BA graduate Sam Chester aims to eradicate binary structures and prolong the life of dying craft-skills. As a gender non-conforming individual, they are always looking for neutral spaces, which is why they decided to present their final collection on a virtual platform. Sam agrees to meet me in a café in Dalston in-between their busy post-graduate work schedule. They come armed with a portfolio full of research and a well-versed and rounded view on their final collection. With their work already styled on the likes of Bjork and Solange, Sam’s sculptural take on fashion is already particularly promising.

It was evident that the natural setting of Sam’s hometown, Hastings, was of great inspiration. The fashion designers strikingly beautiful collection incorporated themes of coastal landscapes and the natural erosion that occurs on rocks. However there was an unnatural element that influenced the colour scheme, which was inspired by lobster pots, fishing nets and plastic debris, all features reminiscent of the seaside.

When their father introduced them to the material willow, the designer utilised it for various techniques, and began to style it around the body in their foundation year. After the material no longer met their creative demands, they moved to cane, a similar but more malleable type of wood. While other students worked from toiles, the designer benefited from a trial and improvement technique, where they would build sculptural pieces and place them onto a mannequin in order to identify the silhouette they wanted to create for the final look.

Furthering their knowledge on willow and cane, Sam decided to learn new skills in the summer prior to their final year, ones which were not concentrated on the conventional materials in fashion design. They say, “I went home and I found a basket making class in a local church hall, and it was with a bunch of older ladies, weaving a basket from scratch, and that was a really good experience.” The skills from this class aided them in gaining hands-on knowledge of the various techniques available, which allowed them to achieve different sculptural finishes with cane.

Sam also used macramé in one of their looks, which involved the repetitive knotting of soft cotton rope they sourced from Arthur Beale, a well-known boat store in Central London. It took them a week to create one of the arms, but the finished look was one of the most eye-catching.

Sam is evidently influenced by their father and mother, both who come from creative backgrounds, studying and practicing fine art and textiles, respectively. While their father offered them the material to work with, Sam essentially thatched it into a textile, an ability that most likely comes from their mother. The designer’s grandma is one person in particular who was an integral to the completion of their collection, aiding and tutoring them for the final knitwear pieces, “We would be on the phone, and I’d send her drawings and then she’d knit the piece and get it back, and it would be perfect!” This not only furthers the theme of heritage in the graduate’s collection, but also exemplifies the transferable skills Sam incorporated from different creative practices.

As a final component to their collection, Sam, alongside a Fine Art student of the same university, Elizabeth Asson, photographed their sculptural pieces to create 3D models, intended for a virtual platform. Sam explains, “I wanted to translate the handmade craft into a virtual space, that could preserve it. The collection has basketry, knitting and involves a lot of craft skills that are dying out.” Essentially, the virtual factor archives these techniques on a platform we understand as particularly timeless right now, therefore prolonging the life of these skills.

Additionally, the designer’s realization as a non-binary individual in final year unconsciously shaped parts of the collection, in ways they felt were not fetishized or tokenised, as they so often are in contemporary mainstream media. Sam expresses that “the virtual space was the perfect place to be non-binary and to have no specific gender,” which is an issue close to the designer’s heart. When questioned whether they believe if non-binary clothing will ever have a place in a retail space, they answer perfectly by suggesting the space is only possible if gender non-specific people are asked to create it.

As of now, it is difficult to see where post-graduate life will take Sam. Their multi-disciplinary approach to fashion can, in fact, be seen through the eyes of a variety of different creative practices, some which may include fine art, sculpture or 3D design. But, Sam is adamant to continue their practice in fashion, specifically to continue working their visually appealing pieces around the human body.

words Priyesh Patel
lookbook photography Calum Barlow
3D models Elizabeth Asson & Sam Chester