“There’s a lot of ticks and crosses all over Granary Square now, it’s kind of like being back at nursery. “
9 Central Saint Martins’ final year fashion design students share how the classes are run, how “blended learning” works, and how much they miss being stressed together..
Last week, Central Saint Martins’ final year fashion students were some of the first to return to the Granary building after its sudden closure in March. Now, they’re preparing to embark on their magnum opus, the crucial six look graduate collection. How are Central Saint Martins’ current group of final year designers preparing to design their final collection and begin their careers? Not only has the pandemic drastically changed their workspaces; perspex screens, online learning, and the fate of the iconic CSM Press Show up in the air after it was replaced with an online presentation for the class of 2020. It seems like the pandemic has forced the students to question the industry they’re on the precipice of entering and acknowledge the privilege of things they were taking for granted, such as using a knitwear machine or being at the library until late. In an effort to bring about much-needed changes, the new generation of fashion designers is overhauling their entire design process. We spoke to 9 Central Saint Martins’ fashion students at the beginning of their final year who shared their experiences of returning to education during a pandemic.
“There’s a lot of ticks and crosses all over Granary Square now, it’s kind of like being back at nursery. “
“I think the biggest drawback is having to book the library and print rooms, you need to be organised, there’s no room for improvisation.”
Annalisa Favi, Fashion Design with Print
“When the initial wave of the pandemic hit, I was on my year out. I naïvely thought that everything would probably be back to normal when we returned for the final year. The reality of the situation hit quite hard on my first day back. After spending a year working in big teams it feels strange not being allowed to interact with each other, it completely changes the energy of the studio. I think the biggest drawback is having to book the library and print rooms, you need to be organised, there’s no room for improvisation.
“Although I feel very lucky to find a place with a studio space and a garden, it does get very lonely working from home and I feel very anxious about missing out on anything. “
Blended learning will never replace face to face design tutorials or support from the technicians, I think at the moment we all just feel lucky to still be able to come in and see our tutors, compared to other universities. I managed to find a really good deal on an apartment which I’m sharing with my boyfriend. Although I feel very lucky to find a place with a studio space and a garden, it does get very lonely working from home and I feel very anxious about missing out on anything.
The initial concept for my collection is an ode to Venetian glam, it’s where I grew up. I think the pandemic has influenced my research process to the extent that I want my final collection to reflect who am I as both a person and a designer, which has been affected by spending the past few months in isolation. Fashion shows should always reflect the times we are living in. As the new generation of fashion designers, we will collectively welcome the challenge of creating a contemporary way to showcase our work, even if we have to work with difficult limitations.”
“The booking system is quite off-putting, having limited time in the library, studios, workshops, which were all open access pre-covid”
Benaissa Majeri, Fashion Design with Print
“Returning to CSM was surreal, to be honest, made even stranger by the almost empty building. Everything feels different but at the same time, it kind of feels like I never left. The booking system is quite off-putting, having limited time in the library, studios, workshops, which were all open access pre-covid; not being able to work in a free-flowing manner, everything relies on planning and organisation now.
I think the main thing I’m worried about right now is that I’m not going to be happy with the outcome, but I keep telling myself it’s too early to be worrying about the end. For my research, I’ve been looking into Liminality and the meme culture of Liminal Spaces, the nostalgia, and familiarity in an unsettling image really inspires me. I would love to have a press show, obviously, but the idea of creating something new and unconventional is very exciting to all of us. I’ve made films before and would love to be able to document my collection in that format.
Young designers are starting to radically overhaul our approach to making clothing and the way we present them. I hope that my generation of fashion designers can project each other into a new fashion industry; less dominated by major houses and more about an equal creative field where everyone’s voices are as loud as each other. I would also like to see fashion become more accessible, fashion is and has always been elitist, that’s part of the fantasy, but I don’t think that’s the only way it’s able to exist.”
Boy Kloves, Fashion Design with Marketing
“I’ve had mixed feelings on this year, of course, I was excited to come back and start working on my final collection, but I was really anxious I wasn’t going to enjoy myself. So far, it’s been okay, there are frustrations, but I think that regardless of a pandemic, you have to be inventive to make it through design school. You’re always going to be presented with problems and challenges to design around. This is another one, it’s a big one, but you have to adapt and push forward.
“We’re just getting started with discovering the potential of online presentation, there always needs to be a physical component, but even regular fashion shows are mostly viewed on screens after the actual show happened.”
Before coming back to London, I was living at home with my whole family, including four dogs in California, cutting my patterns on a makeshift table I fashioned on my balcony out a few sawhorses and a slab of old wood; it’s been a lot quieter since I’ve moved back to the UK. Although I’m exploring a few ideas for my final collection at the moment, I don’t want the presence of a pandemic to dictate the design; fashion is always a reaction to the world around us. It’s going to be current but I’m obviously not going to send six models down the runway in Hazmat suits and goggles.
The press show is something everyone works towards from the first year so it’s strange thinking about how we won’t have a ‘traditional’ one. I think that you have to see this as an opportunity to think about how your brand would show a collection, it’s a chance to build a world around your clothes. We’re just getting started with discovering the potential of online presentation, there always needs to be a physical component, but even regular fashion shows are mostly viewed on screens after the actual show happened. The key is finding a way to make it interesting and new.”
Cansu Lisa, Fashion Design with Knit
“We were all excited to return to CSM, but I was scared at the same time. The entire layout of the studios has been changed. We’re only allowed to stand on marked areas on the floor, we aren’t able to move freely and work across the tables as we did before. All of the sewing machines, overlockers, and irons are separated by big screens.
“In my case working around others motivates me, so it’s difficult adjusting to online classes. “
The biggest problem is not having open access to the knit studios. The booking system is incredibly frustrating and we’re only allowed in the building for three days a week which includes the time we’re spending using all of the studios and library, it’s too limited. Working online isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it depends on how you like to work and learn. In my case working around others motivates me, so it’s difficult adjusting to online classes.
I’m anxious about not meeting my own expectations and feeling like I haven’t put “my all” into my collection. I feel quite stressed about the possibility of not having a show. Online presentations, for me, will never replace physical shows, it’s like watching a concert on your phone, you don’t experience the same emotions. You really feel the concept of a collection when you’re physically there and experiencing it.”
“Having the option for online learning is incredible, not only does it make sense from a health and safety perspective, but it allows international students like me to seamlessly continue and progress in their education.”
Dylan Mekhi, Fashion Design with Marketing
“Due to Covid-19, I have not returned to London yet. I am currently living, studying, and working remotely from New York City, where I was previously interning at Telfar and The Row during my placement year. Having the option for online learning is incredible, not only does it make sense from a health and safety perspective, but it allows international students like me to seamlessly continue and progress in their education.
My biggest anxieties go hand in hand with studying remotely, one of the biggest selling points of Central Saint Martins is the physical building and the overwhelmingly creative and innovative space that it houses and fosters. The thought of missing out on this energy definitely makes me anxious and frustrated. But, I’m finally able to properly begin to articulate the concepts for my final collection; an autoethnographic vessel, rooted in the exploration of the self, individualism, and essentialism through community. An in-depth examination of my culture, heritage, and personal history through a gay Afro-Caribbean American lens.
The graduate press show was also one of the main reasons I dreamed of studying at Saint Martin’s back when I was in high school, so obviously, the sheer thought of not being able to have that dream come to fruition is quite heart-breaking. Even though I strongly believe that digital ream is an incredibly valid platform for a presentation I do not think a solely online presentation can replace a physical show. Tangibility and all-around sensory experience are key. In regards to the fashion industry, the pandemic really shut everything down within the blink of an eye. Which in a sense, could be a positive thing, the death of the impossibly fast-paced schedule. To simply slow things down.”
Ellen Hill, Fashion Design with Marketing
“Going back to Central Saint Martins was like the scene in Lord of the Rings when Frodo gets reunited with everyone in the Shire after returning from mount doom, but instead of celebrating they all have to wait in queues and wave instead. There’s a lot of ticks and crosses all over Granary Square now, it’s kind of like being back at nursery. However, we’ve got more space now than ever before which is kind of crazy, consequently, my work is a lot bigger than it probably would’ve been had I not been given this extra space.
I’m still deciding on the theme for my final collection, but I did a lot of reading and drawing over the past seven months and I worked for John Alexander Skelton and Kiko Kostadinov on my year out. I want to create my own fantasy world for everyone to come and join me in. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the fashion industry and a lot needs to change, we all know that. I’m very conscious of being part of the negative impact fashion has on the world; if anything, the pandemic has allowed us to re-invent what a how we consume fashion.
“I can’t complain, I’m grateful to have any space at all.”
I’m anxious about a COVID spread in the studios, blended learning isn’t ideal, but it’s a necessary thing to keep people safe, working online does force me to be more organised and I also really appreciate the time tutors have put into making it work best for everyone. I’m mostly working from my home studio which also doubles as the house ironing room. I can’t complain, I’m grateful to have any space at all. I have become a bit of a hermit this year so I’m quick to make a place comfortable and work for me.”
“I’m not against the idea of blended learning, as I think it’s good to adapt to new ways of creating. I just don’t really like the idea of not having access to the building more than once or twice a week and having to book everything”
Faris Bennani, Fashion Design With Menswear
“I was very excited to finally return to CSM especially as I know it’s my last year of university. When I went back for my first classes the building looked very scary; it feels empty with little stickers everywhere reminding you about coronavirus and to stay away from people, it just isn’t inviting at all. I’m not against the idea of blended learning, as I think it’s good to adapt to new ways of creating. I just don’t really like the idea of not having access to the building more than once or twice a week and having to book everything; thank god I have a spacious enough bedroom, so I can mostly work from there. Not all students have all the materials or equipment needed to work from home.
My biggest worry over final year is not being able to get all the fabrics and materials I need, I’m not stressed over if we have a press show or not, I really don’t think it matters. Although I can’t deny that seeing your garments on a physical runway is 100% better than just seeing something on a screen, all that matters is we produce our best work.
Doing fashion during a pandemic has made me way more considerate of what I’m going to make for my final collection; the fashion industry produces collections just for the sake of it without a concept or even a basic idea behind it. For my final collection, I’d like to get married, so stay tuned!”
India Lucila Safdie, Fashion Design with Womenswear
“I didn’t realise how much I missed being in school until I arrived at the studios. It’s so nice to be able to focus on my own work again as well as see all my classmates and be stressed together. The building feels like how you would imagine the world after a catastrophic end of the apocalypse with just a few survivors. It’s so much quieter, there are so many rules and it definitely feels less spontaneous; not being allowed to spend as long in the studios as we did pre-pandemic.
“It’s not what I imagined my last year to be but right now there isn’t another way, I’m happy that we’re able to go in two times a week for now.”
I’m worried about not having enough time to do what I want for my final collection, I rely a lot on using workshops and at the moment the time we get in them is limited. It’s not what I imagined my last year to be but right now there isn’t another way, I’m happy that we’re able to go in two times a week for now. I found a house that I share with my best friend where there’s enough space for an industrial sewing machine and a pattern cutting table with a big window, I always buy flowers and play music while I work.
I’m excited to see where not having a show will take us. We are so lucky we have time to plan alternative ways to showcase our work. I don’t think a physical show is necessary at all and I think it is definitely replaceable. This is the best time for creativity to show up and shake the table; every industry has to adjust, and trying to hold on to the past is pointless. If I’ve learned anything from the pandemic and my placement year it’s that things never go to plan, so I’m just going to focus on doing a collection I love, that represents my views and ideas and see what happens.”
Laura Barnes, Fashion Design with Womenswear
“I always expected my feelings towards CSM to change after leaving for a year, but I still felt nostalgic upon my return. It was bittersweet, being reunited with my friends and tutors, but not being able to hug them or simply hang out and catch up was upsetting. Nonetheless, I’m extremely fortunate to return to the place that has been my home for the last five years. But, you can notice changes and a collective longing for happier times. The attitude is to only come in for the minimum amount of time before it was hard to get us out of the building. I can’t change the situation, but I can stay positive and know that we can still create great things.
“we really do now, more than ever, need to be thinking about how our work can and will impact the world. I think that’s the only way to approach fashion, with purpose and intent. “
I guess I’m worried about my ability to persevere and stay focused throughout the year if I’m working from home. The world is in a scary place at the moment, so I hope it doesn’t take its toll to leave me with a “but what is this all for?” state of mind. But that being said, it’s a good question to ask ourselves, as we really do now, more than ever, need to be thinking about how our work can and will impact the world. I think that’s the only way to approach fashion, with purpose and intent.
I have always been interested in the recontextualization of objects and the playful naivety of understanding them in a new light. Ironically this fits current times perfectly, and it feels like my final collection is the best time to explore this. Honestly, at first, the thought of not having a physical show was a really hard reality to digest. We all knew what we wanted this year to be, we’ve helped previous years on collections and witnessed the spectacle first-hand. I now have a much more focused mindset, we’re already discussing as a group what we’re planning for our own show in 2021. Even before Coronavirus, there was a sense that the world was changing; I am excited for my class to be the newest thinkers to enter the industry, and hopefully be the ones responsible for a new shift in the fashion industry.”