Representing the creative future

The New MA Graduates: Paul Thomson

From his early exposure to utility and workwear, to the incorporation of Shetland wool into his final MA collection, Scotland has played a central role in the oeuvre of Central Saint Martins graduate Paul Thomson. A mid-course crisis led him to discover the potential of an almost-forgotten tufting technique, resulting in a beautiful exploration of texture, volume and shape. We sat down with Paul to discuss having ‘too many bad ideas done poorly’ and how to focus your widespread practice.

“YOU NEED TO GET YOUR HEAD TOGETHER.”

Despite his capabilities, Paul took an interest in fashion very late in his education. He emphasises exactly how small the North Scottish island he comes from is, as we meet him to discuss his graduating collection. “Fashion just wasn’t something that existed for me,” he remembers. “Clothes that people wore were more for utility and workwear, and they weren’t something that you considered in your daily routine.” However, as he relocated to Glasgow to study Painting, he “embraced” fashion, eventually switching courses to study Menswear Print. “I didn’t really enjoy painting very much because I didn’t feel like I was learning practical skills. I thought I’d be learning how to paint, but it was more about deep internal thoughts. What I wanted to do was creating something that someone else could get some pleasure from.” His switch to design was a success, eventually leading him to apply to the prestigious MA course at Central Saint Martins (partially also because of significant anxiety about not getting a job post-graduation). “I felt like I wasn’t finished learning,” he explains.  “I wanted to have a collection of clothes — that’s why the MA Textiles is good if you’re using textiles — you’re going to end up with a portfolio of garments, which really appealed to me. And also, it’s the best course in the country, as far as I’m concerned.”

Paul is quick to admit the intensity and pressure of the first few months at CSM. His small portfolio of textile samples from a small peripheral school seemed suddenly insufficient, and he had to adjust, rapidly. However, the pressure led to Paul working out of fear, producing scattered and unfocused work in his first year. He decided to take a year out. “I was so scared I was going to fail, that I was going to fuck it up, and I just didn’t want to. I’m so glad I took that year out. You need to get your head together.”

‘TOO MANY IDEAS DONE BADLY.”

The final collection of Paul Thomson is a curious testament of the process he went through at CSM. “In my first year I was very confused by what I was doing,” he says, “and I remember one feedback comment was ‘Too many ideas done badly.” That stuck with me; I never focused on one idea for long enough to develop it and make it strong.” During his break, Paul decided to focus on one thing, and one only: an old industrial tufting machine, usually used for making carpets and rugs. After getting a sponsorship from a wool manufacturer, he began experimenting with the machine, exploring the potential outcomes of the almost-forgotten process: “I just played around with different fabrics, different wools, shoved it in the washing machine to see what would happen — and that’s sort of how the collection developed. When I came back to university, I had a big body of work to focus on.”

Paul’s collection is a rough celebration of the form and volume that such a craft-based technique can offer, with voluptuous tufting applied and intermixed with delicate and flowy fabrics. Working in colors of black, white and golden beige, he dwells in the textural details of his garments. For inspiration, he looked at the wild glamour in the photography of Guy Bourdin and Deborah Turbeville: rough on the edges but fully amazing.  “It’s that sort of mid-80’s vibe where it looks like a girl in an amazing glamourous dress has gotten lost in the hills for a few days!” he exclaims.

In his second year, Paul’s experimented with his technique-based practice, applying it to other pieces and objects. He collaborated with luxury shoe brand Todd’s and ended up winning the design brief for his playful application of wool onto a shoe. “It’s really exciting, and something I’d definitely be interested in doing more,” he says.  “It allows for experimentation with different materials and fabrics.”

“I THINK THERE’S A POINT IN YOUR SECOND YEAR, JUST BEFORE THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS, WHEN YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO, BUT YOU’RE THINKING, “DO I HAVE TIME TO DO IT?”

Although Paul found the right track after his mid-way break, second year was no less stressful. “I think there’s a point in your second year, just before the Christmas holidays, when you know exactlywhat you have to do, but you’re thinking, “Do I have time to do it?” I liked that sense of productive stress, as the thing that made me most stressed was the uncertainty about what it was going to become,” he explains. “So when you’re actually at the show, your head is going mental, and then you look back and think, ‘Wow, we did it! Nothing went horrendously wrong!’”

After graduation, Paul is keen on pursuing a job in a textile department of a fashion house — “I feel like that would suit me,” he reflects, “and that’s what I’ve always seen myself doing.” His strong knowledge and interest in craftiness would prove an interesting contribution to designers like Marni and Kenzo, whom he mentions as ideal places to work in: “houses that manage to create textiles where you don’t know how it’s done — that’s the most exciting thing for me.” But until then, there is lots of research and further exploration to be done within textiles: “I think now is the chance to try something new, get back into the library and start doing research. It’s really important not to stop. It’s time for something new for me, at least until a nice job comes along*!”

*P.S.: not long after this interview was conducted, Paul secured himself a position at Burberry.

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