Colourful knitwear, shimmering woven lapels, soft velvet trousers and structured headpieces – these were the creations of three Central Saint Martins students at the FAD x Missoni competition.

It took determination and dedication to balance the pressure of producing two complete looks in just three weeks whilst juggling the workload of a BA at the same time. 2nd year student Anna Gigante explains: “You feel quite satisfied with what you are doing at uni and suddenly you realise everyone’s going to see your work, it’s going to be everywhere and immediately the bar is raised!”

Last London Fashion Week, twenty finalists from undergraduate design degrees showcased their work in a catwalk finale at Freemasons Hall. Whittled down from hundreds of creative submissions across forty universities, this year’s finalists included three Central Saint Martins students: Anna Gigante, BA Fashion Design with Knitwear; Aqua Lixun Su and Nadia Wire Albrechtsen, both BA Textile Design.

For their 16th competition-year, fashion charity FAD collaborated with luxury Italian brand Missoni to develop a brief that asked students to build on their artistic skills and “design a mini-collection of two complementary outfits for Missoni Winter 2018.” They were asked to “draw inspiration from European artists” looking at “colour, space compositions and rhythm” and “take the Missoni approach.”

“I loved the experience!” Anna Gigante says. “The competition was the only time that I’d ever thought about a specific look. Most of the time when I create designs I think: I’m just going to make this nice jumper – and I make a single, independent piece. It’s the first time that I’ve actually had to completely dress up two models from head to toe.”

Collection Nadia Wire Albrechtsen

The three students had the opportunity to receive help and criticism from an expertise judging panel that included creative director at Missoni, Angela Missoni and Head of Creative Textile and Design research at Missoni, Liz Griffiths. “The competition has been really great, even though it’s been really stressful to create a small collection outside of my studies at CSM,” Danish-born Nadia Wire Albrechtsen explains.

The designers were not only able to promote their unique creative talents to a world of influencers, they also had the chance to learn and experiment with new techniques that they hadn’t before worked with at BA level. Textiles student Nadia says: “The best part of the design process for me was experimenting with knitting, it can go in so many directions. You come up with a cool technique, but you don’t know yet what it will turn out to be and that’s really exciting.”

Images Nadia Wire Albrechtsen

Polish-born Anna says: “I spoke to all of the judging panel. I actually would love to work for Missoni, so that was a big motivation for me in the competition; that even if I didn’t win I would at least get to make the contacts.”

Anna, who quit her 7-year career in banking to pursue her fashion design dreams, drew on her weaving and knitwear skills to create a bold, geometric and confident collection. “I had two properly tailored jackets, made from 8 panels and then I embroidered everything as well,” she explains. Thinking carefully about light placement on the catwalk, she developed her own weaving technique to create reflective lapels to make her designs shine. With the bigger picture in mind, Anna also created headwear to add a unique element. “I think the whole look, means the whole look,” she says. “For me, I think leaving the head with just a hairstyle… well you’d have 40 other looks with the exact same hair and face and it’s so bloody boring. Whereas with the hats people will remember the look.”

“I see my knits as a way to make 3D embellished manipulations on the body.”

Nadia, who named Missoni as her “all-time favourite knitwear brand,” focused her attention on “small details/trimmings and feminine silhouettes,” and developed intricate structures within her work. “I see my knits as a way to make 3D embellished manipulations on the body. For me, the most important thing about a garment is the textiles.” The textiles designer describes her work as “rich, warm, smooth and shiny.” Using research from the 1920’s Art Deco period, she looked at optical illusions for inspiration. “`The focus is on the trimmings and joinings, which are created with an interesting weaving/knitting technique that is inspired by bobbin lace patterns from Antwerp.”

Nadia titled her collection The unravelling illusion. “The surface will appear to have been ribbed, plushed and unravelled, but it is in fact an optical illusion,” she explains. Combining knitwear and weaving techniques, the designer describes her fabric in great detail: “soft wool and hairy mohair, rich velvets and bright elastic.” After graduating she hopes to bring her textile knowledge to Italy or Paris to work as a knitwear designer.

Collection Aqua Lixun Su

Chinese-born Aqua, who is hoping for a place on the MA Fashion Design course at CSM, describes her work as bold and structured. “It’s inspired by Metropolis, the movie. I liked the futuristic film setting; it’s about the president, so you can see the colours are quite strong and intense,” she says. Aqua’s two looks were created independently on a V-bed knitting machine. She spent a hefty sum on yarns and days on improving her techniques through trial and error. Aqua talks about the difficulties of creating something that’s 100% knitwear: “It’s a really time-consuming process. I didn’t eat much during the final weeks. The technicians and tutors used to bring me food, even though you weren’t allowed to eat in the studio.”

Although the three students fell just short of winning a prize, they relished the opportunity to show-case their skills, each never having had their work on the runway. “I wasn’t that disappointed because I think my work was just a completely different style. It was so nice to just hand things in, sit down and enjoy the show,” Anna shares.

Images Aqua Lixun Su

Final year student Aqua agrees: “I wasn’t upset not winning. It was great to be in the show and now it’s become so exciting as people are posting my work [on Instagram] and I’ve had models messaging me asking if I want to use them in shoots for my collection”

For Anna, Nadia and Aqua the competition was an undeniable learning experience. The competition was a new challenge for the BA designers, but the effort put in most certainly paid off.

Words Sophie Swietochowski