If I told you that the starting point of Lucy Frances Offen’s Fashion Print graduation collection was the protocol of royal dress, you’d probably laugh in my face. Glittery florals with holographic effects, a black patent leather bra with plant-shaped cutouts with green neon fur poking through them, a see-through printed shirtdress covered in Swarovski crystals layered with a shiny black laser-cut skirt… Uhm, royal dress? Sure, a princess gone wild maybe.
Actually, that’s not too far off. When Lucy returned to London last summer after an internship in Stockholm, she was pretty overwhelmed by all the patriotism in London. The Queen had just had her Golden Jubilee, the Olympics were coming up and Kate Middleton was – as always – everywhere. Back in the countryside, out of sheer boredom she started flicking through a pile of magazines about the jubilee her mum had kept for her. ‘There were photos of the young Queen walking through the royal gardens and portraits with these beautiful painted landscapes in the background. England was so ridiculously patriotic at that time; it seemed perfect to base my collection around the protocol of royal dress and how a ‘princess’ should look in the public eye. Even though behind closed doors she might be a completely different person.’
And that’s where the naughtier influences started to come in. ‘It was all a bit too feminine, pretty and safe when I first started, but then I thought: are they actually like this? ’Cause you really only see a projection of their personality.’ And then when she discovered that Princess Margaret had actually been a bit of a man-eater, she decided to make everything a bit saucier. ‘Apparently she was a bit of a minx out of the public eye; it’s rumoured she had a lot of men. Working with the more sultry influences created a nice juxtaposition with the floral feminine side that I was already working on.’
More and more research led her to Chris Levine’s holographic portrait of the Queen blinking her eyes at the National Portrait Gallery. Lucy loved it and after experimenting with different techniques, she added double-layered printing, combining crystalised and solid fabrics with printed chiffons to create the 3D effect.
And then she was lucky enough to win the Swarovski sponsorship when she came back to uni after the summer. It went perfectly with her 3D royalty theme: ‘You know, the idea of the crown jewels and the femininity of my designs went perfectly with the brand. And I could really play around with the holographic theme using the crystals, as they are so reflective, I was able to incorporate them into the accessories too, covering the shoes and trapping them in printed perspex for the bracelets I designed in a collaboration with jewellery designer Conor Joseph.’
All the furry bits, where did they come from? ‘I found these amazing images of the Queen and Princess Margaret on the tube when they were younger, wearing these huge fur coats and they just look incredible – so unexpectedly fabulous. I really wanted to incorporate that somehow, and then I started to play around with laser-cutting on top of fur and making it poke through – 3D again.’ And to finish it off, Lucy had matching Swarovski furry backpacks and clutches made for her by Louise Graham.
Looking back, what was the hardest part of the past year? ‘It was so difficult to get everything done in the space of time; everything ends up taking SO much longer than you originally think… It was challenging; despite having three incredible helpers and help with the accessories, I somehow would end up working till 5 in the morning. And then I’d be back at uni when the building opened at 8.30am. You constantly want it to end, and then the moment it does, you really miss it. Your body gets so used to all the stress and the lack of sleep… We’ve all grown to love it I think.’
So no social life, I’m guessing? ‘Not towards the end no – there was a time when me and my classmate Lily would finish when uni closed in the evening and sit under the departures board in King’s Cross station with a gin and tonic from M&S… That was a bit of a low point in our lives…”
But despite the slight lack of a social life, it does seem like this year has brought people from all pathways on BA Fashion together. ‘Charing Cross was great, but everyone was tucked away and we didn’t really mix… But now everything’s so much more open, we all work in the studios together. I think that’s kind of got everyone through the year – I’ve become such good friends with people that I didn’t really even know before. Things have been really good in general this year, with the facilities etc and the tutors have been amazing.’
From Judith coming in extra hours over Easter to teach everyone how to do proper screen repeats (‘She’s literally incredible’), to Patrick and Esme showing new ways of doing pattern-cutting, to Brian and Natalie giving great insights and showing techniques of how to do things, to David telling everyone to stop faffing and ‘just get on with it’ (‘which is what you need’), to all of them encouraging students to go out (‘You need to have a life outside, otherwise your work just isn’t interesting’), it seems like Fashion Print is one big super-dedicated family.
I wonder how Elisa’s been, considering it was her first year as head of Fashion Print. ‘She’s been amazing. She’s pushed us a lot…like, A LOT. In the best way. She’s been determined that we’re all going to do really well; I’d get about five emails a day from her. She’s given us every opportunity she could find: internships, scholarships, everything. She honestly wanted us to do the best we physically could. It just shows that she really, really cares.’
At the end, are you happy about your collection? ‘Yeah I think so, obviously there’s always room for improvement… But I went through a stage of not even knowing how it was all going to look ’cause I made so many last-minute changes, but thankfully when I finally saw it all together I was surprisingly happy with it. The starting point was also quite personal, to do with my family and how they influenced me. My mum’s even got a little room at home with all these shelves full of royal plates and memorabilia. And my grandma is literally like the Queen – 92 and always immaculately dressed, still so glamorous – I really wanted to create something that was associated with them.’
Would you wear it yourself? ‘I think I would! From the beginning I wanted to design a collection that was wearable and desirable for people my age. It’s so nice when you can just identify a collection because it looks like the designer. And in the end, surprisingly it does kind of look like me…’
What’s for the future? ‘I’m gonna leave my options completely open, I think that’s the best way to be. There’s a massive list of where I’d like to work: the ‘dream jobs’ I’ve had a few interviews and entered competitions etc too, so we’ll see what happens… When it comes to favourite designers? Hmm, I just like designers who create clothes you actually want to go out, buy and wear. Prada, Miu Miu, Celine, Stella McCartney, Christopher Kane… I’d love to be a print designer as well, rather than doing the fashion side. I enjoy all the embellishment and textiles. But for now I’m going to have a little break and take a much-needed holiday. I mean, the last year’s been so hectic, it’s just been such a lot of work that after a while you do need some kind of break… Although it’s been such a good experience and it’s gone so, so fast. It’s been like hell, but in a good way. We all complain but secretly we really love it. I’m happy that I’ve had such a great time but I really don’t want to leave Saint Martins, it’s been incredible. I’d happily do the whole thing all over again.’
All photography by Sandra Leko.