Glaswegian born designer Eilish Macintosh was the winner of this year’s L’Oreal Professional Award at the Central Saint Martins MA show at London Fashion Week. Showing two astounding collections, Eilish’s designs featured slinky black dresses with pieces or rope, knotted and interwoven within the dress itself, and a second collection of woven patent leather. Presented with the award by none other than Glasgow-born Christopher Kane, Eilish is definitely someone worth keeping your eye on, joining a long list of incredible designers to take the coveted prize.
Here, Eilish sits down over a coffee with 1Granary to talk openly about her time at Central Saint Martins and her educative journey from foundation, BA, MA and out into the competitive world of fashion.
What does fashion personally mean to you? What made you want to do fashion in the first place?
I just like clothes. I guess I always liked to dress a bit different to the other kids in school. I’m not really sure, it’s quite cliché, but I loved getting Vogue and looking at the collections. I don’t feel like I have some sort of big stand out reason, I don’t want to change the face of fashion or change women’s identity or anything like that.
That’s quite a refreshing answer though – that you just like clothes. Did you always want to do fashion right from school?
I started off quite early. I wanted to do print and textiles. I loved drawing and making patterns, so I really started off wanting to do textiles. But I also really really wanted to move to London and be at Central Saint Martins. When I read about it in magazines, that’s when I thought, ‘That’s where I want to be.’
So were you at Charing Cross Road for the whole of your BA?
My last year on the BA was the last year in CXR. So it was quite nice to then go onto the MA at Kings Cross.
How did you find moving areas? I think it’s difficult once you’ve experienced CXR?
The area in Kings Cross is not great. I feel like the building at CXR…there were some shit things about it but with the location, there was nothing better. But it’s just going to take time to settle in.
What inspires you?
I think that question assumes that I’m inspired! To be honest when I start a project I go and research things. I look at lots of stuff. I love going to museums and galleries. Magazines and people I know too.
Will you pick a specific theme at the start or do you work through imagery? How does it work?
Quite often I find some material that I really want to use. Like a fabric – or a rope! So it’s not like the start of what I want to do, it’s more, oh, what can I do with this rope? So I look for things. It depends from project to project how I start off though. There’s no hidden secret.
Tell us about your collection
So I ended up doing two collections. The first one was really simple black dresses with rope and these ceramic elements. For pre-collection I had done these big jewellery pieces. It had a lot more going on than my final collection in the end. It was string and ceramic, based on tribal jewellery with a bit of a bondage kind of feel to it. It had holes in the fabric at certain points and it was quite restrictive. I was trying to think of a way to do clothes that have something of the luxury of jewellery as well. That’s why I wanted to make these ceramic pieces within the fabric. It had these cutouts that had a bit of sense of humour. Nipple rings, belly buttons on show.
And the other collection?
I did the other collection because I got a chance to use patent leather. I proposed some ideas of stitching with the rope and punching holes and gatherings in the leather. That one was more influenced by sportswear with some elements of fifties couture. It was great to be a part of that. It was the first time really that someone had showed two collections in the MA show.
Did you approach them as two separate collections or was there a cross-over?
Rope was the link really. I’ve got a lot of rope in my portfolio! The black collection came first. My BA was fashion print so I had some pattern cutting experience and we’d make the garments as well, so I was working on that black collection and had made this really simple silhouette which was in the show, with some tailoring details in jersey. But basically that was on track to be finished quite early. The textiles students get a team, so that if you’re from a purely textiles background, you wouldn’t really know anything about pattern cutting. You would get some first year MA students to help you with thaepattern cutting and those parts. Because I’d done the pattern cutting for the first one, I was like, can I still get the team for this?! It’s about getting all the help you can really.
Did you have a favourite out the two?
No. It changed every week, depending on how stressed I was on either one! I don’t know. But they had a good balance. They were really quite different.
How did you end up on CSM’s MA course? Was it a natural progression from BA to MA?
Well, to tell you the truth, it wasn’t really my original ambition. A lot of people do the BA and really dream of doing the MA. I wasn’t really in that position, but I was encouraged by the tutors to apply. I remember thinking it’s only just down the corridor, I might as well. I didn’t have high expectations of getting onto it.
And did you get on well with everyone on the course?
I got to know everyone really well. There was such a good mix; it felt almost relaxed as everyone was stressed together. I feel like I’ve made some really good friends for life – it’s like going through boot camp together!
Do you think those pre-conceptions of the MA being this terribly difficult course and being up all night is founded from your experience?
Yes. It’s just a lot of work. But that’s because the tutors really know what they want from you, so you need to kind of rise to that and learn to do that really quite quickly. On the BA you’re left alone to experiment and you feel like, ‘Oh, I’ve got two months until this deadline.’ On the MA a tutor will look at your work and will say you need to go do this, this and this, and you’re just left feeling like, shit! I’ve got so much work to do in two days. It’s fast stress. You have to just keep going.
Is it more directional in terms of its approach?
Definitely! On the BA, you’re doing lots of work and then you try and use it all together and show how much work it is you’ve done, whereas on the MA you do lots of work but you discard 95% of that. You have to figure out the 5% that is working. And then you push that again, and discard that again – over and over. It’s a constant refinement process. Louise can edit and edit and edit.
Does everyone on the MA show at LFW?
No. You’re just sort of, working a lot with Louise. Not just Louise, your own tutors as well. She doesn’t really choose who’s in the show until pretty late on. Everyone is working towards that.
Are there ever any people that don’t want to be in the show?
There was one girl in my class, Eeva, who did an amazing video installation as her final piece, so she didn’t even make a collection. I guess there are cases like that, but on the whole, that is the aim.
In your opinion, what skills do you need to be fit for MA: technical, pattern cutting, organizational, thick skin or easy attitude?
There’s really nothing specific. It’s so open. I think if there was useful advice I could give it would be to just apply. The tutors have a really good eye for understanding your work and seeing the potential for something they like to develop. I think the best thing you can do, is to do what you enjoy. That’s probably the thing you’re best at. It’s not necessarily about having every single technique or skill. You don’t have to be an amazing drawer, and an amazing pattern cutter and an amazing sewer. It’s more being good at your one thing and doing that well.
Do you get support along the way?
You get that support along the way. On the MA they don’t pretend that they’re going to teach you some new skills. When we started, the textiles tutor Fleet said if you don’t know how to screen print then don’t start screen printing. This isn’t screen printing class. If you haven’t shown us screen printing in your portfolio then we’re not expecting you to do it. If you can’t knit, don’t start designing a knitted collection that you can’t make. It’s about knowing your strengths and knowing what you can or cannot achieve.
Tell us about how the course is structured
From all the tutors, you really learn to take a step back and look at your work and not to hang on to this idea that I’ve spent three weeks doing this work, that must mean it’s worth three weeks. You could spend three weeks doing something really shit and then you could spend half an hour and you’ve got something that works. You have to learn to let go and be a bit more emotive about it all. They have much higher expectations of it being relevant to fashion. In a way it needs to be modern. On the BA it’s about being creative, on the MA you need to understand more than that. If you want to say a fuck you to the fashion industry or something that’s going on in the world, you have to know what that is and understand it inside out. If you want to do luxury menswear or if you want to sell something in Mount Street, you really have to go there and understand it and know it inside out. Even if you ignore all of it, you have to know it and understand it.
What’s the best thing about the MA course?
The good thing about the MA is that there is a lot of room to do whatever it is you want to do. You can make something completely unwearable. But I think if you set out to do menswear that’s going to sell, then it has to be really good, sellable menswear. If you want to do something really abstract that is totally off the wall, then it just has to be totally off the wall.
Leading on from that, do a lot of MA students set out with the goal of establishing their own label after they graduate or working for a specific fashion house?
I want to get a job. I’ve got nothing but respect for the people that start their own label, but I feel like I’ve got so much to learn still. For people who do want to start their own label, I think it’s a really great course to do to get press. But the majority of people want to work in the industry I think.
Do you think you can start a label straight after or do you have to be in industry a bit?
I think the good thing is a lot of people are already a bit older and maybe have that industry experience already. If they come and do the MA they are ready. I’m 24 so I’ve just done, school, foundation, BA, MA. I’m not ready for that!
How was your year in industry?
I did Peter Jensen, DVF and Galliano. It was the most fun year of my life. Galliano was amazing. I was there for six months and that was the longest one I did. They give you a lot of creative stuff to do and really use the intern’s work. I learnt a lot there. The most fun was DVF though and living in New York. It was amazing.
What might you have done differently while you were on the course?
You always look back and think you could have done everything better, but I did it the best I could at the time.
And how did it feel to win the L’Oreal Professional Award at London Fashion Week? Did you know you’d won before?
Yes, the day before. Just so we had time to arrange for the models to get dressed back into my collection at the end of the show. That was the most terrifying thing. First of all backstage is so mad and trying to get those ropes on was a nightmare! Because I can’t hang them up I had to dress them myself in those masks and everything and I was freaking out. Then I was thinking, ‘Oh my god I have to run and put my heels on and then dress them again.’ I just felt so hot and sweaty. But afterwards it was just such a relief and that none of the girls tripped over the ropes! I remember asking one of the models if she wanted to practice turning around as her dress had so much rope on. But thank god it was fine. I went through over a thousand metres of that rope. I actually ran out at the end and had to unstitch everything from pieces that hadn’t worked.
What did it feel like to be given that award by Christopher Kane?
It was just really surreal. I hadn’t spoken to him before the show. I thought he might be backstage or I might bump into him. Instead it was just BRIGHT LIGHTS, AGH! Thank you so much. Did that just happen?! But it was amazing. He is just so fantastic though. It’s a big cliché but him and Jonathan Saunders are also from Glasgow and I look up to them a lot. I remember when I first came to London I managed to queue up and get into Christopher Kane’s first show when it was on NEWGEN.
Directly after the show did you get a lot of press?
Yes. Even up until quite recently it’s been really busy. Firstly we had to put on the exhibition because we’ve not really finished the course. It’s also amazing how much time you spend carrying things off to different places. A lot of people wanted to use it in shoots.
So has MA finished now? What’s next?
Yep. I finished last week. I don’t even know what day it is anymore though!