Representing the creative future

Who Will Make The Cut? Exploring a CSM Womenswear project.

After three weeks of intense pattern making, draping and sewing, the Cutting Project came to an end and it was time for the crit. From researching 20th century designers, focusing on silhouettes and cutting techniques, the Womenswear students had to develop ten designs and more than a hundred drawings over the summer. The brief pronouncedly stated ”NO SURFACE DECORATIONS”, and the aim was clearly to have the students look at different ways of how to construct a garment. As the second years got back from their holidays, they were given a new mission: to create three different looks out of someone else’s summer project.

The students were split up in three groups and were handed three sketches which varied widely in style, cut and shape. On the day of the crit, 120 fitted mannequins were cramped up in the Womenswear studios together with 40 pieces of dark-eyed, weary fashion students. As they presented their garments, the young enthusiasts displayed intricate constructions, tricky seams and successful solutions. They lifted up sleeves, moved around layers of stringy trousers and ruffled skirts, demonstratively waving and pointing in the air like a cry for help after the 48 hour insomnia they had just experienced. The skilled pattern cutters who had been following them during the project, was thoroughly inspecting their final achievements…

”So, this was the last thing you started up with. Am I right?”

Horace Page, Emma Louise Peer and Joël Quadri are three of the students who partook in this three week short cutting marathon.

What was the biggest challenge in this project?

Horace: Probably time frame. I mean, you work with other people’s designs, which you may not like. But that’s probably one of the best things about it as well. You basically need to be more driven and inventive in order to work within those restrictions. It definitely made me a lot faster, and it put some of our first year projects in a totally different light. Like, we had one month to make one garment in some cases. Sometimes when you have loads of time you just mess around, but end up doing the idea you had in first place anyway. It definitely teaches you to compromise your time and just do it.

Emma: The good thing about it was that we didn’t have any time to waste. There are other projects where we can research practically anything, and you end up walking around for several days not really knowing what to do, not getting anywhere. This was the complete opposite. We had to make, what was it? Like, seven garments in three weeks, which is more garments than I’ve made in my entire life. So, at the beginning it was very daunting. You just had to decide on what to do and just get on with it. The annoying thing, though, was that we weren’t able to create anything of a very good quality. The garments we made weren’t of enough standard to relate back to, since they were part of a learning process of cutting techniques we couldn’t entirely master. It wasn’t thorough enough. If we’ve had slightly more time, then maybe we could have perfected things, and be able to look back at what we did and learn more. It was an unbelievable amount of pressure, even for the people who felt comfortable in pattern cutting and making.

Photography by Olivia Langner for 1 Granary

Model:Model: CSM student Ana Andrade wears Juliette Bro’s and Lisa Jiang’s designs, made by Alek Lassement, Samson Leung and Desiree Laidler

After having done an apprenticeship with a renowned tailor in Switzerland, Joël Quadri has several years of clothing craftsmanship tucked up in his sleeve. At the crit, fashion course director Heather Sproat commented on Joël’s work:

“You’ve gotten to the point where you can cut what you see. Now you need to be more ambitious with experimentation, and that doesn’t just mean hard work. You need to get there through frustration, sweat and pure exhaustion.”

Joël: I had to challenge myself a lot more on the creative side rather than from a technical point of view in this project. I definitely realised you still need to be creative even when you’re just making a pattern or a toile, and in how you choose to interpret the design you’re given. I struggled a lot with a big coat I had to make. The drawing was not very detailed, and quite vague, which left a lot of space for me to fill in. It was also hard to judge how much time you could balance out between the more experimental part of it and the final garments. Sometimes you will need more time to work very roughly to achieve a better toile. You need to drape and sculpt, instead of spending a lot of effort to create a flat pattern. I think I got better at making desicions and being a lot more pragmatic.

Emma: I gained so much confidence from this. It was probably the first time I ever drew a flat curve and went ”ok, let’s try this on a stand and see what happens.” The tutors were constantly telling us ”just sculpt, just cover something up with material, just get on with it”, which I think was really healthy for me. Before, I was thinking about patterncutting in a more mathematical way. Always measuring, always making sure I was looking back in all the textbooks. If you’re insisting on always working with two-dimensional patterns, you’ll eventually get stuck.

So, you’re receiving an education renowned for its creative agenda, and get stuck creating someone else’s design. How is this project relevant for an art course?

Emma: It’s quite tough to be at an institution where you’re pushed to be as creative as you possibly can, in everything you do, and have someone tell you that you will be producing someone else’s work within a limit of three weeks. It allows no room for your own creative space, you know. So, it’s like getting back into A-levels. Like actual education, where you’re instructed to mimic a task someone else is practising. It was the same thing with the research part of this project, which challenged everything they’ve ever taught us before! We’re constantly told to develop our own unique ideas as far as we possibly can, and avoid to collect inspiration from what other designers are doing. I’m glad I stuck with it though, I really learned a lot, and having done it, it’s been really useful. But for me, personally, I think it was kind of creatively destructive since you really had to remove yourself from it. I think this was a wake up call for me, since I’m not really sure I want to go into fashion design. I decided at one point that I would actually rather clean toilets than do pattern cutting and sewing, haha.

Joël: It’s a course full of contradictions, even coming from the same person. They contradict themselves so many times. So yes, in terms of inspiration, this is a really dry project. And the fact that you have to produce other people’s garments doesn’t really help. It’s a bit tricky since we weren’t really encouraged to have a dialogue with the designer about the design, as the project was about your ability to create solutions derived from your own initiatives. You don’t know the design, you don’t know the person, you don’t know what they want, or what they’re after. But as a cutter, you still need to have some taste – good taste is a must to become a skilled cutter. That’s what the training is all about.

Crit photography by Anna Nicole Ziesche

The future career many of the current fashion students have in sight, is probably one that only a small percentage of them will be able to accomplish. While fashion courses are already overcrowded, the business grows even more competitive. When counting over 8.000 fashion design graduates in the UK each year, the industry won’t possibly be able to provide designer employments to each and every indebted hatchling escaping their nests. While many are forced to put their dreams on hold, working as a pattern constructor in a company could be a good alternative to gain real life experience from working in fashion. What in college is sometimes overlooked as something you’d normally leave to the technicians, could after graduation be a one-way ticket into the industry and a good opportunity to nurture your skills.

Horace: I really think this is a good practice since it’s one of the only slight realistic projects that we’ll probably have during the course. After graduation a lot of people will be doing this for a while. You’ll be given a sketch, someone will go ”ok, finish this”, and then you will have to solve it by any means possible.

Emma: I always think the fact of how much they expect from us on this course is quite amazing. We have to be able to draw, we have to be able to patterncut, we have to be able to sow, we have to be able to think about ideas, to do sketchbooks and research. We have to find fabrics, be aware of textiles and do fabric manipulations. I don’t think that anyone comes into this course particularly good at everything. People have areas where they’re definitely better. It’s obviously beneficial to have many different skills, and you will certainly have a better understanding of fashion if you’re aware of the many different sides to it. But at the same time, it’s a lot to expect from a single person, while you won’t even do all of these things when entering the industry.

Joël: I think this really teaches you how to compromise with your dreams and your skills, and that is something you’ll need to get used to. It’s always a fight between these two things. What you would like to achieve, with the time, the money, and the skills. You can have an image of where you’d like to be in the future, but if you don’t have any of the means to do any of these things yourself, you won’t go very far.