Representing the creative future

New Waves: Stefan Cooke

For Stefan Cooke, the time spent producing his idiosyncratic garments is as important as the final product. He calls his research processes “amazing journeys” that brings him far and deep into the mind of British aesthetics, and memory-culture. “I get pretty emotionally involved with it,” he tells us a few weeks after his graduation from Central Saint Martins: “I think I was the kind of student who believed wholeheartedly that you get out of the process what you put into it.”

The young Stefan Cooke was born in Crawley in West Sussex, a stone’s throw from Gatwick Airport. After being kicked out of his A-levels, Cooke enrolled somewhat indecisively at Northbrook College near Brighton and began his fashion foundation. After Northbrook, things “went from strength to strength, and then I ended up at Central Saint Martins!” Stefan said. Central Saint Martins provided him the framework to pursue his professional and creative aspirations. “My time at CSM was amazing, totally beyond anything I could imagine. The opportunities that have come about from just being in the university are brilliant. I guess I was the student who wanted to do everything; to try everything.”


Indeed, you get a sense from Cooke’s work that he is a hard-working, enthusiastic experimenter, as he playfully engages and incorporates traditional tailoring, personal doodlings and deconstructed garments into his work. He graduated from Central Saint Martins’ BA Fashion Print pathway, and his devotion to the printing process is highly visible in his work. A whole range of textiles — from nylon tattoo-esque fitted tops to amalgamations of traditional British patterns — come together in hectic but poetic looks, which are joyful, nostalgic, urgent. “As a print student, textiles are a massive part of your work,” he explains about his process. “I’m always looking into trying out new ways of putting fabric together. I don’t just want to print, I want to weave, melt, sew, stick; anything I can do to show my ideas. I guess that’s what’s so brilliant about the print course; everything is open to interpretation, and I believe — especially in terms of my designs — that fabric manipulation is one of the most exciting things.”


Distortion as a manipulative tool has been a central strategy for Cooke’s graduate collection, where he experimented with cutting, stretching and opening fabrics. Long jackets have neatly been ‘undone’ as they are symmetrically pierced, and the printed nylon tops are stretched as they fit the individual wearer. The British sculptor and Royal Academy of Art member (and in fact, Central Saint Martins graduate) Bill Woodrow was one of the main inspirations behind the collection, as he similarly processes and re-purposes found objects; transforming and folding them into new objects while keeping a link of material between both. “There was the idea of making something more out of something else — like cutting fabric away, or shredding it to reveal what’s underneath. I really wanted this element of ‘being caught with your pants down’ to happen too, all with a heavy focus on nostalgia and exploring someone’s past-and-present through layers of clothes.”

Nostalgia is visibly reoccurring in Cooke’s work, as it oozes with a particular British romanticism, or perhaps, melancholia. His full-legged rock n’ roll flame-covered boots are humorous, but used in such a conscious way, that they begin to tell another story: “I guess because they’re about someone’s past. I love the idea of a guy sitting opposite to you on the tube, now in his suit, but once upon a time he was wearing things like that. It’s about capturing someone’s youth in a garment which is pretty much the opposite of the person they are now. I guess that’s why it’s quite sad; the restraint of having to fit in after a while, to get ‘the job’ or to get by. I’m drawn to the quite stereotypical, as I want something everyone can relate to, something quite iconic and ‘rock and roll’ but with a strange twist.” In Stefan’s world, the iconic is embellished in rococo floral cut-outs and worn alongside the traditional and everyday. And, as he embarks on his MA Fashion Textiles at Central Saint Martins, this surely won’t be the last we hear of him.