Alexander Lee McQueen is undoubtedly one of the greatest designers to ever walk the CSM halls, his legacy reaching far and wide. However, his theatrical and razor sharp designs aren’t just inspiring students in libraries – they are actively funding and supporting the future of creativity. Before he passed away, Alexander McQueen wanted to ensure anyone would be able to benefit from the same education and opportunities he had, and started the Sarabande Foundation. Funded by the designer’s personal estate, the organisation (named after his SS07 collection) is dedicated to supporting boundless creativity. “To have that connection with Lee McQueen is very touching – he was always a huge inspiration to myself and many other students,” said Joshua Beaty, one of the recent scholars. A guardian angel looking over his young prodigies.
The foundation has two main systems of support. Firstly, a scholarship for students, which covers the cost of living expenses at BA level, and the tuition as well as living expenses at MA level. On top of this, the Foundation offers work spaces to young creatives and scholars. A selection of painters, sculptors, jewellers and fashion designers are all given the opportunity to enjoy the foundation’s studios and equipment free of charge. Scholars have to be shortlisted by their universities (Sarabande is working with seven schools across the U.K.), but anyone can apply for a studio space [link]. What makes the Sarabande Foundation unique, is that they’re working in a converted Victorian stable building, kitted out specifically to suit the artists’ need, so they won’t be working in badly-lit, cold spaces, as is often the case in London.
It goes without saying that finding a work space and funding are amongst the biggest struggles young artists face. With rent and tuition fees skyrocketing, art education is at risk of becoming an elitist institution. Take Francesca Kappo for example, a BA Fashion student at CSM, who used to share a bed with her sister just to have enough floor space to work on her designs. Or Liam Johnson, whose parents considered selling their house to pay for his BA at CSM: “I remember sitting in my bedroom and having strangers come size up my pokey bedroom. I cried to my parents and just hated them for not having money saved. But you have to realize that not everyone is that fortunate. It was never in my parents’ plan to have one of their kids go to university. Sarabande offered me that life in some way. Funnily enough, I was talking to this 80-year-old man today, he glared at me and said ‘you escaped.’ In some way, I have to agree. I did escape, but only because of the help from Sarabande,” Liam said.
For many of the scholars, art education wouldn’t have been an option without the Sarabande funding, and even if it was, their work might not have been as good. “The scholarship gave me more freedom,” said John Skelton, recent MA graduate from CSM, “otherwise I’d have to work on the side.” Francesca agrees: “It allowed me to have more of a choice in the way I work, like the materials I could use or even just paying for exhibitions.”
Next to the financial aid, Sarabande also aims to provide the young creatives with advice and practical support. The organisation hosts regular talks and workshops hoping to give the scholars knowledge they can’t find in school. “Sarabande really helps you understand all aspects of fashion, from the creative side to the business side. I went to a talk and learnt all about things I’ve never even heard of, like corporation tax and registering your trademark and all that stuff,” Francesca said, and John agrees: “My mentor helped me with things from manufacturing and accountancy to lawyers and trademarks… There’s so many things that are necessary to run a business that you don’t learn at art school.”
Thus, the Foundation strives to create a network of knowledge and talent, putting young creatives in touch with industry professionals and each other. When foundation selects a new scholar, they’re not just chosen for their unique creativity, but also for their collaboration potential. The connection between the scholars is crucial, and younger students can help – and learn from – the veterans. Serena Gili, a MA Fashion graduate from CSM mentioned: “The most incredible thing about the studios, is that I’ve developed a very precious friendship with all the other scholars, it’s like a family! Craig Green, Helen Price and their team have always welcomed me to use some of their machinery if I needed to. Esna Sue, Jo Miller, Leo Carlton, and Ben Hawkins, were always around to share ideas, to do a last minute modelling trial or eat together. It’s this community feeling, and I think that’s what Sarabande is all about.”
“However,” the young designer adds, “I think it’s important to apply at the right time. It’s an amazing opportunity, but it needs to be the right moment in your career to make the most of it.”
Sarabande is currently accepting applications for Autumn 2017, you can submit until 19th July 2017 more information on www.sarabandefoundation.org
Words Aya Noël
Images Ross Lancaster