Complex concepts such as sustainability, gender, and post-colonialism are no longer niche interests but have become ways of thinking about and seeing the world. To use them is a given. That is part of the heritage of previous MA cohorts, who have worked hard to translate these frameworks to fashion, and the work continues for the next. Will there ever be a day when we don’t even need to mention it?
Second-hand garments and textiles were a starting point for most graduates, who let clothes lead the process, and not the other way around. Concepts were developed through manual labour and craftsmanship, leading to organic and intuitive design practices.
Part of that authenticity stems from the graduates’ nationality and cultural background, which heavily informed the design processes. In the past, graduate classes were more culturally homogenous, fitting with the Eurocentric history and traditions of the industry. As a consequence, they fought hard to distinguish themselves by perfecting an already existing design language. Who can master the aestetic codes of the past? Who can be the next Helmut Lang or John Galliano? Being for everyone doesn’t work anymore? This generation seems less interested in that vocabulary, choosing to each speak their own language. Unlike previous years, support schemes or awards are rarely mentioned in future plans. It might be a coincidence, but this generation seems to resist the call to coolness.
Authenticity isn’t just a question of diverse cultural reference points, but about a unique ability to elaborate on small discoveries until they’re grand visions of the world. Each designer wielded a different approach to clothing and making. Finding inspiration in their tiny hometowns, forgotten traditional crafts, or personal souvenirs, proved that precise inspiration leads to big ideas. The collections were conceptual, but never abstract or vague, as the starting points were always firmly rooted in a tangible materiality.
This precision doesn’t mean the work was disconnected from the industry. There were plenty of technical and material innovations that could offer solutions to systemic problems. From kombucha leather to hyper-efficient laser-cutting techniques and disability-inclusive working practices, there was potential for scale.
Their relationship with the internet felt equally local. As a young generation of creatives moved online to do their research, finding inspiration in the endless scroll of Instagram feeds and Pinterest boards, skeptics worried it would flatten our aesthetic references. Depth and diversity would be lost as everybody shared the same easy visual languages. The class of 23 proves them wrong and offers a bright alternative to that future. They know how to navigate online tools to deepen their research and re-create niche pockets in the unstructured virtual spheres. In some cases, they make the conscious decision to reject it entirely.
Post-Brexit, both national and international press have been questioning the future of London’s brimming creative scene. This show proves that talent is still here, the industry just doesn’t know what to do with it. Unlike any other city, London isn’t afraid to embrace young talent, but this always carries the risk of hype. The newcomer is asked to adapt to conventional modes of presentation and production, rather than given the opportunity to propose new rules. Hopefully, this generation will be brave enough to resist the mainstream (and our industry patient enough to let them create their own paths.)
Discover the line-ups, sketchbooks, and research of the 2023 graduates that showed during fashion week yesterday below, and keep an eye out for part two, those who didn’t get the opportunity to present yet, as we’re sharing their work soon!