Representing the creative future

One year out

How well do creative courses prepare students for the reality of post-graduate life? The CSM BA Womenswear class of 2018 share their thoughts.

“It’s a really strange time of life, transitioning from university where your immediate future is kind of mapped out for you, to post-graduation where your future is something you have to choose and make for yourself. The not-knowing is scary, but at the same time I don’t think I’d really want to change that.” – Lisa Jiang

As post-graduate unemployment looms, the horrors of student life are suddenly caught in a different light. Persistent deadlines, surviving on minimal money and eating discounted cheese and onion sandwiches all seem less humiliating once the prize for creative accomplishments transcends from grades to payslips. Outside of university walls, technology keeps turning over, Brexit doesn’t necessarily mean Brexit and a climate disaster is emerging on our doorstep. Can creative education present a curriculum for the increasingly volatile reality of life after university? 

Whether or not the universities are failing to equip students with the right tools to enter the fashion industry, there is a degree to which the industry is failing to adapt to cultural and social changes. We are facing ecological decay as a direct result of relentless consumerism. New, sustainable business models will have to emerge that are not dependent on excess and material surplus. And, however necessary it is for students and markets to be adaptable, what are the ethics of educating students for a business based on mass production in a time of mass extinction? 

Constructive mentoring, accessible studio space, and time to cultivate creative aspirations all generate opportunities for students to dedicate themselves to disruptive and unruly design thinking. It breeds not only couturiers, but philosophers, sculptors, engineers. Breaching boundaries, entrenching interdisciplinary practices and envisioning utopian realities to this degree are rarely accommodated for in commercial environments. Uncoupling from the college studio often amounts to the abandonment of unfettered creativity, and the compulsion to surrender to secluded parts of a standardised production line. In this process of unlearning there is an element of alienation, as students are forced to face the demands of a profit-driven industry – or ‘the real world’, as they call it. The disconnect between recent graduates’ ideals and the reality of working life is similar to the incompatibility of fashion’s growth model and a world of finite resources. Perhaps it’s time to question their ‘reality.’ 

For the 2018 graduates of Central Saint Martins’ BA Womenswear, collaboration freed them from the competitiveness that rises from meritocratic education systems. As they fled the CSM nest last year, they joined forces with stylist Mariana Munoz and photographer Amanda Fordyce to create a group editorial questioning the reality they faced and the disconnect they felt. Looking at immersive technologies and the aesthetics of augmented reality, they transformed the drawing studio into an alien marketplace. A year later, they share their thoughts on post-graduate reality and how their experiences have shaped them since that editorial. 

Ruffle top by Lisa Jiang
Suit and shirt by Fabio Frasca
Painted jumpsuit by Annie Mackinnon
Top by Fabio Frasca. Skirt by Desiree Laidler.
Painted jacket and shorts by Samson Leung

What have you been up to since you graduated?

Margaux Lalanne: I had the opportunity to travel to Tokyo after being offered a job as a junior designer. But I began to realise I’m not interested in working in the fast fashion sector, so I’m now in a studio that employs my skills in theatre and on screen ventures. This gives me the ability to reflect on designs in a more performative and interactive way.

Fabio Frasca: I’ve been working at Burberry as an assistant designer.

Lisa Jiang: After graduation, I was working at Iris van Herpen for a few seasons. I’ve always been interested in parametric design and interdisciplinary practice, and the way new technologies are integrated within the creative industries. Since then I’ve been working at Philip Beesley’s architecture studio in Toronto as an experimental designer, developing new fabrication techniques with a focus on 3D parametric design.

Samson Leung: I was planning to study film at a fine art school, but instead I ended up on the MA Fashion Womenswear course at CSM.

Annie Mackinnon: I’ve developed my work to become more video and exhibition focused, and have taken part in exhibitions in LA, Xiamen and Leeds. Over the past three seasons I’ve also worked at Molly Goddard as a pattern cutter and making show dresses, and have just started an MA at the RCA.

Vincent Lapp: A month after graduation, I started working for Elizabeth Emanuel in her couture atelier in London as studio and pattern-cutter assistant. In parallel I’ve created the brand ‘AV’ together with my partner Andrea Altmann – we showed our first collection with Fashion Scout during the SS20 London Fashion Week.

Emma Louise Peer: Working enough to pay rent in London. For a period I was doing a relatively high profile fashion design/studio manager job, but I’ve also done freelance design/illustration, and worked in a shop.

Jie Wu: I am studying on the CSM MA Fashion degree.

Beige trousers by Chell Hong. White shirt by Desiree Laidler. Grey trousers by Lisa Jiang. White tunic by Joel Quadri.

Do you feel like you had the skills to do what you wanted when you finished your degree?

Samson Leung: Honestly? Not really. As designers we have to be our own PR, learn how to pay the bills with our creative skills, understand business in the creative world, and so on. I don’t think we’ll ever have all the skills to do what we want.

Fabio Frasca: Working in the industry requires a set of technical skills you just don’t learn at uni, but the creative mindset and the methodical approach that I have been developing in these past years certainly helped me get through the challenges that new projects demand.

Annie Mackinnon: I’ve felt confident in my freelance projects, however the degree lacked in basic understanding of print, knit and other textile processes. I would like to start some form of critical journal focusing on environmental racism and sociopolitical climate change issues, from an art and design perspective. There are definitely aspects such as graphic design for publications, web design and sourcing funding that I am very new to.

Vincent Lapp: We didn’t learn much about the business part of fashion, how to approach buyers, how to find reliable suppliers. That’s something I needed to create my own business, and that I learned while working for another designer.

Emma Louise Peer: I left feeling well educated and optimistic for the future; though on reflection, let down by the lack of career support, and with an unrealistic idea of the realities of employment in the fashion design industry. 

Suit by Vincent Lapp

“Working in the industry requires a set of technical skills you just don’t learn at uni, but the creative mindset and the methodical approach certainly helped.”

How was post-university life different from what you expected?

Margaux Lalanne: The most challenging and different part was finding the courage and strength to push through without the constant guidance and support that I received during my studies. 

Fabio Frasca: It’s certainly more unpredictable than my school years. When you are attending a course you have a calendar, you have long terms goals and deadlines. In the fashion industry your whole team can change in two months, so you have to be more flexible.

Lisa Jiang: Working for an architecture company was something I never expected. But there’s a lot of overlap in terms of aesthetics and design process, and it’s been really interesting to research and experiment with fabric sampling techniques from a different angle.

Annie Mackinnon: I never thought about how little time I would have for personal practise working full time.

Vest with knitted arm by Chell Hong. Blue dress by Marguax Lalann. Wool coat by Yuki Kaga.

“When you are attending a course you have a calendar, you have long terms goals and deadlines. In the fashion industry your whole team can change in two months, so you have to be more flexible.”

What does living in London mean to young fashion designers?

Samson Leung: Hope.

Lisa Jiang: Out of all the major fashion cities, I feel like London has the strongest support system for young designers. I love the London fashion collections because they still have that edge of student sensibility, where self-expression takes precedence over the media’s reaction or commercial viability.

Jie Wu: Freedom and a high level of acceptance.

Fabio Frasca: I guess it means having resources at your hand: libraries, museums, vintage places. But it also means being distant from Europe, where things are actually sampled and made, even more so now with Brexit.

Vincent Lapp: It is a financial struggle for young designers. Your first position after graduation will probably not get you a very high salary. If you create your own label, you’ll have to find resources to support both your business and your personal life. And London is not a cheap place to live. This is true when you are a student, but even more so when you start working.

Bodysuit by Wanbing Huang

“BA was easy, and the world out there is tougher than you think. I should’ve spent my time trying to enjoy myself to the fullest as a student, rather than agonising over post-graduate life.”

What do you wish that you knew one year ago?

Samson Leung: BA was easy, and the world out there is tougher than you think. I should’ve spent my time trying to enjoy myself to the fullest as a student, rather than agonising over post-graduate life.

Margaux Lalanne: I wish I would have accepted earlier on that I’m not expected to work for a big enterprise after graduating from this course. That working on more personal projects has actually always been just as valid as anything else.

Vincent Lapp: I wish I knew exactly what direction I wanted to take with my personal work. I had a rough idea, but it took me a few months to find the right balance between my job and my own business development. So it delayed the launch of my brand slightly.

Annie Mackinnon: How fun going to pole dancing classes is. 

Rubber dress by Emma Louise Pier. Multicoloured dress by Jie Wu. Trench coat by Joel Quadri. Kimono jacket by Lesley Siu

What have you learned from the last year?

Lisa Jiang: I’ve met a lot of crazy talented, intelligent people over the past year. It’s been amazing to learn from them about 3D modelling, wearable kinetics, multi-disciplinary design and the business side of fashion. I feel like I’ve learnt more about the direction I want to move forward with in my own work, though it’s definitely something I’m still trying to figure out.

Emma Louise Peer: I’ve become more aware of how damaging the fashion industry is. I’ve been hyper-aware of the ethical and environmental problems ingrained in the industry since my placement year. But the distance I now have has lead me to fully understand the widely accepted capitalist, consumer-driven stance of the industry as a whole. 

Annie Mackinnon: How crucially important it is to really focus on sustainability and climate change, and how untruthful the fashion industry still is about all of this.