Within the context of one of the most competitive fashion programmes in the world, and after last year’s out of the ordinary digital showcase that included the work of all the students, we couldn’t help but expect a good old classic CSM show: A tight selection of clean-cut collections with the right mix of wearable but innovative womenswear, sharply tailored menswear with a twist and just the right amount of artistic showpieces with a sustainable take. We could even guess what the designers would say; well-structured answers about their collections, job-interview-like confidence on their future plans, maybe a self-deprecating joke or two about working hard.
This CSM Fashion MA was nothing like that.
No expectations were met, in the best way possible. These last two years were hard, but somehow, the experiences of isolation, political and emotional turmoil produced the most practically creative graduates ever. “Cautiously daring,” one of the designers shared when asked how she would describe the class of 2022.
Perhaps the general climate of uncertainty had provided space for introspection. Normality doesn’t exist, making plans feels foolish, the notion of the grind seems vain, so what are we working towards?
“Fuck overthinking,” surprisingly more than one designer sighed. Almost unanimously, this year’s class mentioned that their biggest takeaway from the Fashion MA at CSM was “fighting self-doubt” and “letting your instinct lead your work.” One by one, the 32 designers talked about trusting themselves as if it is a newly found skill, something they discovered in shock after a crit or a successful fabric dyeing session. This group of fashion makers was drowning in the anxiety and low confidence that characterises our generation, and something pulled them out. Was it the necessity to let go in order to protect their creativity? Was it their tutors who begged them to “stop overcomplicating things and trust the process”? Or was it the hybrid teaching format this year followed, starting with working from home to then get thrown to the overstimulating environment of the third-floor studios at the King’s Cross campus?
Whatever it was that momentarily cured these designers of their imposter syndrome and gave them the confidence to make without thinking, one element connected all the collections: maturity. Complex topics such as gender theory, diaspora, religion, community, and cultural heritage are deconstructed respectfully making up cerebral narratives around thoughtful line-ups that don’t lack artistic spontaneity. It was a year of fruitful messiness and experimentation and this was demonstrated through the intense presence of innovative textiles; from sun-bleached fabric to knitwear based on an algorithm that turned Covid data into patterns. Deadstock and repurposed materials are a red thread throughout. Bedsheets fresh out of the charity shop, parents’ clothes, or offcuts donated from fashion brands. Historical fashion shapes were ideas up for questioning and untouchable fashion genres such as sportswear and utilitarian clothing gave the vocabulary for a reviewed use of materials.
But again, despite a refreshingly self-governing approach to design, this year remains grounded in reality as if their life depends on it. Words that are considered taboo in the creative industries were breathed out proudly. Stability. Paid holidays. Pension. Clocking off when I leave the building. Locality. No more freelancing. A healthy working environment. Are we getting closer to a time where a creator can demand to be seen as a skilled worker who deserves to find happiness through their work whilst surviving healthily in a society that looks at fashion and art as trivial sources of entertainment? Are we slowly coming out of the bleak hole of self-deprecation and low self-esteem in the name of perseverance?
“I can be anything that I want to be,” one of this year’s MA designers notes randomly.
Maybe we are. We won’t overthink it further.