Representing the creative future

Experimental Textiles & Visual identity: Sketchbooks

8 CSM BA Fashion Design with Marketing students reflect on developing their brand and exploring sustainable design through textiles

For many Central Saint Martins students, their second year is one of the most crucial stages of their degree. Shedding the freshman mentality of first years and beginning to mature as designers; teasing out visual language, experimenting with textiles, signature aesthetics, and niche identity whilst grappling with the realities of the ever-changing fashion industry – which they’re on the precipice of entering – now with the added anxiety of starting a career in the wake of a globally devastating pandemic and a revolving door of restrictions.

To Fashion Design with Marketing pathway leader, Stephanie Cooper, the announcement of the UK’s third national lockdown presented a unique challenge of running two separate projects online, Experimental Textiles and Visual Identity, whilst facilitating the industry collaborations FDM has become renowned for and preparing students for their imminent placement year in the industry. In an enlightened decision the two projects were combined, to buy students more time to adapt to their new working conditions but also to deliver a uniquely pluralistic approach to design and marketing. The textiles phase taught in collaboration with Phoebe English, pushed students to create a garment with sustainably developed textiles, made through experimental techniques. Then through the expert guidance of Charles Jeffrey, students translated their garments into images, films, and publications. Both whilst students worked at home eagerly awaiting the green light to return to Granary Square, which they finally did on the 8th of March. We spoke to eight FDM students on their process of completing such a unique project and their thoughts on fashion one year on from the first lockdown.

Morgan Johnson

“To introduce you to my concept I would like to transport you to a deep southern bar and grill in the middle of nowhere. It all starts when Betty, the character I’ve created, turns up in her rusty Cadillac in search of a shag. When she enters, she’s instantly transported to a club fantasy world… I intended to make something very sensual, sexy, and sculpted to the body, so I could really capture the character and my own little world I’ve created. My final garments were definitely not what I envisioned when I first started the project but what I’ve made is something that fully represents me and my vision.

“I was repurposing necklaces sourced on eBay and using materials my mum was sending me from local DIY shops back home in Devon” – Morgan Johnson

Focusing on textiles really directed me into areas I never thought I would venture into. I was repurposing necklaces sourced on eBay and using materials my mum was sending me from local DIY shops back home in Devon, combining them to create something fabulous. Working with Phoebe, I started making my own unconventional rules for designing and making, which I think gave my work a more personal touch. I always consider my muse, world, and overall vibe I’m projecting: my brand is lit-rally sexy vibes, so when we worked with Charles to produce imagery I wanted to go for a more raw look that embodied that after-party glow. I like to think I’m designing for people who want to look trashy but in a really chic way.

“Having to constantly transfer my work to a digital format has really grown my layout skills and my own visual language.” – Morgan Johnson

When we returned to the building we were most excited about using the laser cutter and pulling hot looks after working from home for months. I really had to work on my cutting and making skills but honestly, I don’t think being away from college has affected my output, I kind of just went with the flow, evolving my skills in all areas of design and art. Having to constantly transfer my work to a digital format has also really grown my layout skills and my own visual language. After this I need a long break from London, I want to spread my wings and make love around the world, but I’m looking forward to the upcoming roaring ‘20s, we all need some glitz and glam to help us get over these dark times.”

Morgan Johnson's sketchbooks

Dillon Grace

“I enjoy playing with a sense of dystopia in my work. I decided to explore preservation through rocks, amber, and artificial intelligence as a nod to the unimaginable possibilities of the future. I was inspired by Pierre Huyghe and the physical manifestations of time. I came across the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia, it’s known to be the most unliveable unoccupied surface on Earth, which really captivated me when reflecting on near futures and ongoing narratives surrounding human and artificial imprints on places of immense ecological complexity. I designed a unisex look with organic seams, slashed surfaced, and interchangeable garments that obscure the silhouette, continuing on the theme of wearing down over time.

“The pandemic has made me concerned for my year out, but I’m actually more worried about the impacts of Brexit, it feels like everyone’s fashion education is a financial sacrifice.” – Dillon Grace

Previously, I thought textiles were as far from my aesthetic as you could get. Textile design always felt random and intuitive, which was intimidating because I have a meticulous approach to everything. If anything, being on FDM is all about taking ownership of literally everything you do, we’re taught authenticity all the time which is so important. Young designers all want to be sustainable but the recycling and repurposing culture doesn’t work for everyone, but with the pandemic, it seems like one of the only ways to work sustainably. Doing this project with so many restrictions has really made me question what sustainability means, so being able to speak to Phoebe and Stephanie to find solutions has informed me how I’ll work in the future. I think it’s hard to think about branding whilst I’m still exploring my experimental, artistic years as a student. I hold great value to aesthetics, but I’m also hugely inspired by other creative disciplines: music, art, dance. I’m attracted to the idea of working on more collaborative creative projects. Charles is great because he definitely thinks in a similar way to me, it’s inspiring to speak to someone who feels passionate towards members of our community that offer talents that can elevate fashion to a whole new dimension.

I find comfort in the knowledge that nobody can do what I want to do better than I can, so it feels great to know that everything I’ve made since the pandemic began has been me and my thoughts only. Without the usual distractions of socialising and partying, I’ve worked hard and been able to check in with myself on how this project embodies my creative integrity. The pandemic has made me concerned for my year out, but I’m actually more worried about the impacts of Brexit, it feels like everyone’s fashion education is a financial sacrifice. It’s so normalised, but I’ve got positive energy… or maybe I’m in denial. I’m hoping that as we’re slowly being able to return to normal, that there will be more of that fun, hedonistic, and collaborative energy in fashion to work hard on fewer big projects. I’m excited to shake things up.”

Dillon Grace's sketchbook

Elaine Man

“At its core, my work is playful and aims to elevate the seemingly mundane. My project is a celebration of sisterhood, inspired by the relationship between me and my two best friends, Aaliyah and Bavani. In literature, the rule of three comes from the idea that everything that comes in sets of three is complete – the female trio, the Three Graces, Charlie’s Angels. I wanted to explore the melting pot of our multicultural upbringings, drawing from our collective reminiscing of memories, mixing references to childhood television shows, bus journeys, movements within cheerleading, and styles of Tamil dance, the Pre-Raphaelite sisterhood paintings, and Victorian seances. The garments I’ve created are multi-layered looks to capture the transient; freezing memories in time using cyanotype printing techniques. In such a difficult and fast-moving time there’s comfort in the past, just like re-watching old tv shows or looking at old photographs.

“The pandemic has really emphasised inequalities and systemic racism within the industry and highlighted the dangers of overconsumption.” – Elaine Man

Creating my own textiles admittedly hasn’t always been at the forefront of my process, as I usually focus on print. This project has definitely opened my eyes to the possibilities and has unlocked a new part of my work – textiles have pushed me to be bolder with my materiality. Sustainability has always been a key consideration in my practice, and over the summer I developed bioplastics from plant waste. I’m currently growing kombucha leather and exploring natural dyeing by using food scraps. FDM students are always encouraged to realise their aesthetic through creating a narrative, which is where my design process starts. I was working on a 3D animation for about two weeks and the file corrupted so it vanished overnight, but Charles helped me realise that a sudden loss is part of the process and in some ways, the aesthetic of my eventual outcome would be pushed further and evolve to become something I didn’t expect.

The pandemic has really emphasised inequalities and systemic racism within the industry and highlighted the dangers of overconsumption. The forced loneliness and isolation, working physically away from spaces I associate with fashion, encouraged me to reflect and figure out what’s important to me. I also have a new, more positive relationship with my own body through draping and fitting on myself, it’s become an essential part of my process. I’m looking forward to my year out, we’ve all found ourselves questioning whether we still want to be part of the fashion industry but I think being conscious of your own participation is where you start to make important changes.”

Gemma Dolan

“I would describe my visual identity as poetic, powerful, and romantic, but also practical. Everything I make is founded in the beauty of the past, but I work towards translating this into a suitable medium for contemporary society, though still imbued with mysticism. I was initially inspired by a series of photos: Ghosts of the Faithful Departed by David Creedon that explores abandoned homes in Ireland and the theme of emigration, which is prominent in Irish history. I wanted to create a visual narrative of memories and identities blending with a physical space. The garments for this project are an amalgamation of my identity as an Irish woman and of the physical spaces I grew up in that allowed me to foster the identity that I now rely so heavily on to create my work.

I’ve always had a great appreciation for textiles, it was the pathway I specialised in on my foundation at CSM and my grandparents worked in fabric import. Textile development is an opportunity to bring a real depth and narrative to one’s work. Before, I’d leave materials to the final stages, but now I appreciate how textiles can really change the final outcome, and I strive to find harmony between shape and material. Phoebe gave me the confidence to reimagine and repurpose materials I wouldn’t have considered before. Many of my samples started as curtains and bedsheets that had been stored in my grandparents’ attic for years. Repurposing unwanted materials is an opportunity to inject an unmatched individuality into every piece, which is something I will bring into all of my future projects. I’ve come to realise that branding and e-commerce can stretch far beyond traditional imagery, and with Charles’s guidance I collaged family photographs with excerpts from a journal that I kept over the lockdown. This process has been an opportunity to create fresh visual imagery but also to consider what I stand for as a young designer and what message I would like my visual identity to promote.

“I’ve been able to explore my Irish heritage working from my parent’s house in Dublin instead of in the studios at CSM.” – Gemma Dolan

I think that everyone had that initial stage of overpowering aggrievance when the pandemic hit but in learning to cope with tragedy, panic, and this state of unknowingness, I’m certain that as a young designer I am now well equipped to face whatever the future holds. I’ve been able to explore my Irish heritage working from my parent’s house in Dublin instead of in the studios at CSM; sifting through albums of family photos and rooting heirlooms, I even used my communion dress for draping. I think the pandemic has distanced me from that merciless, non-stop attitude that dominates the fashion industry. Hopefully, this is an opportunity for brands to reconsider their approach. Maybe I’m naive in thinking this but I try to stay positive and I suppose that at the very least it will be refreshing to meet people from further afield after so long in lockdown.”

Gemma Dolan's sketchbook

David Eniolu

“A grey area between pure fantasy and raw realism, my project is inspired by the ‘Ivory bangle lady’, a 4th-century Black woman whose skeleton was found in York in 1901, which revealed she migrated here from North Africa. She was buried among luxurious jet and ivory bangles, she was a wealthy woman of high social status. She shows that Black history is intertwined with mainstream British history dating back to Roman Britain. I wanted to create something that looked controlled and elegant, parallel to the notions of the times, taken from this primeval aesthetic with a modern approach, and present it in a way that showed displacement. I buried all my fabric in my back garden so it would oxidise, and I then followed this with various natural and object-dying techniques. My silhouettes reference Roman sculptures, with heavily pleated and bias-cut drapes. I also referenced various Northern and Eastern African tribal jewellery, thinking about how I could take an accessory and transform it into something on the body.

“Charles [Jeffrey] has helped me find my process, he really encouraged me to find my voice and reasoning for why I do what I do, which is definitely a personal process.” – David Eniolu

Textile development is fundamental to transform fabric, making it something personal to me and my work, and it makes a huge difference to the final garment. This project has allowed me to discover new techniques within textile design and play around with new ideas. Phoebe is a pioneer for sustainability within her practice which is really inspiring to see. I explored how I could be sustainable within each step of my process; I only used natural or found objects to create dyes and I reused as much old fabric and upcycled leather as possible. Being a photographer as well as a designer, I’m constantly thinking about how my garment will register and translate through an image. It was interesting to work on both projects simultaneously, as I would normally start planning a shoot after my garments are finished. Charles has helped me find my process, he really encouraged me to find my voice and reasoning for why I do what I do, which is definitely a personal process.

Working in my living room every day, on my own and not having the tutors and technicians there to ask for advice has definitely made me more independent as a designer. I do miss the CSM energy, normally we work around each other every day, constantly seeing each other’s work, however, this separation has made that part impossible. But the amount of ‘alone time’ I had allowed me to really get into the character of the ‘Ivory Bangle Lady’, without any outside distractions. Next year I want to work on my craft and technical skills to find myself even more as a designer in preparation for my final collection. I’m definitely still optimistic and if I do end up staying in London then that’s the path I’m meant to take.”

Maeve Gillespie

“I’ve created garments that reflect the complex and contradictory notions of fashion and sustainability. The garments are a combination of garbage I have been collecting from my daily walks around London and my own biodegradable agar-agar material. The agar-agar is an algae and creates a textile that has a translucent, latex-like texture with a diaphanous appearance which contrasts with the grimy plastic bags and bottle caps we see discarded on the street. I was inspired when I found recycled art installations around the canals by Hackney Wick. The process of manipulating and amalgamating these different materials became a way for me to make sense of the seemingly absurd yet imperative goal of sustaining human life. The wealth of information held in what we throw away gives discarded objects a certain richness and potential to be elevated to beautiful cultural artifacts. There is poetry in the garbage.

“Through fashion, I can repurpose waste and discover new ways of making. It is refreshing and encouraging to work with Phoebe [English] as she has so much experience tackling sustainability in the industry.” – Maeve Gillespie

I find the process of textile making very instinctive and the textiles help to guide my designs to much more exciting outcomes. By making my own textiles I have total control of my designs. Material is so important as it holds not only visual language but social, historical, and political meaning. I’m hesitant to use the word sustainability as it’s becoming increasingly abstract but the possibility to make a positive change in a broken industry is what gives me purpose as a designer. My practice is rooted in small acts of regeneration. Through fashion, I can repurpose waste and discover new ways of making. It is refreshing and encouraging to work with Phoebe as she has so much experience tackling sustainability in the industry.

It has been illuminating to see how unchangeable traits of the industry like month-long fashion week schedules and live shows have had to adapt so quickly. Seeing this malleability on such a mass scale is exciting because ideas that seemed unattainable are now sought after. Designing during Covid, I have developed a more intimate relationship with my work, it’s my main source of excitement and entertainment. Lockdown has afforded me time to really focus on my work, step away from machines and rediscover the sacred slowness of hand sewing. Prior to Covid, I was beginning to question my commitment to the fashion industry but funnily enough, the pandemic has led me to fall back in love with fashion not only for its escapism but for its power to inspire and create change.”

Maeve Gillespie's sketchbooks

Johnny Maclean

“I took initial inspiration from the old seat coverings on London tubes, the colours and geometrics they consist of. They were made by established designers and the other elements of the old interiors made me want to explore this level of craftsmanship we don’t often see nowadays. I started looking at old furniture, motifs in decaying buildings, and other found objects that had a feeling of nostalgia or age about them. This led me to explore block and mono-printing, wood carving, and woodworking with pieces of reclaimed wood. I wanted to craft a sculptural piece that embedded these beautiful old pieces of wood, alongside dyed and printed pieces of canvas and recycled material. I chose a muted colour palette for the majority, but also looked at creating some small bright highlighted prints to contrast and shine through the rest of the garment.

“It’s depressing to realise that almost half of my degree so far has been spent in lockdown and I’ve missed out on a lot of time using the workshops and studios. But on the other hand, it’s forced us to work in different ways and become more resilient. ” – Johnny Maclean

I think textiles are important in my design process. I often want to be able to say more in a garment than just shape and unaltered fabric. However, there are instances where a textile or print I’ve made can be purely inspirational and lead to an outcome containing neither of those. While it’s not a necessity to me, it’s a significant aspect of my design practice. As a student, designing sustainably can be very challenging. We often don’t have easy access to sourcing sustainable materials, or they come at a higher cost, so many of us adapt – I sourced second-hand wool and fabric from eBay and all over London. Aesthetics are very important within my design practice, it makes a project far more immersive when you’re thinking about whether your garments can be translated into an installation, film, or an editorial. Charles has helped me think less of them as two separate practices and more of just an extension of my work.

It’s depressing to realise that almost half of my degree so far has been spent in lockdown and I’ve missed out on a lot of time using the workshops and studios. But on the other hand, it’s forced us to work in different ways and become more resilient. We’ve also had fantastic support from tutors. When I started the project during yet another lockdown I was initially struggling to find inspiration and motivation. However, as the project progressed, I decided to learn a new skill that led me to explore woodworking and printing. After university, most of our work will probably be presented online so it’s also been helpful having to adapt our work to be shown digitally, but I much prefer presenting in person, as does everyone.”

Johnny Maclean' sketchbooks

Joao Pedro Sartorelli

“Reeling, futuristic, utopian, lush, made under the moon, deep below the concrete. When I was around five years old, I was with my mom down by a river back home in Brazil, looking at small fish. She told me as fish grow they develop scales and that humans are no different, our experiences are our scales and they develop and shape who we are. I’ve always remembered that phrase throughout my life. My goal was to encapsulate my childhood memories which have influenced the prints, fabric choices, silhouettes, and accessories for this project. I tried to make functional garments and accessories that look hard and rigid to the eye, but soft and flowy when touched by wind or skin.

“I’ve been experimenting with different techniques, which I probably wouldn’t have don’t if I wasn’t in lockdown; I’m obsessed with finding new ways of making clothes without the need for sewing.” – Joao Pedro Sartorelli

I was always interested in textile development but this was the first time I’ve made my own textiles from scratch. I discovered a lot of new techniques that will be really helpful in the future and it’s something I enjoyed doing. Being completely sustainable can be really challenging. I always try to be sustainable whenever possible, using recycled materials and creating functional pieces which will last a really long time, that’s always my goal. For me, aesthetics come naturally, when I’m designing I’m always thinking about the full picture, how everything will work together and fit in my universe. The visual aspect of this project has helped me realise how important it is to develop your taste level, how your clothes should match your visuals, your collaborators, and everything else that surrounds you.

Working in such chaotic times made me realize how important the small moments and rituals throughout my day are for my spirit and my design identity. Although nothing compares to working in the studios, lockdown made me look in places that I’ve never thought of looking before, and gave me more time to work on myself. I can say Covid took a lot of things away, but taught me to feel more empathy and have gratitude for what I have. I’ve been experimenting with different techniques, which I probably wouldn’t have don’t if I wasn’t in lockdown; I’m obsessed with finding new ways of making clothes without the need for sewing. I can’t wait to go on my year out: my vision is still the same, but my purpose is a little different. I’m focused on creating long-lasting garments that bring new functions and comfort into people’s lives, while also transmitting messages that are important to me.”

Joao Pedro Sartorelli's sketchbooks

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