy to be funny when you’re being nasty about something—” and Bradley interrupts, “—Refer to Fury’s Twitter for examples of this!”

    One of the most important things for Alex Fury is honesty. “Ultimately, I want to look back at something and think ‘that is my honest opinion’, whether, in hindsight, I think it’s right or wrong. I do reconsider what I originally wrote about things. I remember not liking things and then buying the collections, because later on I grow to love them. But at least what I wrote was honest, you don’t really have the time to formulate something fake, it’s always easier to write something honest and then get onto the next thing.”

     

    Fury churns out reviews like a fast train in rush hour. How did he get to that point of being so quick? “Newspaper deadlines mean I have to write faster than you write for online, because I have to file everything by about five o’clock for it to hit first edition. At SHOWstudio I could merrily write until three in the morning.”

     

    He talks about being a chronological writer. He has to have ‘a start’; then he could write a piece in ten minutes. “In Milan, you try and start a piece before you’ve even seen Prada, and then you see Prada and you might have to rip it all apart and totally re-write it in half an hour for it to hit the newspaper.” Bradley asks whether he draws sketches in his notebooks. He doesn’t, it’s all words. “I know that Sarah Mower does. Sarah sketches, I only write. My handwriting is HIDEOUS.”

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    His handwriting isn’t a thing that’s changed since being at the Independent – though his style might’ve altered slightly, as he’s aware that he edits the fashion section of a newspaper that’s also got a sports section (an audience he sometimes would try to appeal to). “By comparing a collection to Rene from “Ello Ello” or something, I try and open up the fashion world to other people. I’m very aware of that when I’m writing for a newspaper,” he says. “I can’t tell them everything, but I can at least spark an interest.”

     

    “I tweeted that Dior all looked like Victoria Wood, which I’m standing by.” His Twitter writing style is like a notebook; he uses it in the way he would tend to talk to somebody – it’s a bit conversational. “Sometimes it’s a horrible thing, I absolutely hate most of the comments we get on the Independent, because it’s mostly from insane people that think Conchita Wurst – who is just a man in a dress! – is some kind of absolute abomination.”

     

    Alex Fury’s favourite word is ‘no’. “There’s a purity and a directness to it. It’s succinct and precise, and I hear it a lot. I wish I could say it a lot more. I think it’s kind of the perfect word, you can’t misinterpret it as anything else. No means no.”

     

    Alex Fury image by 1 Granary 

    Girl with book -  Photography by Katy Grannan, courtesy of AnOther Magazine

    Graffiti –  Photography by Viviane Sassen, courtesy of AnOther Magazine 

    Follow their #WordWeek on anothermag.com

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  • A Golden Innovation – Roman Rudolph uses peculiar metal fabric for his draped designs

    Jul 29, 2014 • BA Final Collections 2014, FashionComments (0)

    Swiss-German Roman Rudolph meets me at an old patisserie in Soho, where students used to hang before the college relocated from Charing Cross road to King’s Cross. He greets me and immediately comments on my perfume. “Who are you wearing? Like, perfume? Tralala?” I’m surprised. It’s Penhaligon’s collaboration with Meadham Kirchhoff – one of the labels Roman worked with while completing his Central Saint Martins BA Fashion studies.

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    Loving Lanvin

    On his placement year, Roman went to Paris and worked at Lanvin for the whole year. He remembers that when he first started to become interested in fashion, the brand was ‘so hip’ – think big shoulders. “Somehow, it wasn’t so cool anymore. With the whole shift in Paris – Balenciaga/Ghesquiere and Raf/Dior, it wasn’t so cool anymore, to intern there. Nobody wanted to go. But then last year, suddenly tonnes of us were coming, I mean, there were about six or seven people from Saint Martins there,” he says. The internship turned out to be great. “There are no shitty jobs. It’s all draping, pattern cutting; you’re quite involved as an intern,” he says. “You work as an assistant.” Apparently, Alber [Elbaz] knows everybody’s names – even those of people who are there for a short stint. Though Creative Directors mostly seem a bit difficult, ‘Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy: you hear it’s horrendous,’ Lanvin was nice.

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    “They had about seven designers, and then they all had an assistant. It was quite amazing how they could totally change a collection within half a week, because they have so many people working on it.” He reminisces about the Chanel documentary starring Karl Lagerfeld that he watched before he went to Paris. “Before Karl arrives, it starts to get quite hectic in the studio. People call, ‘oh Karl is coming in five minutes!’, and then in two minutes he’s almost there and gets out of the taxi,” he says. “It was similar at Lanvin. Alber was literally the king.”

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    The magic fabric

    Coming from an architecture background (“my architecture degree was very technical. I mean, I didn’t finish it entirely, I did a few years. I just found the process a bit too slow.”), Roman has always been technical. Having gained experience working in 3D, draping at Lanvin – discarding the seemingly endless drawings that they do in other ateliers- he became excited about continuing to do this with his final collection. Though, he didn’t exactly do what he initially expected. “I was so excited for final year. When I was on placement year, I was literally thinking about it all the time I was working. But then you know, you get bored of it if you think too much,” he says. “Often you have ideas and they are quite abstract. It’s very hard to note them down, and sometimes once you do nail them down, you kind of kill them, so can’t use them anymore.”

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    Though the main concept was centred on construction, and the collection started with the peculiar metal fabric that he’d found, the shoes were also an essential part. ” I’ve always wanted the shoes. I saw them once on a friend who had theses espadrilles which just lace up your leg. I was obsessed with them- for over a year now. I only wanted the shoes. I didn’t know what my collection was going to look like.”

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    So, Roman got sponsored by a Swiss company, Schoeller, which produces high performance fabrics that are fire retardant, and used in uniforms for police- and firemen. The metal is strong, made up of extremely tough fibres that make it difficult and unreliable to work with. “I had about forty metres of it and I couldn’t really toile with it, and there’s nothing really similar to the way it behaves. Once the grain changes a bit on the pattern, it does something very different to what you anticipated. On normal fabric, you can kind of guess what it does, but here, it might shoot somewhere else or it creates big volumes.”

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    Make it solid gold

    Consequently, he really had to adapt. It was a ‘work in progress’, so he could never present a finished product to show what he was doing. Yet, some things were easy to show, like the fabric and color. “I really wanted to use the fabric, and they didn’t have it in any other colour than gold. That’s why I did gold. It was quite simple.” His tutors were ecstatic. “When I told my tutors ‘I have this fabric but it’s only in gold’, they loved it. Like, ‘oh my god, you could make an all gold collection’. I wasn’t sure, I didn’t want to just have one fabric, and they said, ‘no no, it’s just six looks, make everything in gold’.” It wouldn’t have always been his choice, though. ” If we would have talked last year and you asked me, ‘would you do a collection in all gold?’, I would say ‘of course not, that’s so stupid’.”

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    He always knew how he didn’t want the collection to look, making his research process one of elimination. Obsessed with draping and fascinated by ancient society, he wanted to continue the idea of wrapping clothes around the body, rather than having stitched garments. “There is something quite nice, the idea of having some amazing fabric wrapped around your body. But then, it’s not relevant today, just strapping some clothes to someone.”

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    Thinking about his year at Central Saint Martins, he reflects: “I think they want us to create something a bit more pure – well not ‘pure’, that sounds a bit wanky, but, you know, an ‘essence’ of things. In my collection, I think it’s very concentrated. Because it’s all gold, it’s all the same fabric. But now from that, I could draw a much more diluted collection.”

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    He admits that he didn’t have a healthy relationship with his work. “Even by the internal show, I was so sick of my project, because it’s always the same fabric, all the same colour. Though he had enough finished garments to show twelve looks, he took it down to eight for the press show. “I discussed it with Howard and Willy. Thinking about it, they were right in saying, ‘don’t show it all, because it’s all gold. Don’t make people sick of it’. I would have loved to show ten or twelve, but then, looking back, it doesn’t explain any more if I show more looks. It would have just been three more for the sake of it.”

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    Roman doesn’t see himself launching his own brand, and neither is he interested in doing an MA. “I think when you work in a house, you get design projects which you can make quite extreme. Other people are there to tear them down and make them more appropriate.” He’d like to work for a company that allows him to be a hands-on designer, that will have to make him deal with different aspects of design, “rather than just self-indulged designers- ‘oh my god, I love my ideas’- you know?”. Which is a good thing, but also hard, as many graduates struggle to find jobs in fashion, despite being qualified to design. “We study for years. Come on, it’s fashion. Either you’re a good designer or not, you mainly find that out in the industry, because school is one thing…”

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    Copy culture

    He wrote his dissertation about copy-culture in fashion, a subject he feels strongly about. He admits he is obsessed with Style.com himself, but think that lots of collections are Style.com hit parades. “It’s like their research. I did hear a news story that said companies are drawing their inspiration literally from Style.com.” Roman feels that big companies still have a duty to be fashion forward. “There’s a greater idea of dress, rather than being reduced to seasonal trends and sales. This is very important for the industry, because that’s what it’s based on.” He believes that the designers should push a bit. “You can copy their looks, but you can’t copy how they think and see the world. That’s why they will always create better stuff. I mean Phoebe Philo, Céline, is so relevant. You see her work in so many collections. I mean, they might not be so relevant at some points after a while, but these are the people. They’re like pace makers.”2014_1granary_centralsaintmartins_romanrudolph_csm (11)

    What does he think of pace makers and fame? “In architecture, the star architect, Roy Colbert, said he would rather be an architect again, rather than a star architect. What architecture means in 2014, I don’t know, just bringing too much pop culture. I think a lot of people want to a [fashion] designer and take a bow at the end of the show. They want to be like that.”

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    “I had loads of conversations last year with designer friends in Paris. They all told me, ‘you will become sarcastic and you will be swallowed up by the industry’. I think it’s really something you feel happening.” Let’s hope that won’t happen to this golden boy.

    Dig into an archive of a designer who did gold extremely well for his first ‘Nihilism’ collection: Alexander McQueen.

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  • “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” – Save time to procrastinate with Charlotte Chan

    Jul 28, 2014 • BA Final Collections 2014, FashionComments (0)

    “People would say that it was very Alice in Wonderland, but if I could do it again, I would like to do it in black.” Laidback FDM graduate, Charlotte Chan, who designed a prince and pauper menswear collection, gives the golden tip to ‘save time to procrastinate’ and talks about the ‘aura’ of constructing clothes.

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    Charlotte’s collection started from the concept of the color blue, which represents sadness and depression. The story behind it, was mainly about how different personalities want to ‘play with their identity’. “The inspiration was the Prince and the Pauper; how the Prince wanted to go out there and be adventurous, and how the beggars want to be rich and have a taste of luxurious life. It was about how they all wanted to be something completely different,” Charlotte says, fumbling with a piece of her black dress. She purposely picked a sad track (which her friend PLEQ composed for the show), to bring about a feeling akin to this concept. When I ask her who she wants to be at some point, she says that she doesn’t think of it that seriously. “I don’t want to have just one identity.” This seems like a contemporary thing, I respond, the ‘not sticking to one thing’. She agrees, “I guess people are thirstier for knowledge or different things. That’s why they want to be in different careers. I think that’s also the nature of the creative industry.”

    The expectations of what she set out to do for her graduate collection was very different from what she had in mind when she first came to CSM. “I really wanted to be a fashion designer. Then I realized that you have to work way up. CSM is not really a technical school, and you really have to find your own way to learn what you want to learn,” she says, and takes a sip of her carrot juice. She hesitates. “I realized it was also kind of scary, because you’re really young and it’s a lot of independence. You really have to work on your own, and find your own voice for your collection. But things are really different now than compared to the first year.”

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    What’s the big difference then? “How I think; how I deal with people, and how I deal with my emotions. Compared to the first year, I now have to think more about what’s next. Before, I was trying to figure things out and go with the flow.” Now, she’s more considerate about creating something deep and emotional, rather than a ‘pretty collection’. This collection is really her because it’s ‘cute’. “People would say that it was very Alice in Wonderland, but if I could do it again, I would like to do it in black.”

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    What else would she do differently – thinking about Prince and Pauper identities – if she wouldn’t be doing fashion? “I would maybe be a translator or be studying chemistry. I think it’s really cool, because it’s essentially based upon the idea of mixing different elements, and I’m fascinated by the subject. It’s about creating something new, and in many ways it can be compared to fashion and art. But rather than a studio, it’s a lab.”

    Thinking about the CSM studios, she’s certain that it’s not a platform where you can learn how to do industry projects, and the school doesn’t make you ‘prepped’. So, when I ask her how she feels about the balance of creativity and business skills, she speaks of her belief in CSM’s ways of teaching. “Students know they’re in a prestigious art school. It could be a good thing to have the preparation for the real world, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, because I think students want to come here to be challenged creatively. There’s a mentality that when you’re at CSM, you have to sort your own shit out. You have to find your own way around it, because different people have different ways of working, and you just have to work out on your own.”

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    How about that preparation? What does she see herself doing in the future? Definitely not starting a label: it’s too much stress. “I would love to work for different design studios. I think it would help me to be more prepared. I didn’t do a placement year, I feel like I need that experience of seeing the world and figure out what I would like to do from here.” Hold on – no placement year? Did she miss out on anything because of that? “It’s definitely important because when you work with a team of people, you learn about how to work in a team, and I think that’s an experience that’s too important to miss out on. Though, in the end I was able to create a collection without having done a placement year. I think that a placement year is more about how you deal with people, or at least that’s the impression I got.”

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    The placement year dilemma arose from the big question: why fashion? “I had this moment where I just questioned why I was going into fashion. I had the impression that  it was the best decision. I thought that I would like the process of constructing clothes, and the aura about it. But, it’s a lot harder than it seems, and you really have to find your own voice and you have to be yourself – as well as having an original approach, and it’s really hard to do. I didn’t have a direction in my second year.” she says. “Just the thought of creating something that was my work – that had my name on a garment and how I would present myself and what it meant for me to be a designer – was something that I struggled with. I think it’s one of those things where people would want to give up, and where people realize that fashion is not for them. It’s not that I hate fashion, but instead, I was realizing the spectrum of the industry.

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    What is the best thing that she’s been taught over the past three years? “Well, in first and second year they don’t really teach you anything. Final years have everything planned for them. My tutor would always say that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” It never worked for me but I do think that time management is so important, because in your head you think you can do everything but you can’t. And save time to procrastinate (laughs).”

    To keep procrastinating, why don’t you read more interviews with the class of 2014? Richard Quinn, Hyon Park, Ed Lee and more graduates are waiting for you…

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  • Ethan O’Connor’s healthy obsession with Ophelia Finke

    Jul 27, 2014 • Art & Design, Fashion, GraduatesComments (0)

    Now that the world has yet again become obsessed with Calvin Klein’s Obsession and Kate Moss’ sister, Lottie, has become the star of the new CK Jeans campaign, we look into an obsession a bit closer to home – that of FCP graduate Ethan O’Connor with Fine Art graduate Ophelia Finke.

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    How deep does your obsession with Ophelia go?

    Ophelia is quite an entity at CSM. It wasn’t ever really about me being personally obsessed with her, but more about how she is quite a noticable figure throughout the school, either through her sculptures or seeing her about. Her work is very much discovery-driven and really fun, so I wanted to channel her love for that and how she loves that idea of experimentation in a Labatory and adventure sense. Her work at the degree show was example enough that she is an important student to CSM (at least I believe).

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    Why ‘Obsession’? It’s kind of an iconic thing.

    Obsession is obviously a cult Calvin Klein fragrance, and the link between that resurgence into their SS14 menswear collection and Ophelia’s obsession for items and how fashion can be placed within sculpture, was very relevant. Her work, which involves a lot of bubble jackets, is relative to what people are wearing right now from either The North Face or Supreme, which is much obsessed over by hypebeasts and kids in streetwear. I liked that link between her view of current style and CK as a brand.

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    When would you wear a cowboy hat?

    I wouldn’t, ever. My mum loves cowboy boots though.

    What has been your weirdest obsession over the past four years at CSM?

    Probably going to the STI clinic all the time in first year because I thought that boys in London were all dirty.

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    Slipping lighters of naked men into garments – are the lighters yours? Have you ever gotten any strange reactions, when you light somebody’s cigarette?

    Most people I know fancy boys anyway, so they want them for themselves. Nobody asks me for a light though because I’m like the only person in London that doesn’t smoke.

    Missed the graduation shows at Central Saint Martins? Ophelia will exhibit her new work at the Space Age exhibition in the Hus Gallery, which will be on from  12 September until 11 October –  don’t forget to put a reminder note in your calendar!

    Models: Ophelia, Oliver and Bob. 
    All works of art by Ophelia Finke

    Red cowboy disciple and Cream rodeo suit by Versace / OBSESSION by Calvin Klein / Ophelia Tshirt stylist’s own.

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  • Newly Qualified Wunderkind: Ed Lee’s ‘Crafty’ Avenue to Graduation

    Jul 26, 2014 • BA Final Collections, BA Final Collections 2014, FashionComments (0)

    Steeped with themes of romanticism to suits reminiscent of Bowie’s Thin White Duke, Ed Lee’s work combines the use of motif with drapery and a colour palette of earthy tones, ballasted with a river of red flowing through. Biblical? Perhaps not, yet this mixture of effeminate and powerful menswear is something to be marvelled at.

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    Just as brides carry charms for good luck, Ed whisked up his own mascots in the form of ‘something sparkly, something colourful, something soft and something crafty’, (replacing the dower ‘something borrowed, something blue’: about as exciting as old men’s’ underwear). With these guidelines inserted into his designs at the start of his project, Ed Lee was on the brink of promise even in the early stages of creation.

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    Challenging the aesthetics of menswear has been worked and reworked a hundred times over, without reward. However, it seems that Ed’s success is the prize for working hard, interning and playing nice. After working in Margiela’s atelier in Paris, he quickly learnt to break down the wall of isolation that the language barrier built up. Working straight into 3D work, patterns were dissolved into the ether, and Ed developed the agile style that would go on to influence his final collection. The runway was slicked with billowing skirts enveloping the long dresses; a silhouette reminiscent of Medieval Renaissance, integrated with surface decoration in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement. With such historical references, Ed Lee still manages to create a collection dripping with insurgent ideas; the reputation of CSM’s quest for all things “new” remains intact.

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    “People get drawn to the designer’s aesthetic when they are looking for internships. While doing it, they should always stay positive and think of the possible achievements,” Ed says. Dead ends or brighter outlooks – internships elevated Ed’s expectations of the industry. Bridging the lines from 90s heroin chic to Ziggy Stardust, Ed Lee’s engineered pieces shine through against more bohemian textiles. They show influences from his time at Margiela, which are distinct, yet personal. “It was very intense but that made me a very independent person, when it comes to working.” he says.

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    Back in London, anchored by our capital (it must be all that coke in the Thames water, or the artisan hangover from Paris), Lee says he still feels ‘safe and constantly inspired’ eight years on, adding that ‘if it comes to difficult decision making, I always ask my best friend for opinion’. Fashion savvy friends are a must for imminent success.

    More of a Stella than Galliano, the young designer professes his work as ‘soft and sleek’. Rejecting the avant-garde by replicating ‘vintage fabrics and modernising it by putting in a more contemporary silhouette’. Strangely enough, with feminine silhouettes like the 90′s halter dress and collaged boob tubes, masculinity oozes through the designs as the contours of the male model’s body shine through – reminding us that however manicured the wearer, this is a menswear show after all.

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    ‘I don’t really have big concepts behind my work…I like clothes that are rich in textures; therefore textiles and fabrication are very important to me’. Ed tells us that his influences emerged from haute couture of the 1920s, focusing on textiles and experimental textures before developing the structure. Designing almost in the reverse, meant that surface decoration was clearly integrated into his final collection rather than ‘plopped on’.

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    A succession of three to four years at CSM in prep for riotous release into the industry follows a loose regime of practical and design skills. “It is great if someone can produce beautiful sketchbooks but I don’t think it is essential’,  Ed says, noting that over-designed pages never mask a bad concept.

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    Newly graduated, clutching the most expensive piece of paper he will ever own, Ed Lee is brimming with advice for CSM hopefuls who must ‘stay true to their own aesthetic, concentrate, and manage their time well’. Evidently calming the nerves of trembling first years, making the road to graduation seems within reach. It pays off to be kind as well as astute.

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