Representing the creative future

Chatting with four BFC scholars on the significance of support grants in education

How useful can scholarships be in the time of Brexit?

In a fashion landscape directed by self-discipline, and self-motivation, platforms of exchange and support are leaders in the collective progression of the industry. The British Fashion Council has been a core source of support for numerous generations of emerging designers based in the UK. Following their predecessors, the 2021-2022 BFC scholars are forward thinkers and active creators. We spoke to four of them and asked about their work, the necessity of such grants for their practice, and their dreams for the future.

Shanti Bell

How would you have done without the support of the BFC?

Without it, I wouldn’t even be in the position that I am now, of studying for a master’s. Having this support has meant that something that seemed quite unobtainable for me, has been made possible. This opportunity has created space to further my practice and learn so much more whilst being surrounded by like-minded tutors and peers. The support from the BFC also allowed me to quit my bar job of 5 years. Working part-time alongside my BA at CSM was a struggle at times, having to balance the time which creative projects require. Leaving my part-time job has enabled me to dedicate myself fully to my studies and practice, allowing me to take on a few creative freelance jobs too. I knew that studying a master’s at the RCA would be crucial for my creative development and to further understand myself as a multidisciplinary artist and fashion practitioner, I wouldn’t be doing that without the BFC support.

“Money is something a lot of students don’t have and especially with art-based masters and degrees, it is necessary in order to be able to supply yourself with materials, equipment and in turn execute the creative goals you have.” – Shanti Bell

Do you think it is important that there is British support as the BFC in UK universities after Brexit?

Completely! I think with things such as finances, everything is becoming geared to being harder for students. Money is something a lot of students don’t have and especially with art-based masters and degrees, it is necessary in order to be able to supply yourself with materials, equipment and in turn execute the creative goals you have. Creative talent is worldwide and it’s great the BFC’s support recognises this and allows many students to be able to prosper.

How is your practice evolving?

Over the past year, I have been learning more about myself as an artist, evolving in the art practices of sculpture, movement and motion, film, and set design. These new extensions working alongside my fashion and furniture practice have shifted my work further into a space of mixed media and collaboration. Being experimental and free with my approaches over the first year of my masters has led me to a very exciting space.

Abstraction and cross-discipline are very present in your work, is it still the case?

Yes, and possibly more so. I find that my approach when working on a project is fundamentally allowing the concept to determine and drive the medium of the outcome. The outcome may be direct and obvious, or abstract, but I find this allows my work to speak authentically. When working cross-discipline I also like to collaborate with creatives of different practices I am unfamiliar with. I find collaboration such a tool for innovation as every person’s approach is so unique and the combining of these differences creates a refreshingly interesting space.

Are you still partnering with your brother? 

For my BA collection, I began to look into the pressures and burdens which young men feel from society. However, it wasn’t until I started to question why I was interested in these topics that I discovered the direct link with what my brother has been going through, hence my personal attachment with that subject matter. I then wanted to use my work to speak not only of him but also for other young men’s unspoken words and burdens and convey it through menswear. Currently, my research is rooted in exploring father and son relationships which stems from looking at that relationship dynamic within my own family. As a female designer creating menswear I have found that my instinctual reference of inspiration of men and masculinity begins with my brother as it’s a relationship I have direct contact and connection with.

What are you expecting after graduating from the MA at RCA?

Something I try to do is not to have expectations for how I think things will go but to be open to possibilities and experiences which may come. Graduating from the MA at the RCA will be me finishing with education entirely, which will be completely new, but exciting! I think it will be a great time for me to venture creatively and continue to create expressions of my work. I have a few exhibitions and projects in mind and so I intend to get started with those and see where things take me!

Edward Mendoza

How will you use the prize given to you by the BFC?

I will spend my scholarship money on developing my ideas and elevating my work to another level,  something that I couldn’t do without this support. Collaborating on stuff I’ve dreamed of doing.

Your prints are really loud and energetic. Multi-coloured for a multicultural designer. They are also very political, could you expand on this for us?

I have a maximalist print style. I find it important to use vibrant colours within my work. Clothes have the power to change not only the wearer’s mood but the viewer as well. People wearing bright colours and a cheeky print always uplifts me. The best start of my day is deciding what vivrant thing I want to wear. I want people to smile and be happy and feel great wearing and seeing my clothes. My prints encapsulate the essence of me, of my cultures, my humour, and whatever interests me, like Rock and Roll and Metal iconography. My prints are very much inspired by the warmth of my cultures, Pre-Columbian sculptures, and civilisations that lived before the colonisation of Peru.

“There’s that fetishisation of youth and finishing our studies as a designer at 23/24 which can be unattainable. Why rush the process especially during these uncertain times? ” – Edward Mendoza

Can we have a teaser of your MA collection?

My MA collection is probably the most honest work I’ve done, something I’ve always wanted to work on but thought people & society weren’t ready for it. It’s very much about inclusion and representing people who are hardly seen in a high fashion context.

You have taken a year off between your BA and your MA, was this a necessary break from Fashion? 

I think it’s important to take a break. I’ve personally been studying at CSM since my foundation in 2014 and then completing my BA in 2019. I needed the time to recollect, work on things I held back on and didn’t have time to work on like ceramics. I feel like there is this constant need to rush and finish the BA and MA straight away. But we as designers need time to grow and develop as humans and designers. Mature and come back. There’s that fetishisation of youth and finishing our studies as a designer at 23/24 which can be unattainable. Why rush the process especially during these uncertain times? After the pandemic, everyone reevaluated life and what they’re doing and remembered to do things that make them happy.

Adam Elyasse

Your work is rooted in your Moroccan heritage. What does the BFC support mean to you?

I’m born and raised in East London, however, I have done 25 summers in Morocco and 25 winters in London. My work gravitates towards a balance or antithesis between my two heritages. I didn’t understand the level of importance of this until I looked at the communities and voices that I represent, including those who have grown alongside me during the course of my journey. The BFC support was a paradigm shift and a humbling acceptance into a British fashion family. This meant a great deal towards my identity and journey as a British and African designer.

How are you going to continue your partnership with the BFC in the future?

There are numerous BFC initiatives that I romance the thought of applying to in the near future and in addition to this, Fashion East, as it is located in the area I was brought up in. Immediately after completing my MA, I asked myself what I wanted to seek next and I ended up falling in love with designing a product all over again. I believe this is because I’m finding my place in how I want my ideas to exist in the fashion industry while continuing to build upon my archive. I never thought my education would stop after the MA.

“It’s a highly uncommon feeling for me to be celebrated for who I actually am. ” – Adam Elyasse

Is there any unspoken agreement when being a BFC scholar?

I’ve been awarded the opportunity to represent something with the platform as a scholar so the most understandable unspoken agreement for me is to do so in the highest form; to continuously push past every single time. John Cleese said “It’s the goal of every Englishman to get to his grave unembarrassed” so I regret to inform you that I’m a very informal person, my formality can last for about 15 mins then I’m back to my East End self. However, I understand that there are communities and voices I represent whether intentionally or unintentionally. In terms of unspoken disagreements, I have had fights between my consciousness and the skin that’s on my body. When I say skin I’m mainly talking about class and race. This is due to the fact it was all an adjustment process that I feel I’m still undergoing at times. It’s a highly uncommon feeling for me to be celebrated for who I actually am. Or even so, for us to be celebrated for who we are. For a long time, I felt as though I was chasing something, I still am. I don’t know if it’s out of anger but becoming a DIOR Man BFC Scholar was a light in the right direction for a journey that had few and far between.

Should we expect a new collection soon?

I actually started a new collection straight after the MA. After its completion, I went to Southern Morocco for a month with a Mexican photographer I met from Dallas, Texas. We drove to 10 different cities with some native models and my collection in the boot of the car and shot a look at each location. I got arrested once for breaking the 9 pm curfew in the spirit of shooting my collection when the country was on a semi lockdown, which was “fun” to say the least. I managed to meet these elderly tailors in Larache, I worked with them in their studios, and built relationships with factories in Tangier and Fes. After receiving the footage from the developer, it felt like a spiritual continuation to my MA collection. I’m very inclined to release it as a book because of all the rich material we captured that resonated with my 25 summers in Morocco. I’m currently developing the second half of this book that would represent the 25 winters in London. Nothing has been released, we’re waiting until the right opportunities present themselves.

There is no face shown in your work, what are your intentions?

The mask came naturally from when I started my first collection 6 years ago. I have never done a collection without veiling someone’s face. Doing this fits my personality and aesthetic as a designer more. The mask tells you more because it’s asking for your interpretation of the human condition, your inner turmoils, fears, desires. All of this can be considered as subjective visual semiotic signals that should be evoked within the audience when they look at my collection. Furthermore, from a design aspect, it inclines an emotive and increased engagement with the product. I believe Identity is internal, the one we don’t truly show many people.

Franco Appiah Baah

Can the prize cover the expenses of a collection?

It was enough because I had also saved some money for my collection. The prize helped to take my collection further. Thanks to the prize I could get new machines. The pandemic made it harder to access the university equipment.

What does it mean to be a BFC scholar nowadays? 

It’s part of a legacy where you get loads of mentoring through interviews with people from different backgrounds that have been in the fashion business for a long time.

“London is a multicultural city that’s why I feel it is more advanced and more open-minded, and I hope one day other cities will be as open as London.” – Francho Appiah Baah

Your work is about your personal cultural heritage, where do you stand in terms of the conservation of crafts in a digital age? 

I feel blessed to be part of an era where we did not have much technology. We had and created wooden toys. Unfortunately, I can see that everything is being replaced by new tech. I always did all my research and portfolio using recycled paper and I’ll keep doing it because I feel it gives me more ideas. I find it more creative than steering a computer and trying to match a colour or recreate a shape that I draped. I prefer a more hands-on approach but I still appreciate having the use of technology to communicate your ideas.

Is it important to your practice to be located in London, as a place of free expression? Or do you still feel restricted?

I will sadly say yes. I feel it’s important, because, let’s be honest, London is a place where you’re able to express your creativity without anyone judging you. They respect new and contemporary art and artists no matter the field they are from. Growing up in Italy and Africa, you can really see the difference in the lifestyle people are leaving and it’s nothing like London. London is a multicultural city that’s why I feel it is more advanced and more open-minded, and I hope one day other cities will be as open as London.