Representing the creative future

CSM BA FASHION 2024: If it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun

Discover the collections and sketchbooks of the 2024 Central Saint Martins BA designers

“The more I learn about the industry’s inner workings, the more disillusioned I become,” womenswear designer Lulu Yang shared with us, reflecting on the alarming rate at which independent brands are closing down, a phenomenon she described as a “troubling sign for the future.” Talking with the 40 graduates who showed their BA collections on the King’s Cross runway yesterday helped us understand why many express the desire to start their own brand, despite being acutely aware of how challenging such a decision is in today’s fashion industry. Digging deeper into their collections and views on their future revealed the contradictions that are keeping the “emerging brand” myth (and consequently the industry) alive.

After several years, the BA Fashion program at CSM returned to an edited selection of collections for their press show, for the sake of a more digestible runway experience. This year’s designers who showcased their work demonstrated a strong ethnographic and geographic understanding of techniques and textiles. Many of them delved into their origins and tribes to source inspiration and materials, pushing their concepts towards an intensely tactile direction. Most of the designers talked about prioritising craftsmanship and reviving traditional fabric manipulations, aiming to merge the modern fashion of big capitals with the local artisans who inspired their work. Interestingly, the expectations these young designers have for their work and themselves are at the level of skilled couture workers and at the budget of a high fashion brand. Plenty of them noted the emotional struggle of realising they don’t have these means and navigated this problem through upcycling or asking local communities for help, from their family to their church’s senior club.

The perks of community-driven processes that young designers smile about when asked about their fashion school experience come into contradiction with the strictness and loneliness with which they talk about their future. Graduate Patrick Garvey reflected on “how disposable you can feel in a saturated industry,” while his peer Samuel Friberg blamed the sector’s attractiveness for making everyone “so replaceable.” Systemic obstacles were a big part of the conversation. Ella Douglas sees the possibility of being able to rent and live in London after graduating as her definition of success. Her classmate Leo Bursey, who thinks that his inability to afford an internship year puts him at a disadvantage compared to his peers, highlights that “interning is the main key to securing a minimum wage job in fashion, and this is blocking anyone without 10k+ spare in their parents’ bank account.” These valid concerns contribute to what Riley Walmsley described as a fear to commit to a direction post-university. Thoughts along the lines of “I wouldn’t want to be part of this industry” come right after an existential pondering of “Am I meant to be here?” Detailed explanations of “industrialising” their schedule to produce professional-quality garments precede confessions of self-reflection: “I felt like an idiot, completely absorbed in my work.” But when we started assuming this attachment to work is a symptom of fashion’s bubble, many of the designers expressed the emotional friction of frivolity. Trying to put this feeling into words, Lulu Yang explained: “Fashion is losing its essence, its humanism, and is becoming pure image-making. It’s like beautiful dolls for the sake of beauty; a microcosm of a bygone era.”

So if fashion causes so much stress, inner doubt, disappointment, and scarcity, why did almost all graduates express a desire to do their own thing in it? If we all know this path is a journey of complicated problems and dilemmas, why do we keep feeding its glamourisation? “Fashion is the only thing in my life that has motivated me to leave my comfort zone,” Maja Hagen explained. The 2024 class of designers’ thoughts and views on their future are full of contradictions because fashion, as an art and as a business, is full of contradictions. Fashion is hard, but hardships keep them inspired. “If it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun,” one of the designers remarked as a learning. How could one unravel such a co-dependent bond? A young designer’s undeniable eagerness to continue pursuing learning and creativity is an inner need that the industry has formed into the step-by-step guide we call “emerging brands.” The question is whether this “guide” is serving the next generation of designers or if it is a passive choice they make, looking for confirmation that they are just like their idols.

 

 

Izzy McCormac

For Izzy McCormac, joy is a philosophy to live by. Through her final BA collection, the British designer communicates unmitigated bliss. “Through six distinct looks, I aim to capture the emotion and movement of being swept up by the wind, evoking a childlike, untainted feeling of joy.” Titled “I AM REALLY A KITE,” McCormac’s collection interprets her childhood, growing up on the British seaside. “Just like a child, I create with all my passion and conviction, unconcerned with what happens next—I do it because I love it.” The childlike euphoria the designer emulates is represented in her design practices. “Using an experimental, process-driven approach, I push the boundaries of traditional garment design by working with paper,” she explains. Sharing the goal of the metaphorical kite she bases her collection on, McCormac aims to take flight. “I plan to continue exploring my practice and hope to keep collaborating with other creatives. My goal is to build a community that extends beyond Central Saint Martins, fostering ongoing creativity and support.”

Dodam Gwon

Dodam Gwon focuses on meaningful interactions in her collection, exploring the connections between people, as well as between clothes and their wearers. Her work integrates the interactions she experienced with tutors, friends, and garments throughout her creative journey. The most rewarding parts of her BA experience were tackling problems and finding solutions. Moving forward, Dodam plans to continue working, creating, and developing her craft, with the ultimate goal of compiling her life’s work into a book. As she enters the industry, she feels both the pressure and motivation from the fast-paced environment. While it’s too early to determine the long-term impact, she is eager to embrace this momentum and see where it takes her.

Drew Kent

Drew Kent’s approach to gender fluidity is playful. Sparkly, loud, colorful, extravagant: the young designer’s creations escape the gender binary by thrusting themselves beyond any human definition. Kent projects a true queer fairytale. An oversized pink coat with lime fluffy crochet trim (one of the designer’s signatures) and a similarly lined clear vinyl ruffled dress evoke a sense of puerile innocence. The designer’s playful approach is intentional, drawing inspiration from “the vibrant colors and textures of my childhood, translating them into bold, gender-fluid designs that challenge conventional norms,” as Kent describes. “My personal queer journey serves as the heartbeat of my eco-conscious floral collection, intertwining childhood innocence and self-discovery with sustainable design principles to create a fashion narrative that resonates with authenticity and positive change.” The young designer’s approach ensures that his neon fairytale is entirely sustainable, told exclusively through recycled fabrics, sequin waste, and repurposed materials.

Eleanor Bathgate

Eleanor Bathgate’s collection is deeply personal, and not just because she sourced the literal slates from her childhood home in the Scottish Borders. “My collection is a reflection of the anguish that I feel towards my upbringing and the silent viewer that was the landscape,” she explains. Under the guise of fashion, Bathgate’s childhood surroundings come to life. Slates scale down a long skirt, and porous wood-like panels descend from the chest, tucking in the waist and flaring past the hip. The collection features several leather details, but the young designer is quick to clarify that they’re all derived from “industry waste, unwanted due to the imperfections of the skin.” Bathgate feels empathy towards the animals from which the hides come, noting that, like the landscape that inspires her, they too are a “large part of where I’m from.” Bathgate’s collection reads as a conflicted homage to her homeland.

Jack Lambert

“My collection is about the history of menswear. From the crucifixion of Jesus Christ to the invention of spandex and everywhere in between. A sort of menswear’s greatest hits.” Jack Lambert’s description of his collection is as comedic as the collection itself. Through the brand name “Clothes for Idiots,” the Canadian designer offers a refreshingly humorous take on menswear—a ribbed white jumper that spells “scum” in red introduces his collection. But despite his light-hearted take on fashion, his garments are materializations of his skill. A tailored heavy coat is beautifully done, with wide shoulders and a nipped-in waist. Lambert is excited to join an industry that, as he states, is “seen as so frivolous by so many people yet is secretly enjoyed by almost all of them. It’s my pervert’s dream to design clothes that can reach the mainstream and maybe somehow change the way men dress.”

Ella Douglas

“My collection is inspired by queer truck drivers and the opulent aesthetics of trucking,” says Ella Douglas. Opulence and trucks are not words commonly used together, but for Douglas, the intersection of the two is natural. “I am obsessed with the unnecessary decoration of trucks,” she explains. Her collection is fun and offers an unexpected look into a campy subculture. Large tartan midiskirts with asymmetric chunky drapes directly reference truck curtains. A wedding dress is reimagined in grey jersey, adorned with treadplate cutouts. Douglas expresses her love for her source material: “From the decorative wheel spikes added to the unnecessarily large exhaust pipes, I find truck driving so over the top, and I love it.” The collection’s standout piece proves Douglas’ commitment to gratuitous decoration—a dress with 17,000 hand-placed spikes is, despite the mechanical inspiration, remarkably organic.

Albina Zhakan

Albina Zhakan celebrates her Kazakh heritage in her collection, challenging cultural hierarchies established during colonial times. Her work reflects on Kazakhstan’s history under Soviet influence, marked by starvation, forced industrialization, and cultural homogenization. Albina draws inspiration from futurists, modernists, and Soviet mosaics, juxtaposing Kazakh traditional material culture with the cold aesthetics of Soviet-era monuments and speed-obsessed British lino prints.

Using fabrics gifted by her family, following a Kazakh tradition, Albina carefully balanced limited meterage with meaningful design. She aimed to celebrate her culture authentically, avoiding commodification or appropriation. Her BA experience, although challenging during the pandemic, was enriched by meeting creative individuals globally. Albina plans to rest, reflect, and strategize her next steps. The professionals she met during her placement year made her industry entry less intimidating, inspiring her with their expertise and down-to-earth nature.

Huguette Tchiapi

Huguette Tchiapi’s BA collection is built on an intricate narrative. Drawing from four short stories she wrote, the designer retells her family’s encounters with Black Magic. “Throughout my childhood, my parents recited numerous stories of encounters with Black Magic. As a child, I was entertained, but as I grew older, I became dubious yet mystified by these supposedly spiritual rituals.” Magie Noire is born out of Tchiapi’s growing intrigue for Black Magic as an essential element of culture in Cameroon. Mysticism was just one of the pages the designer takes from Cameroon’s book. “The country lends itself to materiality and sustainable living, which I have worked to implement throughout my work, by creating a production process that prioritizes natural processes, materials, and dyes.” Despite the collection’s mystic inspiration, its pieces are remarkably wearable, a fact that, according to Tchiapi, speaks to its sustainable design. “Creating wearable garments with attention to detail and construction leads to a sustainable pattern of consumption, as the clothing will be less predisposed to be a one-time wear or destined for a landfill due to changing trends or poor manufacture.”

Jagi Nelson

Jagi Nelson’s collection poses the question: “What if the world had ended in 2012?” The designer references the Mayan calendar’s predicted apocalypse date to highlight a time when humans and technology were still on equal footing before society succumbed to technological dominance. Influenced by Mark Fischer’s “Ghosts of My Life,” Jagi’s designs evoke a sense of unplaceable nostalgia while feeling disorientingly current. Her collection draws on the cultural elements prevalent in her life up until 2012, such as Topshop, friendship bracelets, and the Apple vs Android rivalry, creating a myth of her own life that serves as a print within the collection. Growing up in an isolated Arts and Crafts building named Marylands, Jagi took inspiration from its architectural features and the memories of her life there. Her experiences of restoring the house with her father infused her collection with a wide spectrum of textiles: pixelated knits from bathroom tiles, jersey yarn weaves from tangled wires, and cable knits inspired by wooden bannisters. Jagi’s work also parallels the Celtic Revival art movement, drawing on its mythology and folklore to inspire modern-day attitudes. She combines this with the gradient effects of Instagram filters, producing textiles using DIY techniques to achieve technological perfection by human hands, a nod to her belief that 2012 marked a surrender to technological reliance. The hardest part of Jagi’s BA experience was gaining confidence in her technical abilities, which she achieved during her placement year at Kiko Kostadinov. There, she developed invaluable skills in sewing and pattern cutting, learning the language of design and construction in a practical, structured environment. The best part of her BA was forming relationships with classmates and collaborating with them to realize her graduate collection, emphasizing her preference for teamwork and the joy of shared creative processes. After graduating, Jagi plans to work in the fashion industry and ultimately aspires to start her own brand.

Samuel Friberg

Samuel Friberg’s collection perfectly embodies the Central Saint Martins spirit. “I collected industrial trash (tires, scrap metal, inner tubes, cogs, bike chains, old military tents) and turned them into textiles using craftsmanship and DIY techniques. The fabrics were dyed using kitchen waste and rusty objects that can be used as natural dyes,” he explains. The young designer’s ingenuity isn’t self-serving; it fulfills a conceptual purpose. “It’s about warehouse and squat living in London. The six characters of the collection are based on flatmates from these spaces: a punker, a healer, a metalhead, a guerrilla gardener, a raver and a craftsman.” Titled “Pigeons,” Friberg’s collection is an inventive take on the reality of living in London.

Thomas Spooner

Thomas Spooner’s collection bares it all in its name, “Cutlery.” The designer explains, “It takes influence from objects and feelings associated with home.” The chosen theme runs through the entirety of the collection, from knitted jacquards re-imagined from his “grandparents, their ties, silk scarves, and jacket linings” to the garment patterns. “The pattern cutting is informed by shapes found in my grandmother’s silverware as well as the Tudor architecture in my childhood farmhouse.” His passion for knit is at the heart of Spooner’s collection. “The collection reinterprets classical silhouettes and construction, creating a unique juxtaposition that re-evaluates knitting as a craft and process.” From jeans to boat-neck sweaters, “every garment is knitted.”

Leo Bursey

Under the alias Lexifun, Leo Bursey creates a tropical dystopian future for his BA collection. “The collection spreads a message of decentralizing power through working together as a small, independent, interconnected community, disrupting systems of centralized power.” His project’s political narrative is built through complex characters. Bursey explains the narrative he weaves: “It’s a story about an oligarch’s domestic staff, set in a dystopian setting of global wealth disparity. The oligarch’s close-quarter staff break free from his psychological enslavement and conspire to dismantle their twisted utopian fanatic master. Subsequently, they flee from his opulent compound within his tropical totalitarian territory, chaperoning the oligarch’s now-orphaned child to a concealed sanctuary where a free-thinking Aquarian community resides.” Inspired by Georgian-era prodigality, the designer’s pieces are a calculated amalgamation of references, from Henry Moore’s sculptures to Ryan Trecartin’s film “Center Jenny.” Despite its diversity, the sources of inspiration are materialized intentionally in the pieces. “The garments will lay limp on the body, removing the structure underneath. This relaxing symbolizes the staff characters’ physical and mental loosening from their master’s psychological and contractual grip after fleeing his tropical mirage.”

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Ling Lai

Ling Lai bases his collection on the unexplained pain he often feels in his back, a phenomenon that makes him think that there is something that wants to come out from under his skin. “Is it my instinct? Or some unfulfilled initial desire?” he ponders. The designer connects the pain with the social issue of the lack of sex education in East Asia. This project explores hidden desires and inner energy blockages through fabric, inspired by therapies like reiki, acupuncture, and cupping. Lai’s designs metaphorically express this pain and the process of releasing it. Using shades of yellow and evolving silhouettes, Ling visualizes the journey from constriction to freedom, with round elements like buttons and studs representing acupuncture marks, emphasizing the need for better sex education. Ling has a hard time adapting to pattern cutting and creating shapes, despite his familiarity with sewing. However, meeting diverse people and exchanging ideas during his time at CSM transformed his initial struggles into excitement. Ling plans to apply for an MA at CSM, drawn to the program’s focus on wearability and diversity. He also envisions creating a multi-faceted brand that includes magazines and wearable pieces, inspired by PZ Today. Ling is motivated to address plagiarism in the Chinese fashion industry and aims to improve his social skills, finding the industry’s openness and the merit-based recognition of work particularly exciting.

Lulu Yang

“Through the ‘Bullet, Pellet, Tablet’ project, I pursue not only environmental conservation but also a creative response to contemporary societal challenges,” explains Lulu Yang. Her project has an ambitious goal, but despite the expectations she puts on herself, the designer understands her work as a direct response to the society we live in. “Despite living in seemingly peaceful environments, beneath the surface of ‘world peace,’ war, social unrest, and death continue to persist. Is peace akin to plastic—widely utilized yet increasingly powerless as an industrial product?” Her collection extends the plastic analogy further, relating it to the unofficial Covid uniform: face masks. “Inspired by the widespread use of blue medical masks during the pandemic and the chaotic era they symbolize, the project addresses the persistent issue of mask disposal. As a man-made PP plastic product, masks are extensively used, but their recycling problem remains largely unresolved. In most cases, they end up buried or incinerated, causing new environmental issues.” Yang doesn’t limit herself to theorizing on these issues; her project is the solution she envisions. “‘Bullet, Pellet, Tablet’ is my proposed solution to this problem, aiming to recycle used masks and transform them into sustainable products for daily use. In this project, I use the plastic properties of the mask to recycle it into a material that can be 3D printed.”

Nodira (Nodirakhon) Dadajonova

Nodira Dadajonova draws inspiration from her Uzbek heritage for her debut collection, celebrating the country’s independence through traditional bridal wear. She developed a unique pattern-cutting technique to create traditional shapes using deadstock fabrics. The collection features a vibrant color palette inspired by traditional Uzbek garments, and although she initially planned to use Ikat prints, she opted for abstract colors inspired by these prints due to time constraints. The most challenging aspect of Nodira’s BA experience was meeting her own high standards and impressing herself with her work. The best part was learning new techniques that brought her creative visions to life. Looking ahead, Nodira aims to establish a small business where she can continue developing innovative techniques and new design visions.

Patrick Garvey

Patrick Garvey draws from his personal experiences with Catholic guilt in his final collection, merging Catholic and rococo imagery from his upbringing as an altar boy in an Irish family with modern spirituality, such as crystals. This collection explores spirituality and religion from a personal perspective. Garvey has developed a unique crystallization process that grows crystals on specific knit structures, creating ’embroidered’ knits and garments. Inspired by the concept of holy water, these textiles metaphorically prepare individuals for a spiritual experience, akin to a baptism. The hardest part of Garvey’s BA experience at Central Saint Martins was finding his community within such a competitive environment. However, the creative freedom at CSM allowed him to experiment and develop his unique textile process. Despite initial doubts about wearability, this experimentation led to significant innovation in his final collection. Garvey plans to continue his education with a master’s program to further hone his skills and continue developing his textile techniques. He is excited by the industry’s openness to new ideas, especially regarding sustainability and material development. Although he has experienced the disposability of the industry, he believes there is space for young designers to bring fresh perspectives and innovations to fashion and textiles.

Roly Walmsley

“The idea of making something perfect or pristine never appealed to me,” says Roly Walmsley. His collection, aptly named “Hand Me Down,” reflects his relationship with clothing as the youngest of four siblings. “The clothes I grew up in were passed down from my dad and brother and even from my sisters,” Walmsley recalls. “I wanted to tell the stories left behind in these hand-me-downs, finding inspiration in the charm of their imperfections — stretched and faded, too tight or too big, dated and forgotten.” Wear and tear are achieved ingeniously, even if artificially. “I used pattern-cutting techniques to manipulate garments to twist and drape when worn, having polos drape and cowl off the shoulder and twist on the body, and using lining to twist and keep trousers floating at the knees,” he explains. Just like the clothes he was inspired by, Walmsley uses fashion as a way to stay connected to the past. “I wanted to make the clothes feel dated and from a different era, so through my cutting I tried to preserve their styling so that even on a hanger, the clothes would feel like they were still being worn by someone.”