Josephine Sidhu: Post-graduation growing pains
Since graduating from the BA Fashion (Menswear) course at CSM in June, Josephine Sidhu has been holed up at home, trying to figure out her future. Outside of the artschool bubble, she has been questioning what truly makes her tick. As the peers and former classmates she used to compare herself to enter similar periods of uncertainty under quarantine, Josephine is recalibrating her creativity and trying to forge her own path in fashion. Reflecting on her time at CSM, the British designer joins the dots between her final collection and her current situation: it’s all about growing pains.
Under the fluorescent lighting of a high school gym hall, teenage athletes in tighty-whitey underwear relish stolen puffs of contraband cigarettes before the after-school classes their parents make them take. This is the world in which Josephine finds inspiration. For her BA collection, she took a dip in her adolescent memory pool, wading through awkward encounters to find an aesthetic rooted in the collective language of childhood sports.
“I started swimming again during my placement year and I rediscovered all of these weird languages,” she laughs. “Like the knicker trick!” In swimming, that means putting your swimming costume on over your knickers and then doing a one-legged jig so you could take them off without flashing anyone. In ballet, it meant stretching your knickers high over your hip-bones so they didn’t poke out beneath your leotard. After a ten-year break from sports, Josephine had forgotten these tricks, and she had lost the knack to putting on a swimming cap. “I could do it when I was younger, but now it’s so difficult and painful,” she says.
“My starting point was putting on my swimming costume and wearing it weirdly,” explains Josephine. “It’s a menswear collection, but it is very personal to me. It’s about being 14 and wearing a vest that shows your bra straps sticking out. It’s about that awkwardness.” Playing dress-up in front of the mirror, Josephine developed her own creative language, where the functionality of sportswear meets the fumbling experimentation of puberty.
“It’s a menswear collection, but it is very personal to me. It’s about being 14 and wearing a vest that shows your bra straps sticking out. It’s about that awkwardness.”
Her middle name – ‘KAUR’ – is emblazoned in crystals across the butt-cheeks of some trousers in homage to Juicy Couture. These nostalgic touches emphasise the fine line between sexualising teens and celebrating their style. Although the unbuttoned tops add a bit of Lolita childishness, Josephine digs deeper into embarrassment than desire. Referencing Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra’s work on girlhood, she mixes personal memories with universal experiences. Cringing, she recalls running gleefully into the sea as a teenager, wearing a white swimming costume: “I came out of the water and realised the costume was see-through! It wasn’t cute or sexy, because my body was too young to be sexy. It was just embarrassing and uncomfortable. It was hard to get that tension right.”
“I am very, very heavy on the research,” says Josephine. “The design and making happens almost accidentally through the research process.” Her archive of research images spans from sartorial collages (layered outfits documented by her boyfriend) to paper ones. “It’s a lot of sticking stuff down and finding good combinations by seeing things sat in a pile on the floor next to each other,” she explains. “I think collaging is a CSM Foundation course thing.” To ease the process, Josephine researches continuously, building a fluid collection of references that moves with her from one collection to the next. “I have a big folder that I have curated over time,” she says. “When I start a new project, I flip through the folder and see what relates to the theme.”
“You’ve had it in your head for so long and then you finally see it in front of you and you hate everything about it! But you have to work with what you have.”
By the time she presented her graduate collection in June, Josephine was ready to mix up the aesthetic she spent years building. “You’ve had it in your head for so long and then you finally see it in front of you and you hate everything about it!” she says. “But you have to work with what you have. My helper and I took the whole collection into the corridor at CSM and played around with the styling for hours.” The result didn’t match Josephine’s expectations, but heightened her designs in a way she hadn’t anticipated. In the end, the models’ faces were dotted with crystals and the dad sandals dripped with diamantés.
Since the press show, Josephine has been adjusting to life beyond CSM. “I look back on it through rose-tinted glasses, because I miss my time there,” she explains. “When you’re studying fashion at CSM, you think you’re on top of the world. When you leave, you want to keep progressing, but it can be quite stagnant. It’s difficult to adjust.” Her only regret about the collection is that she wasn’t more strategic with it. “I wish I had thought about using the collection to get a job. It wasn’t really ‘menswear’ enough for a menswear job, but I don’t design womenswear either. Perhaps I pigeonholed myself a bit. Hopefully, this is a good time for the fashion industry to reevaluate and slow down, to understand the importance and ease of doing things more differently, with sustainability in mind.”
“When you’re studying fashion at CSM, you think you’re on top of the world. When you leave, you want to keep progressing, but it can be quite stagnant. It’s difficult to adjust.”
When asked about future plans now, Josephine laughs awkwardly. “That question makes my stomach churn. It took me a while to see that I have other options, besides working in a big fashion house. It feels like every time I go on Instagram, I see other people’s success, but it’s not always accurate. I came to terms with the fact that I care a lot about what other people think of my work and how I compare to other designers, because of how competitive CSM could be. Without sounding too cringe, I need to focus on myself and figure out what is going to make me happy.”
Even though she has only been in quarantine for a week, she says, “I have realised how much I rely on communication for my work. I’m glad that I don’t live alone otherwise I think the lockdown would be hitting me a lot harder. I’m really worried for the homeless population who are unable to self-isolate and who don’t have access to facilities they need.” For Josephine, the coronavirus pandemic has magnified her concerns about the different routes available for young fashion designers. “I’m extremely lucky to be able to work from home and continue my job as usual for now,” she says. “But I have freelancer friends who have had all their jobs cancelled, as well as some who work for small brands that won’t be paid when they aren’t working in the office. It’s a really unstable situation. I’ve suddenly realised how disposable fashion is. As long as I’m still getting something out of my own work, that’s enough for me to continue making, but I keep asking myself how far I can get with creativity alone — that concerns me.”