Representing the creative future

CSM students redesign Chanel

Exploring the role of research through CSM's Gabriel-Chanel-inspired runway at the V&A

Last Friday, CSM’s Fashion Design BA students held a fashion show at the V&A as part of the institution’s Fashion in Motion series. In collaboration with the V&A and Chanel, the course challenged the students to delve into the iconic designer’s work and personal life, crafting full looks for the V&A runway.

Each designer focused on different aspects of Chanel’s legacy, from the garden at the orphanage where she grew up to the way she repeated her techniques across looks. When asked about their learnings, nearly everyone mentioned gaining insights from researching the past and drawing inspiration from a designer like Chanel, an exercise they might not have pursued otherwise. This generation of students, driven by technique and craft, demonstrates a refreshing departure from nostalgic narratives, showing a clear inclination to explore the future. This makes the need for research-based projects more crucial than ever, helping the designers of tomorrow build strong referential foundations for their work. By subjecting their designs to critique from CSM, the V&A, and Chanel, the students were challenged to address various elements of conceptualization and craftsmanship, making their creations intriguing across the spectrum, from the simplest to the most elaborate pieces. Discovering their process and way of thinking led us to unveil elements of Gabriel Chanel’s life and craft that regular book and internet-based research would never let us see.

In this project wanted to explore Chanel’s approach to deconstructing clothing and how through removing formal structure she created modern designs. I was interested in trying to push that a step further and see what the results would be. I took inspiration from the shapes of the patterns used to create the Chanel tweed suit and then blew them up and made them more abstract, cutting pieces which had no set function, positioning on the body or other pieces they were designed to attach to. I then used these as a starting point to drape my designs, using simple tie and loop systems to attach them together. I wanted to explore the possibilities of creativity when purposely designing something with no set purpose. I was very inspired by the more subtle details in her work, especially her use of small darts and pleats as techniques to create texture in a garment. I decided to explore some freehand cutting and sewing whilst draping to add extra texture to my work. It was great being able to see these details up close as they may sometimes get lost in old photographs. It is always exciting to be part of something connected to big cultural institutions, and for us to be asked to showcase our work here is very flattering. I think from a project brief point of view it was interesting as it was the first time that we had several different parties (the V&A, Chanel, and CSM) critiquing our work, all probably looking for slightly different things, so learning how to navigate that was a good experience.

My design is based on research into astrology, its roots and the beginning of horoscopes. It has set a foundation for astronomy, and geometry because of its close and accurate observation of the sky. It is often perceived as a childish thing to believe in but I find it a nice ritual of checking once in a while what a random page on the internet thinks will happen that day/week/month. I have gathered and compared multiple sources of horoscopes and drew my own birth chart to take inspiration from. I have used this information to drape with the star constellations of my star, rising, and moon signs (Taurus, Gemini, Scorpio). As another inspiration source, I have used Han dynasty traditional clothing as astrology and the knowledge of horoscope spread alongside the Silk Road. I hate when your body can’t breathe in clothes so I aimed to use natural fabrics like cotton organdie. The top of my garment can be worn in 4 ways depending on the way you tie it. I wanted to do this because of how ever-changing the predictions of horoscopes are. I drew a lot of inspiration from Chanel’s attention to detail. The way the garments are constructed, embellished and finished is amazing to me. She was also quite superstitious and believed in luck in certain numbers and symbols like her famous perfume Chanel n°5, bag 2.55, and buttons with lions (her star sign was Leo).

The contemporary culture shift I am addressing is how shallow as a society we have become, hence I named it “You are so lame.” At the beginning of this project, I did a survey which was based on the question, “WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF LAME?” Through this, I found out that “lameness” comes from following the trends without thinking on our own. If Chanel was living in our society in this era, she would think that everyone is so lame. I also looked at her childhood and the orphanage she grew up in. There was a wild garden. I used elements of this garden and the uniform Chanel wore growing up. This led me to look into Japanese gardeners’ uniform and curated gardens. To not be lame is to curate and nurture your very own style. The dress represents her garden, covered with tulle. The pleated shirt has different types of stones instead of buttons. The cut of the trousers is inspired by CHANEL’s trademark cut of the hip area. The trousers have lots of pockets and ease that can make the wearer move and work easily. As Chanel sought after comfort for women, I wanted to challenge myself and create a silhouette that is impactful from every angle, without the use of boning. In order to achieve this, I made use of neoprene, a stiffer fabric, and was able to pattern a stable structure on which my textiles could rest without losing their shape.

I chose to work on individualism, individualisation, and collectivism. While individualisation is seen as something positive, individualism leads to a loss of community spirit. Most of us are too obsessed with ourselves and our own interests to look at others and act collectively. As I wanted to create a universal look, I decided to research prehistoric times to find two very simple universal experiences: body adornment and, by extension, covering the naked body. Simple loose-belted tunics, capes and fur have been used since the earliest times as clothing and are still used to this day, while claws and feathers have been used to adorn bodies. They represent a collective, rather than an individualistic, experience. Draping and cutting were very important techniques for Chanel, as were the concepts of comfort and utilitarianism. The simple dress was made by draping in comfortable stretch fabric and has a V shape at the front, accentuated both by the minimal trimmings and the belt, which gives the optical illusion of a small waist without the wearer being constricted. The cape has a clean shape, a homage to Chanel’s cutting technique. The look is completed with a skull cap, a homage to Chanel’s début as a milliner, decorated with claws and feathers hunted down in central London. When I graduate, I want to work for a major fashion house, preferably Parisian. It’s really important to remember that you can’t just design what you want, you have to understand the history and the codes of the brand and reinterpret them. It’s the kind of project that prepares us for the kind of work that a professional stylist at Chanel would do. The biggest challenge I faced during the project was finding the confidence to design something that looks simple, that’s not always easy at CSM.

I believe that in our postmodern world, with all of this information and distractions, it is difficult to be introspective and ponder our existence. This was the cultural shift I was interested in as I believe our souls and bodies have a mutual partnership and it is important for us to be aware of this. After all, our physical bodies are a kind of garment for our souls. Inspired by some of Gabriel Chanel’s silhouettes and Dorothea Tanning’s raw use of material, different fabrics and garment layers are used to illustrate the complicated relationship between the soul and body. In previous projects, I didn’t really look at fashion designers for reference, so during this project, I learned how to be influenced by other designers’ work while communicating my own vision. In the beginning, it was tough to make something that was not too similar to Chanel’s aesthetic. By the end, I managed to discover the balance between external influence and my own ideas.

My design took inspiration from the contemporary practices of ballet dance. I wanted to bring to light the ways in which ballet has become less dominated by class and gender. Being a ballet dancer myself for so many years I know that it evolves a series of perfected steps, but I felt like I wanted to challenge this in my design and not have such traditional silhouettes. I twisted and pulled the dress and made some parts sharp and rigid inspired by the movements I saw. Gabriel Chanel’s attention to comfort and functionality was something I was very fond of. I wanted to find a way to make a showpiece, but the dress was able to be thrown on easily. She didn’t use padding or any shaping in her garments allowing the wearer to move with ease, which was rare for womenswear in her time. I think doing projects like this allows you to understand why a designer has become so successful. It’s a good practice and I think now I want to continue to think about functionality in women’s clothing.

My design explores the idea of having all the garments you would wear in a week, in one dress. Just as Chanel introduced a streamlined approach to dressing by using black for daywear, and one pair of shoes for day to night. I chose to think about this in relation to paper dolls, the idea of being connected to all your clothes at once. I began by looking at old images of women hiking in big impractical dresses, then I applied my concept to myself and pinned all the clothes I would potentially wear in a week together (pyjamas, jeans, a dress, bloomers, trackies, etc.) Then, I did a lot of draping. When I went to the exhibition at the V&A I realised that most of Chanel’s decorations were actually flat on the surface. They were patterned into the garment and very rarely were not in-built. This led me to take the shapes from my drawings and drapings and 2-D-ify them. My garment features a pair of pyjamas, hand drawn by me based on my actual pyjamas, and an evening dress inspired by several 1920s dresses from the exhibition. The dress can be worn in many ways by up to three people. It can be shifted from day to night depending on the neckline selected by the wearer. It can also be worn in the middle if you are feeling indecisive. It’s great to start the year with a making project, especially after having been working on it all summer as our summer project. I really liked having to look at Chanel in detail, as it’s not something I would have necessarily referenced in my work otherwise. At CSM there is so much looking forward to the future and innovation, so it was really interesting to see how we responded when we were forced to look back to nearly a century ago, it’s not something we have been asked to do before.

My design was initially inspired by a unique pleated two-piece uniform shown at the V&A Exhibition. In my mind, I had the vision of a uniform worn by inhabitants of a prosaic society engrossed by the aftermath of AI, modern warfare, and images of brutalist architecture of Kenzō Tange or Iskra Grabuloski. To me, Chanel was a pioneer because of her ability to incorporate an element of practicality into attire which appealed to the masses for its wearability while remaining feminine and tidy. The lines are interpreted through the various textures of the garments and buildings with scored leather and pleated fabric, rather than silhouette which I kept rather streamlined. Projects like this make you look to the past. It’s a history lesson on the constant progression of fashion and an assessment of where things have gone, or whether anything has changed.

My project is about the unconscious repetition of modern society. A reflection on the industrialized fast fashion system. Gabriel Chanel always makes the same garments over and over. But there will be some changes in each one and the design improves piece by piece. This inspires me a lot. The project pushed me to get interested in Chanel’s work, I wouldn’t have done so otherwise.

Lizandro Acera

Throughout my project, I explored this idea of gender perspectives within Filipino traditional clothing. There is a very big difference between how people dress now compared to pre-colonial times where the craft and garments had way more significance. The idea of this garment is to collide these two worlds together, the Westernised influence alongside the pre-colonial shapes and details, focusing on technique and silhouette. This idea of the Western shapes alongside the southeastern craft that I tried to demonstrate is the view I have of myself. From the Chanel exhibition, I was attracted to the repetition of the techniques used.

I started my project thinking about the cultural shift back to partying since COVID-19. Me and my friends all had our 18th and 19th birthdays during lockdown, resulting in an explosion of ‘going out’ once the restrictions were lifted, and a nostalgia for the freedom we had before. I was drawing the comparison between modern-day partying and the roaring 20s, gaining inspiration from Chanel’s party dresses in this era, and the dishevelled glamour which comes alongside being up all night. My look was focused on a woman who is leaving work and going straight to a party, cutting her work trousers into hot pants, hurriedly putting on her party dress which is still tucked into her tights, and decorating her ‘subway t-shirt’ with the only thing she could find in transit- a broken mirror.  I think being a woman designing clothing for other women gives me an opportunity to consider how I would feel wearing what I make, and apply parts of myself to whichever character I am designing for. After going to the Chanel exhibition, I took inspiration from the pattern-cutting techniques in her party dresses, such as using godet panels in the skirts to create volume and movement. I used this method in the silk skirt of my look. I think it is important to look at historic designers and garments to see how things were made before the mass production of fast fashion, seeing things up close in a museum allows the craftsmanship and detail to be fully appreciated. The biggest challenge I faced was managing to make the back of the skirt stand upright, without making it so stiff that it had no movement. I ended up looking at pancake tutus and taking notes from their gravity-defying construction.

My project is inspired by the current generation of people who always carry the acknowledgement of everything that is happening around them. I started this project back at my home in Ukraine where I was working while I could also hear shelling close or far from my city. Even if I didn’t hear anything I would still wake up and read the daily reports of shot-down missiles just like everyone else does. That is why I wanted to create a structure that would imitate the weight and sound of being in touch with everything that is happening around you. The way Chanel used materials as a way of storytelling was very inspiring to me. Her textiles are very experimental ranging from very heavy beaded and embroidered pieces to floral, colourful prints on tulle, as well as combinations of opposing fabrics like leather and knit, which I wanted to integrate into my work. I wanted to combine contradictive materials in my garment to fully explore my concept. The tulle dress represents the vulnerable mind that carries difficult thoughts and past memories. I developed sequin shapes or prints of missiles, bows, and heavy weights. In contrast, I wanted the structure to be very heavy visually, so I used metal and large beads, also inspired by Chanel’s use of unexpected metal jewellery.

My project was centred around the social shift within the current generation’s relationship with nature. Being from Cornwall I felt a lot of pressure over the summer to utilise my surroundings and make the most of being out of the city. Going on walks every day, sunbathing on the beach, going for morning swims… But sadly the reality of my life, along with most people’s, is that I ended up working a 9-5 every day and then going home and sitting on my phone for hours on end. This made me feel really guilty, but I soon realised I couldn’t beat myself up for something that has become the norm for most people today, and instead of looking at my relationship with nature in a negative way, I wanted to be a realist and take the approach of accepting that I can’t be in touch with the woods and the sand every day as I have bills to pay. To capture this feeling I selected a range of materials that I felt represented both sides of the spectrum, nature, and the digital reality of my life, and took these materials into my surrounding environment and photographed them for my research. I chose royal blue as the main colour within my palette and created bold stripe and dot patterns as I felt this was the most unnatural-looking colour within a natural setting and clearly encompassed the contrast I was feeling in my personal life. I also selected metal mesh and wool to represent my theme, and from this, I developed a textile that involved needle felting the metal with wool to create a gradient effect that shows how both sides are interlinked. My main takeaway from the Gabrielle Chanel exhibition was her use of asymmetry specifically in fastenings and closures. This reminded me of overhead front zip wetsuits, something I’m familiar with and I felt linked to my project theme, so I used this to inspire my silhouette by designing a look with an exaggerated roll neck that snaps onto the base layer and can be pulled over the head or worn dangling from the back. For me, I think this project was really important and incredibly helpful. Not only for the opportunity of getting into the V&A and getting to work with Chanel but also because of the way the brief required us to delve into the life of a designer and have that inform our decisions. The biggest challenge I faced during the project was sourcing my materials. I knew I wanted to use metal mesh but finding a supplier in the UK was really difficult. I ended up having to get the material from overseas, which post-Brexit was difficult and really expensive. It taught me to be a lot more organised with sourcing my fabrics.

My inspiration comes from equestrianism. In the course of my research, I found that the female side rider fascinated me, so I added this part to the top. I also wanted the audience to feel like they were riding a horse when they saw my clothes. I used a lot of sportswear light fabrics, thick wool, and lining to contrast. For the sleeve craft, I used fabric adhesive and hair weaving, which I find very similar to Chanel’s traditional fabric tweed. On the back, I took inspiration from the saddle, and I used leather to prop up the top to show the shape of the hips. I wanted to express some feminine softness, fortitude, and feminism.

I wanted my design to embody the ethos of “comfort and desirability.” Drawing inspiration from Chanel’s timeless elegance I decided to follow that quote but instead of “over” I chose to say “comfort and desirability” I wanted to have a garment with elegance, extravagance and a pleasant fit causing no restrictions to the person wearing it that’s how I started with that in mind. When I went to the V&A exhibition I didn’t know what I was looking for to inspire me which worked out perfectly I knew Chanel was famous for her tweed suits and straight-cut dresses but I never realised the amount of detail that went into most of those evening dresses. There were three dresses that caught my eye there were sheer elements and the cut of those dresses where actually really naughty and daring for that day in age. I wanted to bring those elements into my own garment. What really inspires me is the craftwork of Chanel’s dresses, the hours of beading and stitching it must have taken to make those dresses blows my mind.