Representing the creative future

CSM MA FASHION SHOW 2021: Purpose over hype

Education without structure gave this graduate class the opportunity to think outside of the box

We are experiencing a period of collective recalibration. External factors have been so overwhelmingly impactful we have been forced to question our priorities, a generational first. No matter what your situation has been in the past year, your plans for the future aren’t the same as they were a year ago. Or at least, they don’t have the same shade as they used to. We’re adjusting, adapting, repositioning ourselves and our expectations for the future, questioning our values, how they serve us and those around us. Scary as fuck.

For many, answers have been found in togetherness. We find comfort in the time we spend with our family, a walk with a friend, the joy of making something with a classmate. What we used to refer to as “the little things in life” now seem pretty big. “The hardest part was sewing everything. The best part was the people I did it with,” shared graduate Ru Kwok.

You gain 237 new followers and Sarah Mower reposts one of your looks.  Do these things still matter?

What does this mean for a graduate event at one of the most prestigious fashion schools in the world? The Central Saint Martins MA Fashion show is a traditionally highly-anticipated Fashion Week moment. Stars are discovered, careers are made. You open the show. You gain 237 new followers and Sarah Mower reposts one of your looks.  Do these things still matter?

The 33 graduates who presented their collection today had little access to the accolades that usually accompany the completion of this prestigious degree: no live encounters with experienced professionals in their studio, no spectacular runway show to tie it all together. Yet, when asked about what they missed most after a year of creation in isolation, it’s the daily social interactions that are mentioned first.

Culturally, our sector celebrates individuals as the sole masterminds of their creations. Structurally, we expect those creations to be produced following a tight, seasonal calendar.

“It’s the unplanned reactions,” said graduate Jimmy Howe. “You can’t plan what other people will do or say. Someone walking past what you’re working on and saying, ‘oh, that reminds me of this or that,’ and you’re like ‘shit, yes it does,’ and off you go on an idea which you just couldn’t have planned. Or people asking to try stuff on. I suppose what I missed most was the interactivity behind creating clothes.” Students miss exchanging with others, being together, and the rich creative ideas that can magically appear when you aren’t paying attention.

Lucille Guilmard agrees, adding the importance of spontaneous interactions with tutors, something that is almost impossible to recreate through a screen: “This could be regarding technical advice or even anecdotes. They are seemingly harmless on the spot, but with distance I realized how precious they were.”

The observations highlight two key factors for creativity that are strangely undervalued by our industry: teamwork and spontaneity. Culturally, our sector celebrates individuals as the sole masterminds of their creations. Structurally, we expect those creations to be produced following a tight, seasonal calendar. Tough social restrictions appear to have paradoxically opened up a reflection about these stubborn values.

Screenshots from the CSM MA Fashion Virtual show space

That doesn’t mean working from home was easy. Without the structure of opening hours and routine, there is always the danger of “mad tunnel vision”, as Jimmy described. The opening exhibition to the graduate show included a collection of screenshots taken from this year’s tutorials and online meetings. Students stare pensively at their camera, model their creations from the best-lit corner of their studio apartments or snow-covered gardens.

Education without structure. Strangely, it also allowed for a more spontaneous, instinctive approach to design. Without facilities and imposed time schedules, there was no roadmap to follow, and students organically became more inventive.

Luke Derri had developed a habit of styling and photographing his work on a model. That process was impossible during lockdown, and the designer was forced to do it all on himself, shooting self-portraits with a clicker. “This actually turned out for the best as I discovered it enabled me to be much freer with it and get much more in the character of the man I was trying to dress for each project. Over the year, it really evolved into being quite a spontaneous and efficient process of creating work, and I certainly wouldn’t have discovered it without the restrictions that quarantine presented.”

Vivien Canadas agrees: “More than ever before, I used my own body for my draping experimentations and fittings. It started as a necessity and quickly became a fundamental step of my process.”

For the first time ever, the audience sees snippets of the journey that lead to the final story. Process and product are placed alongside each other, as equals.

Students had to learn how to let go of control. Suddenly, there was time to question. “Working from home means two things: sleeping every night and eating at every meal. Apparently, it is possible to do a collection this way. So now, I wonder, was it worth it for me to lose that much weight in BA, and lack of that much sleep?” Lucille Guilmard wondered.

On the graduation website, visitors are given glimpses at this process of questioning and experimenting. The try-outs, the unfinished, the failures. Each designer received a digital space, a square room, to decorate as they please. Some showed spectacular collaborative video interpretations of their collection, others focused on design close-ups, most did both. For the first time ever, the audience sees snippets of the journey that lead to the final story. Process and product are placed alongside each other, as equals.

We’re recalibrating, and that’s a good thing. Our industry could do with more spontaneity and intuition, it’s the only way we can become more adaptive, after all. Let’s try and play without instantly worrying where it will bring us. Or as graduate Luke Derrick stated: “All you can do is cast a stone into the water, and see how big a splash it makes.”

Screenshots from the CSM MA Fashion Virtual show space

1 Granary

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With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

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