With Nick Knight working on a shoot of this year’s MA graduate collections for our second issue, we thought we’d revisit the Class of 2014, and dig a little deeper into their work and references. First in the firing line (well, their work is being ‘shot’…), is CSM BA and MA grad, Serena Gili.

‘During my BA, I was literally obsessed with religion, rules, routine, control, and discipline.’

We catch up with this year’s MA graduate Serena Gili, whose distinctive fiberglass skirts, first seen in her BA collection, continue to wow crowds. But, this time around, her aesthetic has taken a dark turn, with references to seditionary punks and S&M. Here’s what she had to say on developing since the BA, what’s changed, and why.

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How did the college encourage you to develop your own identity?

I love being in London, and CSM is the best environment to develop as a designer and a creative person. I think my style has remained very French, but I have explored more than I would [have] if I had stayed in Paris.

Why do you think that CSM has been such a huge influence on so many designers who start their own brands?

From what I’ve personally experienced, the BA and MA at CSM really give you the creative tools to start your own brand, and we are very lucky to have platforms such as NEWGEN, Fashion East or Fashion Scout, as well as people like Sarah Mower, who are putting a lot of effort into providing young designers with financial support, a space to showcase, and mentoring.

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Thinking back to the past six years at Central Saint Martins, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

Oh no, I’ve loved everything single part of it… No regrets at all; I’ve fully enjoyed the experience.

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How have you evolved since releasing your first MA collection?

After graduating from the MA, I moved back to Paris after 6 years in London. This is a brand new experience for me; I don’t know Paris anymore. I’m discovering this city again, and it’s great- I’m researching, going to museums, watching movies, and looking around me, getting inspired.

You’ve continued making the fiberglass skirts – would you say this has become a part of your aesthetic that you’ll continue to use in future collections?

This technique has become a very important part of my work; it’s been a statement piece for my BA, and I’ve refined it for the MA. In BA, it was quite a unique process- and risky as well- but I loved it. For MA, it was a challenge to create a more fitted shape, have good finishings, and makes the skirt more wearable. During the MA show, the dressers congratulated me on the easy opening of the skirt, as they had a hard time with opening the BA ones… They still remembered me 2 years later… But yes, this technique is very precious, and I love the infinite possibilities that it offers in terms of shape, colors, the way it reflects the light… it’s definitely something that I’ll develop. I also love the contrast of the soft knit combined with the hard fiberglass.

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At what point of the design process does the collection really start to take shape?

The process of researching and drawing is full of ups-and-downs: one day you think you have the best idea in the world, and the next you feel like you have nothing to work from. The actual crafting is delicate as it is difficult to make a ‘toile’ of my final garment. So when it comes to the crafting, it is always a bit of a surprise, and a last-minute process, as I don’t know if the technique is going to look how I expected. But I like to keep spontaneity in the creative process, and sometimes, when something doesn’t work out and you think that everything is over, you actually find better ideas than the initial ones that you’d been working on for 6 months. The collection starts to become a reality when you do the first fittings with 6 models all-together. Then it starts to make sense, as you can visually start to connect the first look to the last one, and create a collection. Then you start adding more here, removing there, maybe something is missing or too present; the styling is very important as well, I love this stage of the process.

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Was there always a goal, or a ‘dream’, if so, what was it?

I feel that I’m always working towards a goal to have fun creating, and keep on working with exciting people and learning.

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Which three designers have inspired you most?

Jean Paul Gaultier, Hussein Chalayan, Alexander McQueen.

As a young designer, how do you go about shooting lookbooks? 

For BA, I had the incredible chance to have great pictures of my collection taken by very talented people, and I’ve used these images as their interpretation of my collection. It was very close to my vision, and they had the skills and the budget to make it happen. For MA, it was a bit more complicated, but French stylist and friend, Coline Bach has been of a very precious help, and has helped me build a very good team for the shoot.

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Is it hard to get your vision across?

I do find it hard to bring a vision across to a team that you’ve not met before, especially after spending a year working intensively by yourself, for yourself. It’s becoming a real effort to have to rely on anyone when it comes to your work. I find it so important to create a good team that works with love and care. Once you know, trust, and are able to rely on each other, it’s the most precious thing in the world.

What is your vision?

For the shoot, my vision – my muse – was Charlotte Rampling in The Night Porter. That’s where the hair cut, make-up and the mood of the shoot came from.

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What’s the biggest difference between your BA and MA collections?

They are not so different, and I don’t think they should be. I’ve naturally developed my creative process from BA to MA, but in a more refined, ‘cooler’ way. During my BA, I was literally obsessed with religion, rules, routine, control, and discipline. I was reading books by Michel Foucault, especially Discipline and Punish, and was listening to opera. My favorite one was the opera from Joby Talbot; ‘Path of Miracles’ described the ancient Christian pilgrimage route across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. The collection was all about control, and how to restrain the body with the hard resin skirts.

The Elizabethan costumes also inspired me in the way it constrains the body. The tops were simple embellished bibs, a reference to nuns. During the show, the skirts [forced] the models to walk slowly, at the same pace, with the same hand position. Following a cyclical turn on the BA’s inspirations, the MA pieces pick up a darker imagery, focusing on punk and S&M, and breaking the rules that I had so carefully set myself.

It had more nudity as well… It was almost a ripped version of the BA collection. This time again, you heard the collection before you saw it; the rat-a-tat-tat of thousands of glass beads against molded acrylic.

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With your last collection, you’ve said that your grandmother (austere opera or classical music) and father (theatricality) inspired you. What inspired this collection?

I don’t think your inspirations can dramatically change in such a short amount of time. I didn’t take a year out, so I went straight from BA to MA. You are still the same person, however the MA environment is very different from BA, and this has reflected in some ways onto my work. My first inspirations came from Namibian tribal women, who worn these incredible patchwork dresses. It was great for me to use that as a starting point, as I’ve just kept on producing samples, collaging, and patch working them either directly on the body or together, to create small scales sweaters. It was a spontaneous way of working; very straightforward.

I also developed an S&M and Punk Imagery, that gave the collection a darker mood. On top of the patchwork, there was a black beaded harness, transparent beaded nets with all the threads hanging, hessian backs frayed on the edge, nude skirts. It was very cool to add some nudity, quirkiness and darkness to the collection. The devils from Ken Russell, and the Night Porter from Liliana Cavani, with Charlotte Rampling, and Dirke Bogarde have been a great support for inspiration and mood as well.

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What did you spend the last two years looking at? More austere portraits of the 16th century?

Haha, no. These last two years have been a lot about naked Punks wearing fishnets of all kinds.

Two years ago, you had a very strong desire to work for yourself. Is this still the case? 

Yes, it is a very precious project that I’ll develop in the long term.

Photography: Phil Dunlop

Styling: Coline Bach

We’re now shooting Serena’s collection, along with the remaining MA Class of 2014 with Nick Knight at SHOWStudio! Click here for the livestream, or check out our BA interview with Serena, and the backstage footage from the 2012 show.

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