As Daniela Geraci walks through the doors of the Central Saint Martins canteen, she seems to have stepped off the runway in clothes from her own MA collection. The 25-year-old British designer is dressed in a 1930’s nylon chiffon bra top with a 1970’s lemon yellow chiffon overlay and a red velvet skirt. But even as she takes off the black leather trench coat that hides her true persona, Daniela isn’t ready to shed her outer shell just yet. “I have social anxiety. I feel really weird talking to people,” she says.

Maybe that’s the reason why she chose to communicate her story to the outside world through her collection, when she graduated just a month back. “My collection was quite self-reflective,” says Daniela. “While growing up, being a woman kind of repulsed me, having boobs, I wanted to be as flat as possible and now I am the exact opposite. I looked at female sexuality and how being sexy isn’t just about being thin.” Heavily inspired by the movie Nature Morte from 2014 by Sophia Magdalena Koegl & Robert Dziabel and 1970’s erotic horror films by Jess Franco, Daniela’s collection has a vintage sexual fervour underlined with some cryptic fragility.

Her work celebrates the thought of being a woman. It is composed of nine garments designed in hand-dyed hues of sunshine yellow, crimson and flushed pink, constructed in the cheapest but most delicate fabrics, like satin and nylon chiffon. “The fabrics were one pound a metre where I live. I wanted it to be cheap but look really bourgeois. It was because I felt I was too poor to be on this course, it’s all an ironic joke, really!”

Under this compelling sense of dichotomy, a strong lingerie influence is also evident. It’s a nod to her own wardrobe ‒ one of her Instagram posts credits 80% of her closet to be filled with underwear ‒ and her personality. “When I started wearing lingerie, that’s when I became comfortable in my own body,” reveals Daniela. Her collection has an unapologetic sexuality, represented through explicitly transparent garments. However, the keyword for her creations seems to be ‘emotion’. “I looked at hysteria. It’s defined as being ‘over-emotional, under-responsible and feminine,” says Daniela, explaining her core inspiration. “It’s very much linked to my own mental health.”

Thus the gossamer texture of her chosen fabrics is built on layers, aiming to hide insecurities and yet never failing to communicate an inner vulnerability. Some pieces sport unfinished threads hanging from the surface, giving an insight into sentiments that often break through the facade of a calm and collected exterior. Other than asymmetric sheath dresses, Daniela’s collection also includes two gowns, one in scarlet and the other in steely blue, with sky-high slits, puffed up sleeves and a Grecian allure to them. Three vintage bags catch attention as unique accessories, each reworked with miniature paintings fitted onto them. The artworks illustrate tears spilling from a woman’s eye. It all comes down to how fiercely personal her designs are. “I would always ask myself, ‘Would I wear it?’” One look at her dainty disposition and you know the answer.

But one can’t talk about Daniela’s work without the mention of the intricate and elaborate ruching that breathes life and luxury into the subtle silhouettes. Created laboriously and all by herself, the ruche makes an appearance everywhere, sometimes amplifying the waist of the wearer in gathered frills or softly framing her bosom for a sense of titillation. “I have a textiles background, I wasn’t going to be happy with something that’s just flat,” says Daniela, talking about her Bachelors in Fashion and Textiles from London College of Fashion. “I had applied for an MA in textiles but they put me on Fashion. I think it was because of my outfit. It was ridiculous,” she laughs.

The transition from textiles to fashion was hard. “I had a lot of breakdowns. I wasn’t there in the first line up for my MA show because I was crying under a table, I think,” says Daniela. But then here she is, a recent graduate from the best fashion school in the world, stronger as a person and as a professional. “Everyone told me I couldn’t do it. So I did it. I get very motivated by revenge I guess,” she says.

We get to talking about the industry, and the struggles of making it as a designer. “All of my friends who got selected for the graduate show, even they don’t have jobs. That’s why I hate fashion. You have to work here for free your entire life before you can get a job.”

This revelation is enough to understand her choice to stay aloof from the inner workings of this glamorous sphere. She only has one dream, and that is to create her own version of fashion. “I want to make clothes that are affordable. I want women to want to wear it. That’s the main focus. I am from a working-class background so it’s really important for me. Why would I want to design clothes for rich people when I can’t even afford to look at them?” asks Daniela. Let’s hope fashion has an answer for designers like her soon.

Words Meghna Sarkar