In an industry that seems to be led, according to several fashion design students, by merchandisers who rule with spreadsheets and figures, experiencing the BA Fashion graduate show gives hopeful energy. The name Central Saint Martins has long been synonymous with a college that allows those within its walls to dream: it’s the ideas that should matter, not the commercial appeal. In true Willie Walters-style — who joined CSM as the Womenswear course leader in 1992, has been the Head of BA Fashion since 1998, and will leave together with this year’s graduates — the show opened and closed with a theatrical bang. While the pre-show installation featured Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia’s collection — a pun on domestic labour, where a model wore not only the elaborate chunky knit that spread over the floor, but was also mop that cleaned it, alongside looks resembling the acts of ironing and trash-sweeping — the show came to an end with another familiar household item, which acted as the sole fabric of Edwin Mohney’s bulky oeuvre: duct tape.
“We don’t follow trends here, we set them,” is a phrase that Walters once famously snapped at somebody. The prizes for the most promising tastemakers, then, went to Soyoung Park, scooping the first prize of the L’Oreal Young Talent Award, with Yuhan Wang and Adnan Jalal Salman as first and second runner-up respectively. There was no shortage of exposed breasts or bums, neither was it lacking political statements, which in previous years were expressed by graduates like Tigran Avetisyan, Daniel Fletcher and Ryohei Kawanishi. Philip Ellis heavily referenced the upcoming Brexit referendum, for which he will vote Remain. “There’s a nice patch with David Cameron holding a piglet on it, which references Piggate,” he told us. “Everything is inherently political, but I think fashion, and especially the show, is a really good platform to kind of discuss issues that are important.” Carmen Chan’s gang of half-undressed stickered-up girls with wigs in erogenous zones used the catwalk as an opportunity for feminist protest, through slogans like ‘sex hair don’t care’, written (cutely) on quilts doodled by children, seemingly addressing the larger conversation around the Instafamous nipple and pubic hair debate.
The anxieties attached to coming of age, intimately felt by most at CSM, were most notably embedded in the work of Liam Johnson, whose larger-than-life pieces focused on “feeling super restricted, or restrained, or overwhelmed, or crushed or stuck.” One harrowing detail was found in the work of Jiale An, where hands were attached to shoes, almost as if trampled underfoot. But while ‘the struggle is real’, as us millennials like to say about many a life problem, we would not have come to the point of being able to present outpourings of emotional troubles, joyous experiences or sheer madness to the press and public without Willie Walters. After Mohney’s duct tape family of freaks trailed off the runway, the head of college, Jeremy Till, honoured Walters in his speech. Walters, who graduated from Saint Martin’s 45 years ago and has been the college’s BA Fashion course director for 18 years, can rightfully be credited for having solidified a spirit of creativity and controlled craziness at CSM. While Walters would argue that it’s not a solitary effort, but that of an entire team, Till reflected that to create anything, you need one person who can lead.
Willie Walters has been an true leader, revered by students, staff and alumni, who all remember her with fondness. The students behind this year’s Encore presentation, showcasing the work of designers who didn’t feature their collections in the Press Show, dedicated the show to Willie, and commemorated her legacy with heart.
“Encore is dedicated to Willie Walters. Thank you for your guidance, wisdom, and support you have given to the fashion students of Cental Saint Martins. We are all honoured to have had the opportunity to study under you as your last graduating class. You are legendary and a true icon.”
Words by Jorinde Croese
Photography courtesy of 1 Granary