Representing the creative future

Can fashion students give a new life to luxury archival pieces?

The CSM MA Fashion Communication students dissect archival Valentino Vintage garments and use them as a learning resource

Wrapped up in bags in a big cardboard box, five Valentino Vintage garments are about to be revealed at Central Saint Martins during a special class of the Master’s in Fashion Communication course. Everyone is excited. For some of the students, this is the first time they’ve interacted with luxury pieces on such an intimate level. For the tutors, the clothes are now available as a permanent college resource and represent a powerful teaching tool.


“It’s almost like an artefact. Suddenly we have something of that calibre within the environment that students can look inside and investigate. We’ve got so much expertise within the departments to explain how a technique is done and how it was achieved, so it’s really beneficial,” says Sarah Gresty, Course Leader of CSM BA Fashion Design.

Following this year’s Valentino Vintage second-hand initiative, a project aiming to promote more circularity in both retail and vintage stores, the curated selection of looks was gifted by Valentino to the college, with 1 Granary as an intermediary and enabler for this international creative partnership. Besides Central Saint Martins, another six schools around the globe are associated with the initiative. They are Parsons School of Design in New York, IED in Milan, Institut Français de la Mode in Paris, Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, Coconogacco in Tokyo, and ESMOD in Seoul.

There’s a khaki green cargo jacket embroidered with beaded butterflies from SS2018 in the box. And four dresses: a polka-dot ruffled piece from FW2018/19, a black long-sleeved lace dress from FW2017/18, a rose-printed silk slip dress with a feathered hem from SS2020, and a lace long gown in the classic Red Valentino shade, from the SS2017 collection.

Dr Jenna Rossi-Camus, fashion curator, exhibition designer, historian and lecturer, says that the decision to give the garments to the Central Saint Martins fashion programme for very practical purposes, rather than for the college archive, is interesting and exciting. It suggests that the Maison would like them to be handled, and experimented with, “making a distinction between the way that creative practitioners in the wider sense might interact with archival pieces, versus the way they would be treated, understood and interpreted in a museum.”

Rossi-Camus also believes that the initiative sparks a discussion as to how a luxury brand can reframe deadstock as something that is in between being singular or emblematic enough of the collection to be part of the archive.

“This is about brands also reckoning with the amount of space that it takes to store things – and with the idea that new life and new possibilities are within those who are studying. It’s altruistic to give the pieces to an educational institution, but it’s also opening to the possibility that there might be some irreverence or experimentation with how the pieces are used,” she says.

For Isabella Coraça, fashion historian, curator, lecturer and BA Fashion History and Theories Stage One Leader at Central Saint Martins, having the garments permanently in the college opens the doors for plenty of discussions, whether on critically thinking about consuming and how the fashion industry operates, or on finding creative ways to extend those objects’ lives, giving them a new layer of meaning.

“Education is really intercepted and very much bound to the industry. We’re not separate things.” – Isabella Coraça

“That’s the privilege of being in an art school. The possibilities are infinite, and the pedagogy can be as varied and as experimental as the people conceiving them. We’re just going back to those roots of fashion education. It’s very much about thinking of how our students are, and that education is really intercepted and very much bound to the industry. We’re not separate things,” she says.

When it comes to the fashion designers at CSM, Sarah Gresty thinks that the garments will be useful for the tutors to explain different techniques in, for example, tailoring and cutting. The pieces, she says, can also help students to understand, in a more practical way, how the Maison has developed an aesthetic throughout the years.

“We encourage our students to go into shops and look very closely at clothes, turn them inside out and try them on to understand how they’re constructed.” – Sarah Gresty

“We encourage our students to go into shops and look very closely at clothes, turn them inside out and try them on to understand how they’re constructed. But having something here that we can use as a resource and a teaching aid is just invaluable, especially for the next generation of designers who might end up working at Valentino,” says Gresty.

Jill Entwistle, a Lecturer in Pattern Making at Central Saint Martins working on the Grad Dip course, sees the donation as an opportunity for students to comprehend how much time and energy goes into the making of a designer garment, considering how fast-moving fashion can be in the modern era.

“We all want to move away from quick clothing, and it would be good to instil that in our students, to do things more slowly and have a more beautiful finish. For me, it’s about the craftsmanship, attention to detail, the placements, the embroideries, and the addition of the lace onto the garments. The way those pieces are treated and handled, and what is special about it – all those different elements are great for students to see,” she explains.

Maximilian Kilworth, photographer, image maker and visual researcher completing an MA in Fashion Image on the Fashion Communication course at Central Saint Martins, is one student who has already experimented with the pieces.

He used three Valentino dresses – the ones he was more visually attracted to – on an analogue fashion shoot in Regent’s Park, London. Part of a commercial digital fashion project, Kilworth’s visual outcome highlights the importance of being in the real world, especially in outdoor spaces.

“Being in a park, where there’s so much life happening around you, I feel like it can’t necessarily be replicated within a digital space. You don’t get the same feeling, and I wanted to emulate that within the images that I was taking,” he says.

Kilworth acknowledges the privilege of attending a prestigious institution such as Central Saint Martins but believes that it’s crucial for luxury brands to participate in diverse educational settings, going beyond the explanation of the physical value of a garment.

“A lot of people that have come here haven’t necessarily had that experience of interacting with luxury garments. I think that being lucky enough to be around them and use them in a way that you want to, that informs your practice, is beneficial. It could also be really inspiring if the university went into local communities and extended this idea of learning about fashion to younger people who want to pursue a career or an education in something creative,” he says.

With a different approach, other MA Fashion Communication students at Central Saint Martins were inspired by the Valentino donation, using it as part of a collaborative project for the course’s Fashion Interpretations module. Amy Sweeney, Elizaveta Slyva, Hawko Liang and Millie Meikle – with the goal of enhancing the accessibility and global reach of archival pieces – developed an augmented reality (AR) version of a Valentino red dress. Created by Liang, the image can be integrated into social media platforms as an AR-mask.

This is the first time Valentino Vintage has worked in partnership with 1 Granary, exploring archival fashion as a tool for future creativity. The Valentino Vintage project, launched in 2021, motivates its global community to bring their pre-loved clothes to an assigned vintage store, so they can exchange the pieces with the possibility of purchasing a new Valentino garment. The initiative involves seven vintage stores around the world: Madame Pauline in Milan, The Plaisir Palace in Paris, Rellik in London, Recess in Los Angeles, The Vintage Dress in Tokyo, Janemarch Maison in Seoul, and New York Vintage, in New York City.