Representing the creative future

Why is Grayson Perry putting thirty-nine dresses up for auction?

The artist and ceramicist is flogging dozens of designs created by Fashion Students at CSM

Dresses and various ensembles, designed for Grayson Perry’s infamously exuberant alter-ego, Claire, are up for auction. Perry, the renowned artist and Chancellor of UAL, is selling dozens of garments. The outfits have been designed, since 2004, by second-year students on the BA Fashion pathway at Central Saint Martins, as part of a project called “Make Something Gorgeous for Grayson Perry”. The project sees Perry challenge students to create a look that somehow captures the oeuvre and the essence of the artist, embodied by his alter-ego, Claire. The results vary wildly from student to student but the designs are a testament to the limitless imagination of dressing.

“At least sixteen or seventeen years ago, I was on the bus and I heard ‘Natalie, come sit here’. There was nobody I knew on the bus and it turned out to be Grayson,” explains the auction’s catalogue. Natalie Gibson founded the fashion print course at CSM in 1981 and co-instigated the project. Perry was “looking like your old auntie in a sudden skirt and a cardigan,” Gibson explains, “apparently, I said to him, I think my students could do better than that’.” The pair dreamt up the project and every year since fashion students have taken up the challenge.

Each student is given money to cover material costs, and if Perry is impressed by their work he takes it home and pays. This project serves to support the arts economy with all proceeds going back into Central Saint Martin’s Fashion department. The culmination of the project is “like a Cabaret,” according to Gibson. The ceremony, accompanied by music, comprises Perry trying on every outfit. “He does a dance. He brings shoes to match everything,” explains Gibson. “In the year Brexit came out, he bought everything.” Perry creates a ceramic prize each year for first, second and third prize winners.

The entire auction has been a student-led project, with the Fashion Communication cohort heading up the project from the styling and photographing of the garments to the listing and research. Cailee Moy, a Fashion History and Theory student who styled the project, explained a little about the project’s structure. “The turnaround was extremely quick with everything coming together in under 3 weeks,” explains Moy, “the photo shoot took 3 days, with 7 models and a team of 5 students.” The visual identity of the shoot including its set design and colour palette was heavily influenced by the life and work of Perry.

The garments are presented on faceless models, something Moy stressed was central to the project, “the pieces were originally designed solely for Grayson, so we wanted to respect that. The primary-coloured tights tied around the models’ heads in strange ways felt like a humorous approach and turned out great on camera,” explains Cailee.

Designers whose work is up for grabs include Mimi Wade and Maia Bergman. The various ensembles are composed of sometimes subtle, but often obvious references to Perry, including Bergman, who designed a satin dress depicting Alan Measles, Grayson’s childhood teddy bear and a recurring character in the artist’s work. The dress contains “a light makeup stain from one of Claire’s iconic looks.” Also on auction is Koko Kasugai’s colourful Peter-pan collared dress worn by Perry at the Royal Academy of Art summer exhibition party in 2009, on which “some staining is present on the inside of the neck.” The idea here is that the buyer is not simply purchasing a garment but a piece of sartorial, even art history, due to its prior embodiment by Perry.

We’ve taken a look at eight of the unique garments with the help of the students of the Fashion Communication course at Central Saint Martins, who have researched each of the thirty-nine ensembles up for sale.

The auction is open until this Monday the 20th of February.

Mimi Wade

Uniquely dull in its colour palette compared to Perry’s usual attire, this dress, through its print, references Alan Measles. The catalogue notes that aspects of Wade’s contemporary designs are preset in this piece, including the ruffles. The students also looked into the worn histories of the garment, noting the yellowing of the ruffles, and staining of the bodice, “tying only Claire to the wearing of the dress.”

This parachute of a garment is coated almost entirely in lacework and fronted by a hot pink bow. The auction catalogue describes the dress as having “a quintessential Claire silhouette”. The ballooning shape allows for the accommodation of the padding and bras that comprise Claire’s “feminine features,” as the catalogue explains, whereas the “playfulness of Claire’s character” is visualised through the garment’s chaotic composition.

Maia Bergman

This satin dress is also a clear nod to Perry’s childhood teddy bear. The  dress, designed by Maia Bergman was made in 2011, and has been eaten slightly by moths, yet still reflects key visual tropes of Claire’s dressing in its cone silhouette. Bergman has since gone on to form her own eponymous label.

Manri Kishimoto

This striking ensemble was worn by Perry to the opening of his exhibition Unpopular Culture at the modernist De La Warr Pavilion in 2008. The garment, designed by Manri Kishimoto, is boxy in both shape and print. The bottom of the garment contains a pattern of stacked dishes, whilst the rest is filled with a print resembling colourful brickwork.


Koko Kasugai

This dress was worn by Grayson Perry to the Royal Academy of Art’s Summer exhibition party in 2009. With myriad hand-drawn prints in blue, green and yellow alongside puffed sleeves with a Peter Pan collar, this dress serves as a visual nod to the central tropes of Claire’s typical dressing. So it is perhaps not surprising the catalogue notes the presence of staining around the inside of the neck.

Tingzhi Liu

Eye-catching in shape, texture and colour this ensemble was designed by Ting Zhi Liu in 2013. The outfit consists of a lilac jacket, fastened by a ribbon and slashed to allow for the acid green lining to spill through. The tulle dress contains a gradient from purple to green and covers the wearer’s arms bellowing out at the hips to create a conical silhouette. Lily Paisner, a Fashion History and Theory student, spoke to Liu about the ensemble. Paisner explains, “the dress was inspired by the French Riviera, imagining a modern-day Marie Antoinette, traversing down the coastline’.” The words “let them eat cake” are spray painted around the skirt’s circumference. The colours and the garment’s sense of humour are a reference to the work of Perry, “‘the flowers on the skirt are plastic, cut out from a table cloth’,” camp and kitsch, just like Claire.