Surviving fashion school? It’s only the first step
A week passed since LC:M ended and Pitti Uomo has been wrapped up — Eugene Rabkin argued that it reflects the current state of fashion — and so all eyes are now focused on the ‘epicentre’ of fashion: Paris. Big and emerging designers mingle in the showrooms, including some of our friends who showed at MAN during the weekend that kicked off all the fashion weeks worldwide (after menswear there’s couture followed by all the womenswear shows). While Wan Hung was preparing his line sheets when we called him last week, Rory Parnell-Mooney was recuperating and getting ready for the next move. Illustrator Masha Reva, an MA graduate from Central Saint Martins herself, picked up her tools to celebrate the work that her fellow coursemate Charles Jeffrey created, as well as London’s menswear virtuoso Craig Green (who we first interviewed back in 2012!), J.W. Anderson, Grace Wales Bonner and Rory Parnell-Mooney.
Amid all of the post-show frenzy backstage, where well established journalists such as Tim Blanks and Lou Stoppard got a head first into the Q&A process, friends and family urging in to congratulate their loved ones, some models rushing to get changed whilst some loitered around for their share of prosecco, we managed to get the chance to speak with the designers – some more briefly than the others.
J.W. Anderson illustrated by Masha Reva
Clad in a beret and a grey pin-stripe suit with a Johnny Rotten t-shirt underneath, Charles (who founded club night Loverboy) manifested his talent in multi-tasking between responding to a journalist whilst blowing kisses and waving goodbye to friends of his.
What role does Loverboy play in informing your work?
Well, Loverboy is a laboratory for the work. The artwork that we do for it kind of informs the prints, the colours; the people who exist in that space are essentially my primary research. The previous collections have all been photographed by ourselves: the clothes, how we wear it… All those small quirks are things that we end up applying onto the garments afterwards.
Were there any challenges you had leading up to the show?
The obvious ones are things like existing in London and trying to be creative. Actually, I find this collection a bit more of a breeze, because I really had a great team of people helping me. I had a pattern cutter and a seamstress — people who are absolutely amazing. They really helped me to realise things that I was maybe not so confident in doing myself. My confidence level with pattern cutting is quite low, so the fact that I was able to realise a lot of shapes quite quickly, because of all these people, made things a hell of alot easier for me!
What advice would you give to graduates who are thinking of (or about to) presenting their first show?
Focusing on knowing what they like and what they’re good at, and being able to hone in on that. In terms of presentation: using that same process to inform it. If you like things really neat and tidy, then concentrate on that and indulge in it. If you like things messy and crude, like I do, then indulge in that!
Congratulations on the show! Can you tell us a little bit about what your ideas were for the collection?
It was about different types of spirituality, and accessing history in a way that isn’t scripted.
Is there anything you’d advise emerging designers to focus on in particular?
I think designers should go at their own pace and not feel pressured. I’m trying to do things at my own pace and really have the time and the space to do what I do.
What were some of your ideas behind this collection?
Well, the clothes are a kind of military uniform, bedtime uniform, all mixed together.
As a Saint Martins graduate, what advice would you give to fellow Saint Martins students who are about to graduate and enter the crazy world of fashion?
[Laughs] What’s important, as Saint Martins always teaches you, is to do it your own way. It’s very self-motivated. I never think there’s a formula. All the students who come out of there are so different, and it reflects in all of the Saint Martins designers who are showing for Menswear.
Green quickly dashed off to greet his lovely grandmother, who was eagerly waiting beside us. Unfortunately, Rory had left quickly after the show, but we rang him up over the weekend for a chat.
Hey Rory! How are you? Have you managed to get some rest since the show?
Yeah, good! I got home on Friday evening around 10 o’clock and got up really late on Sunday morning.
No, I was not in the mood. [Laughs] I just couldn’t. We were all supposed to go for Charlie’s Loverboy, but I just couldn’t handle it.
How did you think your show went?
I feel like this show rounded off my three seasons with MAN really well. Not really a closing, but almost like a nice roundup of everything I’ve covered before, but in a more grown-up collection. I don’t have that after-show feeling where you look back and think ‘Eurgh, I hate everything.’
Is that quite common?
I think so. A lot of designers feel that way literally the day after the show, and I think we should all just move on to something new, you know?
Are you a big Placebo fan?
Yeah! All of that music has always been the stuff that I’ve been into. I listen to a really wide variety of music, but that was the music I liked when I was 14-15 years old. I still listen to Nirvana and Placebo. It’s the music that I put on in the studio, and force all the interns to listen to, and they’re like “I don’t know who any of these people are…”
Have you ever seen that really old interview of Brian Molko with Simon Amstell where he describes his nether regions as “heavy, dark and pendulous”?
No, I haven’t, but that’s perfect! I’d like to steal that quote for something. It’s the exact reference I was trying to get across.
What kind of challenges were you faced with while creating this collection? Has it gotten any easier?
The challenges kind of get bigger, in a way. With the first collection, I had never done anything that ‘big’, so that was a massive challenge in the first season. Certain things get easier, and other things get more difficult. We’re now working with a lot more factories, so we’re dealing with production and collection at the same time.
Would you have any advice then on what fresh graduates can do to deal with all of it?
If somebody is graduating and they want to go on to do their own thing, they should sit down and really think about it. Not to discourage anyone, but I almost wish I had sat down and planned before I started, because you get so busy trying to do a collection, production and all the other things at the same time. Anyone who’s graduating and wants to start their own thing, should maybe take a couple of months and really think about what it is they want to say, and how they want to do it. There are loads of different avenues to do it. Fashion agents are amazing, but going to them with a succinct, clear idea of what you want to produce will help to give them more confidence in letting you do it. When I went to see Lulu and Natasha from Fashion East for the first time, I kind of went in there with a collection and knew exactly what I wanted to do. They almost felt confident in saying “alright, that’s cool”, then letting me off to go and do it. So, plan and be very clear and concise about what you want to do.
A lot of designers I speak to often emphasise the importance of their team. Would you say that’s true for yourself?
Yes, but it depends on the designer. I was looking at Charlie’s press release yesterday and his team is massive, and that’s because of the nature of what he does. But what I’ve always done, and what I think is nice about what I do, is that it’s very tight. We’re a very small team and I take a maximum of two interns per season. I work with one stylist on casting and the show, and we have one girl who does the makeup. The team isn’t huge, but I have a clear, concise vision of what I want to say, and keeping the team really small and focused is very important.
It really is subjective then, isn’t it?
But speaking practically, what advice do you wish you’d been given that you’d give now?
Again, I wish that graduates would take more time. As designers, we’re all really impatient. Not that I wish I had taken a break from fashion — I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing, but I do sometimes think more graduates need to take some time off. Not necessarily from fashion, but doing a job like working for Fred Perry or somebody else — that isn’t a bad thing. All of those things are going to educate you into a different style of designing, and influence you in a good way. Even working with River Island is going to give you something that you didn’t have before you graduated from Saint Martins! People should really not have a…
Sense of urgency?
Exactly! Taking 6 months to go intern somewhere or work in Paris… By all means: do it, you know? It’s going to make you a better designer at the end of the day!