Representing the creative future

“SO CSM”: Are art-school kids a subculture?

Can we talk about an authentic subculture when today’s students need to fit in a system in order to survive?

Youth has always been the core of research on fashion and style. Looking closely into the stylistic decisions of the young, aiming to connect the similarities and finding what they represent, is not a new occurrence. From skinheads to punk and the riot grrrl movement, a youth subculture is defined as a group of individuals who share the same values and norms that exist in disagreement with mainstream society. In the postmodern reality of today, fashion commodities, like clothing items, are deconstructed and mixed together in unlimited combinations, a notion that is represented to the fullest by the stylistic language of the “art-school kid”. The anonymous Instagram account @thats_so_csm and photographer Balint Alovits shot hundreds of Central Saint Martins students for their project “So CSM”, pushing us to discover all the common visual signifiers between them.

The art-school style has always been linked to the notion of “anti,” but in order to survive in a capitalist society, today’s to-be artists and designers aspire to be accepted by a system

“Art-school kids,” characterized by a strong sense of individuality, find a place of belonging when they first join the institution of an art school. Being around other people with whom they can feel different, together. Besides the similarities when it comes to style, art students share common beliefs, dreams, inspirations and most importantly they are “enjoying a consciousness of ‘otherness’ or difference,” an integral element of a subculture according to sociologist Sarah Thorton. In order for a subculture to exist, it needs its binary opposite, the prevailing, mass-produced culture. The art-school style has always been linked to the notion of “anti,” but in order to survive in a capitalist society, today’s to-be artists and designers aspire to be accepted by a system: The fashion industry, a fashion house, the art world, the internet, the media. This makes the link between art-school culture and the notion of a subculture complex, especially when discussed in accordance with class and privilege. Are art-school students a modern subculture that aims to oppose the system from within, or are they just young people with similar aesthetic expressions, under the same roof?

FACE PAINTING

“Some of the styles come from different visual languages but they share the same codes.”

Central Saint Martins is frequently used to describe the visual identity of art-school style. @thats_so_csm was created with the objective to document the aesthetics inside the walls of the King’s Cross campus. “CSM culture is very distinct. It can become easily fetishised and generalised as soooo csm, forgetting the actual people that are running the school” the creator says. This need to capture and present the people that make up the community led to a photographic project in collaboration with photographer Ballint Alovits. “My initial idea was to shoot deserted classrooms looking for the traces of the students and leftover stuff, but later I realised what made CSM so unique is not only the facility but the people,” Alovits explains. A project that started as a documentation of the university’s landscape became a visual study of notions such as rebellion, integration and simulacrum.

After an open call via Instagram, numerous students and members of staff had their picture taken by Alovits. As the number of images grew, the creators of the project started noticing common points between the individuals, who at a first glance, look different and unique. “After having a certain amount of portraits taken, I had a sort of close guess what course they were in,” the photographer observed. When the @thats_so_csm creator was presented with a large number of photographs she was overwhelmed, leading her to categorise the imagery by visual elements such as colour, style, and accessories. “Some of the styles come from different visual languages but they share the same codes. I mean a white shirt can be a very business but also very CSM.”

RETRO T-SHIRTS
NERD GLASSES

The “very CSM” factor, which was the inspiration behind the title of the account, is a commonly used verbal phrase within the arts and fashion industry of London. Colourful hair and makeup, layers of vintage and designer pieces put together in an unorthodox manner. Just like in other subcultural groups the individuals portrayed in the “So CSM” project share the same ‘maps of meaning and undeniably challenge the social conventions of beauty and gender expression. “The air at Central Saint Martins is full of opportunities and you can feel that there is something special going on. The future of fashion is at your fingertips. People around you share the same struggles, challenges and joys. That is incredibly encouraging and powerful,” the creator behind @thats_so_csm ponders, comparing the environment of the school to a bubble; “Nonetheless, the existence in a bubble can be quite delusional at times, especially when you forget your purpose. You are not at CSM because of CSM, but because you want to find your artistic voice,” she explains further.

Are the subcultural elements of this community commodified by its members in exchange for cultural capital?

HEAD COVERINGS
CROSS BODY BAGS

Are students feeling pressure to look a certain way in order to be noticed by an industry that links artistic genius with a specific type of personality and appearance?

With the media being fixated on any content linked to the university’s alumni and current students, there is a close connection between how the students present themselves and their potential success in the industry, especially with the rise of social media. Are the subcultural elements of this community commodified by its members in exchange for cultural capital? “I don’t know if CSM urges students to dress and act more ‘CSM like’ or if they want to be accepted and fit in with the style standards of the university,” Alovits questions; “I discovered that behind these, sometimes extreme, looks, there are kind personalities. Sometimes I felt that certain people actually wear masks, as their behaviour changes instantly when they are being photographed.”

The book, compiled of 309 portraits, represents a generation of creatives and captures the expression of their identities at this moment in time. “One might use it as a fashion archive, one might try to find the next Alexander McQueen,” @thats_so_csm creator explains, referencing the high expectations that the world has of the creatives that come out of CSM. Are students feeling pressure to look a certain way in order to be noticed by an industry that links artistic genius with a specific type of personality and appearance? Whether we can talk about an authentic subculture or young kids that experiment with their looks, art-school students do have a distinct style full of references and innovations that are worth studying.

1 Granary

Magazine Issue 6

With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

Buy Now