Five MA Fashion students at Central Saint Martins took the challenge with Dr. Martens
How are you spending your first social restrictions-free summer? Have you booked tickets to every single music festival available? Are you dancing your heart out at Pride in a crop top that somehow never fully covers your nipples? Or are you staying comfortable in your parents’ garden, feeling more relief than fomo at the sight of others’ wild nights? Wherever summer takes you, you can find inspiration in your experiences.
That was also the challenge five MA Fashion students at Central Saint Martins were given on the commercial project with Dr.Martens. Putting their potential creative director skills to the test, they were asked to design one look in the theme of All Access Summer. Designs inspired by release, freedom and insouciance, or as student, Francesca Lake explained: “This summer is specifically poignant because we are entering into a renewed space of more consciousness, more fun and more awareness and appreciation for the access we have to the things we value the most, our family, our friends, and our environment.”
The project gave the students an important taste of what working commercially might look like. Where university allows you to focus on your own identity and self-expression, you’re asked to design for a brand with its own heritage and DNA. The original Dr. Martens boots were designed as a durable, lightweight, and comfortable workwear item in 1960, before being adopted by youth subcultures around the globe ‒ which aspects of that story can be updated and interpreted into a designer’s personal narrative?
According to student Lauren Patchett, the key is always to find a reference point that connects the two: “There are so many different groups of people who wear and have continued to wear Dr.Martens. So maybe have a look at some styling references from groups you normally wouldn’t think of: dads, youth cultures, musicians, or girls from Northern Ireland.”
Here’s how Lauren, Francesca, Jad, Jude, and Xuesong designed their All Access Summer:
As a Jamaican creative, Francesca always places her culture at the forefront of her craft and creative expression. Whether it’s the vibrant and bold colour palette of the rum bar or the texture of traditional dish Callaloo, “telling the untapped stories of a well-known culture will continue to be my goal.”
“The elasticity used in the underbody allows for multiple sizes to feel comfortable and confident.”
For the Dr. Martens project, Francesca found inspiration in her home country’s barrel culture, named after the circular brown fiber or blue plastic shipping containers used by Jamaican immigrants to send material support to those that are back home. The concept aligned perfectly with the material development she had done during the first MA Fashion project investigating circular design. Asking herself, “how can I repurpose value and give greater value to a material?”, Francesca started experimenting with smocking embroidery.
“While smocking embroidery is not a novel technique, the manner in which I use it transcends decorative application. It becomes more about function and accessibility, while also removing the necessity for pattern cutting and therefore lending itself to zero waste practices.” For the Dr. Martens look, Francesca purified the silhouette, allowing for greater accessibility across size ranges. “The elasticity used in the underbody allows for multiple sizes to feel comfortable and confident.”
Overall, Francesca didn’t struggle to interpret the Dr. Martens brief. Existing in a world of juxtapositions and opposites, the brand is all about self-expression and individuality, so there are enough stories to tell: “By allowing me to contrast hyper-feminine silhouettes and fabrics with oversized utilitarian boots originating out of workwear, I could express my individuality within a space of opposition and boldness.”
When challenged with the thematic “all-access summer” brief, Jad immediately knew which direction to take. Born to migrant parents in Greater London, Jad often plays on the relationship between fashion and aspiration, placing the individual’s right to their complexity at the core of his practice.
Thinking about where he’d physically (want to) be this summer, the answer was obvious: Pride. “The Pride events are incredibly important to me as they act as both parades and protests. My research involved looking back at my own memories at Pride ‒ what would I need from a look?” Alongside personal anecdotal research, Jad also looked into archival images and graphics from various Pride events in London and Brighton over the years.
The first design decision was made on a material level: Jad knew he wanted a resilient material suitable for staying out all day and night. Working with 100% cotton denim, the designer dip-dyed, bleached, and hand-painted the textile in order to create a bright colour pop.
“The Pride events are incredibly important to me as they act as both parades and protests. My research involved looking back at my own memories at Pride ‒ what would I need from a look?”
Another point of focus came from the Dr. Martens shoe design itself. With the aim of expanding the reach of the bright colours, Jad reused the exact hue of the Dr. Martens 1461 summer shoe in his designs, creating a continuation from the feet to the knee line.
While his designs explored the juxtaposition of pride and protest, the design also emphasise durability and longevity. “Looking at Dr. Martens, I wanted to focus on simple, strong design complimentary of utilitarian function. The shoes are so well made and reliable, and never compromising their design DNA.” In this case, the DNA is also in the details. Jad incorporated the Dr. Martens iconic yellow stitching as a top stitch on denim.
Lauren’s design approach is one of those that seems incredibly simple, only to reveal itself as surprisingly complex ‒ to her, it’s all about comfort. “I want to be as accessible, in terms of wearability, as possible. I don’t want to intimidate or scare people off. My clothes are meant to be worn every day by anyone.”
To Lauren, there is one styling choice that incarnates that feeling: socks in sandals. “The combination is such a dorky styling choice. But seeing it makes me laugh, and that was ultimately what I wanted to translate. I want to make people laugh, so I had to make myself laugh first.”
“It was a fun touch finding ways to include the iconic yellow stitching for Dr. Martens that translate into knitwear.”
Being a knitwear student, Lauren was eager to experiment with different techniques, while also focussing on wearability. The sleeves of her look are knitted with a pineapple stitch, “so if you look really close, the stitches look like little pineapples, very cute.” The sock, on the other hand, was constructed with a simpler technique, e-wrapping with different coloured yarns allowing for the use of surplus yarn and thus avoiding waste.
Lastly, there is a yellow stitch detailing, a subtle reference to the Dr. Martens stitch, that was done by linking the machine decoratively. “Usually you wouldn’t see that stitch but I used it back-to-front so it was visible. It was a fun touch finding ways to include the iconic yellow stitching for Dr. Martens that translate into knitwear.”
Summer always brings Jude back to family vacations, leaving their home state of Texas by car and listening to the radio together. “There would be a certain point where the station would go to static. That was our cue that we left the city limits. We’d search for the 50’s/60’s rock and roll station from the next city. We’d always get so excited because when we heard the music, we knew summer had officially started for us!”
“The most time-consuming part was going to so many charity shops so I could find the garments with the right colors in order for me to create that consistency.”
This happy childhood memory was translated into silhouettes that move with the wearer and allow vibrant bursts of color. To achieve this, Jude incorporated an expansion technique they had developed the previous summer, using their father’s old clothes. “At the time, it was only about creating a piece with as many layers as I could use. It wasn’t until the Dr. Martens project that I found the inspiration and story to give the technique meaning and purpose.”
When fusing a variety of upcycled garments, colour palette and material become crucial in achieving a coherent feel throughout. Not an easy feat if you’re working with repurposed garments! “The most time-consuming part was going to so many charity shops so I could find the garments with the right colors in order for me to create that consistency.”
Again, the Dr. Martens yellow stitch proved a great source of inspiration. This time, it was the colour juxtaposition of a bright yellow stitch on a base of black that proved inspiring. “I wanted to bring the same aesthetic with my look by adding bright stripes with the more neutral upcycled pieces. This can be best seen with the trousers, where the dark navy surface pops out the green as it expands and contracts.”
Release. That is what Mongolian designer Xuesong Yang feels when he thinks about an All Access Summer. Growing up on the Oroqen Autonomous Banner, the homeplace of a nomadic people, freedom and nature are essential to Xuesong’s creative process. “Nature is really important. It replenishes your energy and brings healing, releasing your stress and body feelings.” The designer felt particularly reminiscent of the Bökh, a Mongolian wrestling ceremony, which symbolises Mongolian masculinity: “They are always celebrated during the greatest moment, under the blue sky and on the grassland.”
“I really like the attitude that denim has. I think denim is very youthful and changes as we go through life. It’s also a beautiful blue colour, which means timeless nature to Mongolians.”
Summer is therefore incredibly precious to Xuesong: “I feel like everyone is bursting with passion like never before. You can try anything you want, and that is a great start.” Both through the design and the development of the pattern, Xuesong wanted to emphasise the feeling of release when being in touch with nature. Flexibility and adaptability are crucial. That means the design process involved a lot of experimentation with his own body, trying different things until it feels just right.
Direct design inspiration came from a pair of Mongolian boots, which were detachable. This idea was translated to the trousers, which can be adapted to different styles of (Dr. Martens) shoes. It was important to Xuesong to play with the confrontation between the traditional Mongolian boots and the casualness of the denim, but overall the focus was comfort, which is why he chose a combination of non-stretch woven and knit fabrics. “I really like the attitude that denim has. I think denim is very youthful and changes as we go through life. It’s also a beautiful blue colour, which means timeless nature to Mongolians.”