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How to

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Fashion Educators

Fleet Bigwood

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Business Insiders

Jenny Meirens

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Graduate Shows

Central Saint Martins MA Fashion 2016

FULL LINE-UPS

New Waves: Laura Newton

2015
09th July

Some of the showstoppers of this year’s BA Fashion graduate show at Central Saint Martins were the mesmerising wooden-structured garments by Laura Newton. With her technical innovation and organic color-schemes, the half Kiwi-Brit renegotiates her own cultural heritage that she re-explored during a research trip to her mother’s native New Zealand.

“IN A WAY, NOT KNOWING ALL THE TECHNIQUES MAKES YOUR OUTCOMES MORE CREATIVE AND ORIGINAL.”

It was one attentive tutor at Chelsea’s Foundation in Art and Design course that pushed Laura, originally from York, in a fashion direction. With her keen interest in drawing and painting, she was convinced she would pursue a degree in Fine Art. “My tutor at Chelsea encouraged me to apply for the BA Knitwear at CSM, because she noticed an attention to line and texture in my drawings and thought it might be a good fit,” she says, explaining her path. “I was pretty open to suggestions at the time, so I sort of trusted her on that. As soon as I started the course, I realised that most of the stuff in fashion that catches my eye tends to be knitted or has a hand crafted element.”

The handcrafted takes a central role in Laura’s designs. Her work is remarkably sculptural, often taking the shape of full-body plates or covers, constructed in manipulated wood and knit. Having never knitted, she entered her BA course somewhat blindly. Her first year was ridden by self-doubt, as she tried to get to grips with the difficult technique. However, she eventually learned that knitwear is as conceptual as any other discipline – and that lack of skill can be used actively. “I started to realize that it’s not just about technical skill; it’s about the ideas. In a way, not knowing all the techniques makes your outcomes more creative and original. By the final year, I felt a lot more comfortable with what I was doing.”

“THERE IS SOMETHING SO PREHISTORIC; OTHERWORLDLY, YET TRADITIONAL ABOUT NEW ZEALAND AND I WANTED TO CAPTURE THAT.”

As a testimony to the broad appeal of her design and character, Laura has done a range of enviable internships, from J.W. Anderson and Craig Green to Proenza Schouler and Agi & Sam, where she ended up designing and making all the knitwear for their S/S collection. “I had a lot of fun there, which I think can be a bit of a rare find when interning in fashion,” she says. For her degree collection, Laura began exploring her own cultural roots — her mom being of Kiwi origin. She embarked on an extensive research trip to New Zealand; where connected with family members, she tracked her own heritage in the local Maori culture, and renegotiated it in her own aesthetic terms. She mentions the color pallete of the vast ethereal landscapes, Maori woodcarvings and the traditional clothing as some of her main inspirations. “There is something so prehistoric; otherworldly, yet traditional about the country and I wanted to capture that.”

Whilst in New Zealand, Laura began researching traditional Maori techniques, such as stripping and drying flax plants, and creating rigid patterned tube structures. They are organic, yet function as a hard kind of shield for the body, and thus symbolise an interesting duality. “I was inspired by the structural quality of these garments as well as the geometric patterns created on them, so that was really the starting point for my knit development,” she tells us. “I played around inserting and weaving materials inside knitwear using elastics, wire and mainly balsa wood to distort and give structure to the fabric.” Combining the wooden structures with a variety of knitting machines — some manually operated and some computer programmed — she achieved a particularly refined look somewhere in between tradition and technology. “I quite liked the fact that on one hand, my collection was handcrafted and used natural materials, and on the other hand, I used this weird robot knitting machine to bring it all together.”

“YOU NEED TO GET OUT THERE AND WITNESS THE BIGGER PICTURE, RATHER THAN SIMPLY GOOGLING IMAGES — THAT’S WHEN CULTURAL REPRESENTATION CAN GO A BIT WRONG.”

Engaging or representing other cultures can often lead to a problematic case of cultural appropriation, where people and their cultural characterisations are essentialized and framed as some exotic narrative. Newton is aware of this, and insists on a genuine, respectful and self-critical engagement with the ‘otherwordliness’ of New Zealand, with Maori culture, and specifically, its dress forms. “Maori culture is still very much present and celebrated in New Zealand today,” she says. “I think that it can be quite difficult to have a genuine response to something, unless you genuinely get to experience it, which luckily I got the chance to do. You need to get out there and witness the bigger picture, rather than simply googling images — that’s when cultural representation can go a bit wrong.”

The result is a beautiful abstraction from amalgamated cultures and clothing-making techniques, quite simple yet unusual in their shapes. As we ask her about wearability, she agrees that it wasn’t her main focus: “It drifted in and out of my mind whilst I was making stuff. Ultimately, I wanted to tell the story with as little creative restriction as possible. But at the end of the day, I am designing fashion, and I do think that it is important that fashion works on the body.”

Post graduation, Laura is taking a well-deserved break, going back to York to see her grandparents. It won’t be long however, before she’ll once again return to London and CSM to pursue a Master’s degree in Fashion Knitwear. “I’m super happy to have a bit of time off,” she concludes, “but I’m also excited to get cracking on the next project.”

Words Jeppe Ugelvig

Images courtesy of i-D magazine and 1 Granary