At this time of year most students would have been handing in their work for evaluation and soon be showcasing it for the world to see. For the students in final year at Central Saint Martins, this would mean producing a fully finished collection to be shown in the Central Saint Martins BA Fashion Show. Each student is launched into the industry using this penultimate show as a benchmark for their future careers whether they pursue a career in fashion or not.
BA Fashion Menswear – George Salt x Sarah Gresty
For BA Fashion Menswear student at Central Saint Martins, George Salt, the final days before the college closed down due to the pandemic were used to get all of his prints finished in time before the lock down. «It was quite a rush particularly because a lot of my garments are printed or have printed fabrics so it was a big rush to get all that done», observed George in a three-way interview with him alongside his course leader, Sarah Gresty — «but once that was done, I was set and ready to go, so I just had all my materials that landed in my living room and that was that». Originally from Staffordshire in England, George studied textiles at high school which was unusual for boys to do in his year but made complete sense when all of his friends were doing it too as well as it being what he wanted to do. Following this, he realised he wanted to create interesting clothes for men and it then escalated. «I didn’t do a foundation degree, I did a BTEC in fashion before arriving at Central Saint Martins, which was a massive jump», he explained. «Both my mum and my dad are creative in their own way: my dad creates scenery for theatres and rides and my mum is very into embroidery and creative writing, which is not massively fashion related but still quite crafty and creative», he said. An interest in fashion and clothes that was born from playing with dolls and making fairy costumes and drawing them, George grew up experimenting through dressing up and appreciating the idea of transformation and expression when «becoming a different person», he explained.
When he first joined the course, George considered himself to be a very shy and nervous young boy which was reflected in his work, «I was kind of scared of the creative environment so it was a bit daunting. But I learnt so much because the first year tutors are very honest and you either go with it or crumble. I crumbled but then my confidence changed a lot during the second half of first year». When George came into first year, it was also the first year that his pathway leader, Sarah Gresty had become the course leader for BA Fashion. «But I didn’t have anything to do with George in first year», she said, «I think he might have modelled actually for the first show while I was course leader».
Tall, slim with a fine waist and ivory blond curls, he modelled for final year student at the time, Kitty Garrett which introduced him to the degree show from the very first year. «I remember seeing George around as a model», but it wasn’t until second year she explained that she had attended one of his crits [short for criticism] which is a class evaluation or final presentation of work for a project, where second year students were working on a project for a sustainable denim company. «I came to the crit and saw George’s and it was really good. He was doing lots of textile work which I’m really interested in, I really like craft on textile and I think it’s so important that designers and the story they’re trying to tell with their silhouette then goes through to their fabric as well so he was obviously really drawn to that too and I was just drawn to that kind of craft and attention».
In final year at Central Saint Martins the graduate fashion show is the main focus for the fashion students. But due to the current global pandemic a restructuring has been put into place focusing on a digital showcase for the students. «This year is setting up massive new challenges and so I think it’s even more important that we’re promoting craft heritage like what George is doing. His references are all so personal and even down to the techniques you are using, ‘aren’t they George?’».
«It’s going to be showing digitally so obviously that will be very futuristic but still appreciating and referencing all the things that you put a lot of time into». Both Sarah and George come from the same village in Staffordshire and his collection reflects his personal history and experiences. «If you look at other fashion students and fashion designers, it can all get a little bit homogenised despite their vision», Sarah observed. «I do think there’s something very unique about our students».
Pulling out a nicely printed, stitched memory book, he explains, «this has everything in it. It’s based on objects throughout my childhood. And it varies from a bathroom tile from our family bathroom to teeth and hair that my mum used to collect». Based on objects from his childhood and objects he used to collect from going on holiday and previous boyfriends or old family photographs, together, they define his make up and personal identity. Together, these elements represent different experiences during his life and are then reflected in the fabrics and particular cut of a suit for example. «Every object has been a source of inspiration for every single piece of my collection. I want it to be really raw and crafted yet very wearable and considered».
Working mostly with pencil and paper, he prefers working with his hands and does collage with fabrics and arranges different things on paper to understand how it can work as a silhouette. The fabrics have all been sources from charity shops, or have been made out of objects, «like rusty washers that you get from a shed or old bedding». Working with tailoring he has also created abstract skirts and dresses as considered menswear that he has then sculpted onto. «But there’s a lot of experimental textiles that then goes onto the suits and coats so it’s a fusion of considered cutting and weird raw textiles». Having used his grandfather’s wool camel overcoat as a reference for detailing, many garments belonging to his family have been used as a reference. «Looking at a garment and unpicking it and seeing how it works is really interesting. But also old family photos have been big sources of inspiration like my mum and dad’s wedding photos. They are a big part of my collection».
Another source of inspiration that he shows is a picture of red terracotta and rosette shaped bathroom tiles that have lived in his family home since the 80s. Or perhaps a jewellery box made from shells belonging to his grandmother, which has now transformed into a garment made out of printed shells that create a warped illusion resembling real shells. He also points out a lock of his own hair with a note attached that his mother cut when he was 4 years old and then earrings belonging to his grandmother. Finally, he pulls out a finished piece from his collection. A necklace made from poly filler and covered in an explosion of shells collected in Margate, an old train ticket from his journey there and even old cigarette buts. «I love how bold and ugly it is», he says, as if a souvenir mould of barnacles had been dug up from the beach and taking with it, the residue of a long summer’s outing. «I made it from objects I picked up there and set it in poly filler which I made into a thick paste and then moulded it, instead of it being runnier».
Before the students hand their work in, they present their work in a line up once more to their entire teaching board for a final evaluation before they hand in the finished product. This year, this will happen digitally. Each student is required to send in images and videos of each garment beforehand and then a panel is reunited in a meeting where George will get to present his progress to them. «I’m with one of five adults in a space and there is a lot of interruption», Sarah explains. «It’s quite funny really because some of my colleagues — I mean I’m not very digital — but one person hasn’t even got a computer and has never had one. So it’s been quite a strange experience but often quite good, don’t you think George?»
«Yes», he says, «the amount of support that I’ve had and that all my course mates have had has been great. From Louis, our patten cutter, the head of menswear Chris and technician Elena, it’s been great».
«It’s very much 24/7 at the moment whereas before we tried to give boundaries just so students would understand there’s a time when you can contact us, but at the moment it’s just going on until bedtime». Sarah is currently teaching on a first year project where students are working from around the world with one person in Chicago, one in California, one in Spain and one working from Singapore. «It’s just mind blowing and they’re all working on the same accessory using the materials that they have around them for the same accessory project».
During this period, which is a stressful one without the constraints of having to work from home, some students are living alone and not seeing anyone for days whilst they finish their collections — «one student can’t sleep because they’re not doing anything physical but their bodies are exhausted and then they are wired up by the time they go to bed. I can tell by the time that I receive emails that these students are perhaps not sleeping until 6 am and then waking up at 8 am». Concerned, Sarah ensures George is getting enough sleep and going out for fresh air every day.
To showcase his work in an digital fashion show, each student has been asked to send in a 90 second video and for this, George plans to film it in his living room with a film camera using old dust sheets as a blank space and featuring his garments in the centre. He would also like to have projections of the family photos from his memory book onto the clothing so each garment is linked to its’ inspiration directly in a dream-like way. As someone recently told George that his clothes look just like his sketches, he said «that was a really lovely feeling and it really meant a lot because it’s hard sometimes to draw it, but then actually do it and create it is such a different thing». Still he says that the fabrics and colours may not be quite up to standard but he feels as though he has definitely achieved what he set out to do in the beginning.«I’m so happy that I stuck with this side of fashion and craft because I remember when I presented the project to the Head of Menswear, he was afraid the collection wouldn’t quite gel. So it is your job to push your vision forward but then the tutor’s guidance is also very important because they can swerve you in the right direction. I guess it’s your vision and their reality because they obviously have a lot of experience working with like-minded students so they can support us and give advice when needed». Later George would like to work in a fashion house or brand that equally celebrates craftwork or perhaps a theatre or sculptural position, perhaps outside of the fashion industry.
BA Fashion Journalism – Isobel Van Dyke x Judith Watt
When Lisa Ben, (an anagram for lesbian) first published America’s ‘Gayest magazine’ Vice Versa in 1947 she had been working for a film production company under the pretence that she must ‘look busy and keep typing’, so she created one of the first lesbian periodical magazines in the US. «My first point of reference was a magazine called The Ladder which was started in 1956 by two women who were a lesbian couple» — observes Isobel Van Dyke — «one of them was called Phyllis Lyon, for whom I have an obituary. She started a lesbian group called the Daughters of Bilitis». As of September 2020, British schools will be required to educate students on inclusive relationships and sex education will be compulsory in all schools. This means that, for the first time, teachers will be obliged to mention same sex relationships when teaching children in both primary and secondary education.
Over 30 years ago, when a children’s book, Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin, was published featuring a child living with two gay fathers, it was condemned by Kenneth Baker, the then Conservative Secretary of State for Education. The resulting controversy led to the Conservative government passing Section 28 of the Local Government Act. This is the clause of the 1988 Local Government Act that penned discriminatory statements into legislation. It stated that: ‘A local authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality; or promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’
«If anyone told Claire Nicholls that it was okay to be gay when she was a child then her whole life would have been completely different», says Isobel Van Dyke, a final year BA Fashion Journalism student at Central Saint Martins, currently producing her degree project, a publication celebrating LGBTQ+ teachers and students across the UK. «The first teacher I interviewed was Andrew Moffat who is a teacher at a school in Birmingham», she adds. Moffat had been teaching LGBT lessons for a few years when in January 2019, he arrived at school to find protests and uproar urging the school to dismiss him, claiming he was «turning their children gay». When first creating her magazine, Isobel had initially worked on a weekly periodical featuring the best LGBTQ+ events around London. Upon pitching her idea to her tutors and BA Fashion Journalism Pathway Leader, the fashion historian and writer, Judith Watt, she had wanted to open a dialogue between girls in schools and discuss their fears and bullying that occurs on a daily basis. Instead «I asked you, ‘why aren’t you empowering them?’», remembers Judith.
The magazine itself is designed to look like a protest poster, designed to be simple and clear, with big, bold graphics, with the aesthetic of a’ nineties magazine. Clear headlines, dynamic layouts, sometimes inviting you to rotate the magazine to the side, and bold captions. Photography is in colour and black and white, albeit with a few detailed illustrations, the magazine features strong photo reportage and features the interviewees as serious central figures to the magazine. Where 15 to 16 year-old girls in school uniforms in one feature could have been depicted in pastel colours and Instagram-friendly filters, they have been portrayed as serious young women with their lives and stories ahead of them. Inspired by Vogue Italia’s black and white photography in the eighties, when photographers like Peter Lindbergh used the work of Brassaï or newspaper photojournalism from the ’thirties and ’forties as references. «The artist Jill Posner did these amazing black and white billboards in the seventies, so I really wanted to include that aesthetic in my imagery», adds Isobel. The billboards read, ‘If this lady was a car she’d run you down’ in response to Fiat’s ‘If it were a lady, it would get its’ bottom pinched’ car advert.
It is telling that UK schools, even though Clause 28 was established over 30 years ago and has since been reformed, are still subject to bullying and shaming when it comes to same sex relationships and trans awareness. Entitled Thoroughly Modern Millie, Isobel interviewed Millie Millington, a trans teacher based in a school in Truro, Cornwall — who struggled with pre-internet gender dysphoria when she couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was she was experiencing. Having read about it once the Internet took off, she realised she was transgender. Almost forty years later she still hadn’t come out to her students and colleagues about wanting to be Ms Millington rather than Mr. Millington, until 2012 when a newspaper article emerged in the Daily Mail written by Richard LittleJohn about a trans teacher, Lucy Meadows. Referred to as Nathan Upton in the piece, LittleJohn, claimed «he [Lucy] should quit his job and move to a different school and he’s not only in the wrong body, he’s in the wrong job», says Isobel. Just after this, Lucy Meadows committed suicide, at the same time Millie Millington was to announce to the school that she wanted to come out. The story uncovers the truth about British schools and how a different curriculum could have changed what happened to every person in that chain of events. «When I’m speaking with teachers, and students, a lot of the time kids are more unaccepting of these things than the teachers are. I think this new syllabus is in some respect more beneficial to the staff rather than the students because they need to understand as much as the kids», adds Isobel.
Cecile Tulkens, the knitwear MA Fashion graduate from Central Saint Martins is also featured in Isobel’s magazine as she knew she was lesbian from the age of twelve but didn’t feel comfortable coming out whilst studying. Later in the magazine, Isobel observes queer women’s dress and the stereotypical staple pieces from a queer female’s wardrobe, including the white vest and carabiners photographed by Isobel herself before discussing designer Jil Sander’s tailoring.
«So how do you think that allegedly being a queer woman has influenced her work? asks Judith — «It’s about keeping things on the inside, the secret pockets, the silhouette, because everything is visible yet we’re talking about the privacy and the secrecy here».
«You’re bullied because you’re different», says Judith — «what’s good is to understand the true sense of hetero-sexual dominance that we see at the moment which is the normality of the Kardashian figure, the Posh and Becks — what goes on in evangelical Christian or Muslim households concerning these issues is quite different and saying people were bullied is not enough». Still she says, «you are doing something very different here because it’s extremely informative and you are all on the same side: the inclusivity you bring is unique».
Throughout her degree, Isobel’s creativity has always triumphed, when she made a ’zine on dance called, What’s the Pointe? about the relationship between fashion and dance and put it in a musical jewellery box filled with hair pins with a twirling ballerina making an appearance. For one project she made a dolls’ house and created tarot cards for another. But for her final major project, serious news reporting is demonstrated. «Fashion journalism is a broad church», explains Judith — «I’m very interested in those of you who can do that with that breadth, diverging into politics, art, culture and still keep it within the parameter of good fashion journalism». When Isobel first arrived for her interview onto the course, Judith remembers, «with your long jet black Cornish hair. You arrived as if shipwrecked like a spiritual abbess». Over the course of three to four years (in Isobel’s case because she went on a placement year working within the fashion industry), the dialogue and relationship between a tutor and student is constant. In one way tutors are steering students in the right direction, and in another, students are bringing their lives, their stories, their passions and ideas to the table. By the time the fashion journalism students reach their final year, they will have worked with industry insiders on projects, learnt to write in a variety of styles and learnt to research and find a story. «It doesn’t matter what course you’re on in the fashion department. We challenge you. I’m looking at everybody’s work and I’m still pushing and I honestly think it’s the only way to do it. It’s that dialogue that makes the course work », explains Judith.
Every year, the BA fashion journalism course at Central Saint Martins produces a wide variety of magazines, zines, newspaper, films, documentaries or even talk shows, every year more critical, more daring, reporting true journalism unscathed by often bland writing in fashion where press releases and puff pieces often illustrate the front pages of online magazines but print is victorious. «When people say, go to Saint Martins, find out what they’re up to. What are they wearing? What are they doing? Well nobody seems to say, ‘oh they’re doing print’, and people should be writing about the fact that our students have a desire for print».
«The story is everything and your audience is so fabulously targeted», says Judith — «it’s a groundbreaking piece of work Izzy and what’s groundbreaking is that you came in with a proposal written on the back of an envelope. Now those are the ideas that usually work». When Isobel first pitched her idea she had come back in with a completely new idea, thought up on the back of an envelope during her lunch hour, feeling inspired by the fact that she could be empowering young girls who like her, wished they had a publication like this to read at their age.
Another student she interviews is 18-year-old Ben Saunders from Liverpool, who made a film called Trans Experiences about students he had spoken to when he was sixteen and what it was like attending an all-girls school as a trans man. «His teachers refused to change his name on the register for five years, refusing to call him ‘he’. And when one teacher did respect his pronouns and called him ‘he’, she was told off». Still she says «I always wanted this magazine to be more than a university project, I wanted it to mean something to the people that read it».
Having come out to her friends and family over the summer before returning to do her final year at Central Saint Martins, it was suggested that she call her magazine by her last name, Van Dyke. «This magazine is so personal and authentic so it’s incredibly brave, you couldn’t be more out if you tried!», says Judith.
Due to the global health crisis, Isobel’s cover shoot has been postponed yet she still managed to photograph one of her friend’s poster-filled windows urging the Minister For Women to reconsider their amendments to Trans Rights which threaten the access to health care and hormones amongst teenagers for Lesbian Visibility Day 2020. For Judith, teaching hours are prolonged and tutorials for students like Isobel can last all day but a system has been put into place where students upload their latest work to an online server before their weekly meetings.
Before the lockdown, Isobel wanted her magazine Van Dyke to be launched in a school but due to the pandemic this will be postponed until schools reopen in September. Still, her work will be launched online, allowing access for kids who are in or out of the closet and are still coming to terms with their identities. «They might not be out to their families and don’t want to be seen with a magazine that reads Van Dyke as a title, so it has to be accessible online to as many people as possible», she says. «I simply don’t want to exclude anyone».
BA Fashion History & Theory – Mary McCartan x Philip Clarke
For BA Fashion History & Theory student, Mary McCartan, working on her graduate thesis wasn’t an issue for her, having gathered enough research to finish it from home. «We’re very lucky that a lot of books and journals are available online so it hasn’t been as bad as it has for other people» — observed Mary during a three-way interview with her thesis tutor, BA Fashion Communication pathway leader Philip Clarke. For the Fashion History and Theory degree at Central Saint Martins, the teaching methods are slightly different, students are tasked with writing a thesis between 10,000 and 12,000 words long alongside an additional group project exhibition. In Mary’s case this involved working alongside the Central Saint Martins archives and Lethaby gallery showcasing archive pieces, publications, illustrations, textiles and more. For this Mary took a leading role, producing the writing for the section labels, the social media and general organisation of the event. Alongside this, Mary was producing a significant body of research in the initial stages of writing her thesis.
Originally from Maidstone, Kent, Mary attended a Catholic school before applying to study fashion.«My dad is half Spanish so my Abuela, my Spanish grandmother was the most crazy dressed lady with gorgeous Spanish outfits and she really got me interested in my own personal style». At first she wanted to study history of art before realising she could include history with a fashion degree. As a child, Mary was obsessed with Hello Kitty «there was a girl in my school that used to dress up as a Lolita and I thought that she was amazing and I’d never seen that style before. I was quite young at the time and she just reminded me of all of my dolls». During her first year at Central Saint Martins, her class looked into subcultures and comparing two forms of subcultures, «some people looked into the mods or the punks but I chose to compare a gothic Lolita with a sweet Lolita as two styles within the same subculture». Three years later and Mary has delved into the world of Kawaii, buying Japanese snacks, Kewpie dolls and wearing smock dresses with Kawaii-styled accessories. The cuteness culture, or kawaii aesthetic, has become a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, personal appearance, and mannerisms.
When the students return for final year of Fashion History & Theory, they are allocated potential thesis tutors depending on their thesis subject and based on the tutor’s specialist areas. Through his research, Philip is looking at the role of the stylist but loops in subcultural and post-modern theories which are echoed in Mary’s approach to her research. During this time, students will compile a huge body of research to then write their thesis from October until they hand it in at the end of April or in this case May. To this end, the tutors are there to help guide the students and point them in directions that they may not have considered. As part of her research, Mary held focus groups with Japanese students or students that had lived in Japan and could give their perspective on the Japanese culture there. Philip explained, «I think a super important element of the research design is your awareness that as a white English woman you can only view these things from an outsider’s perspective so it was important that you get views of Japanese people with the insight of having lived there and I think your focus group really strengthened your study to have other perspectives».
Still Mary said, «I was trying to be careful about how I went about looking at Japan because a lot of things there can be quite extreme and shocking, like anime and the idea of youth and girls looking extremely young and then pedophilia. I had to be careful how I researched it and try not to have a massive western stance on it and I think working with Philip really helped me to keep an open mind».Living in London and due to the global pandemic, Mary could have perhaps focused her research on western writers and the way they view Kawaii culture. Instead she used the resources around her to get different viewpoints.
Originally referring to Kawaii as a culture, Mary uncovered that the Japanese students she spoke to didn’t share the same opinion and viewed it more as an aesthetic that they weren’t necessarily aware of. «However, when I did start chatting to them about things that I was researching – something that came up was the importance of school uniform to Japanese girls», she observed — «They were saying things like, ‘girls base their school choices on uniform. So whatever uniform is the most Kawaii or whichever uniform is the “cutest” that would then sway their choices’». She also mentioned that the last year of schooling for girls in Japan is almost sacred and can be referred to as the ‘last JK’ or Joshi kōsei. This is a precious year for young girls who will live the year idolised by many. «When we did speak about the problematic areas of Japanese society, young girls definitely are glorified and idolised and they said that pedophilia definitely was a problem». Another aspect of this that she uncovered was the presence of JK Cafés where «girls will be in their school uniforms and older men can go and sit and have dinner there, or tea with school girls».
«It’s important that you stay open minded. I’d been aware of the idolisation of youth in Japan for quite some time but I had to remove my own sense of what I felt was problematic so I could go in there with no former bias and look at it objectively». When working on such a big research document, it’s important to ensure everything is contextualised correctly and as Philip said, «you’ve dealt with the subject matter sensitively and I think the fashion angle is a lot less prominent than we expected it to be because you were finding so many examples in other areas of culture and you have dealt with the subject matter in quite a chronological way, starting from the turn of the 20th century». He continued, «you’ve got a good eye and are good at identifying appropriate visuals to illustrate the points that you’re making».
As well as an interest in Japanese culture before having embarked on this journey with Mary, both are equally learning from each other in the process: «I’ve been very interested in how ‘cute’ has become such a part of Japanese culture. I find the war time element, fascinating and the references you made particularly to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, also known as Little Boy and Fat Man — and how the Japanese have even given cute names to devastating moments in Japanese history, is really interesting in demonstrating the Japanese attitude to ‘cute’» mentioned Philip.
When compiling her research Mary found a Japanese website selling vintage Kawaii goods such as 1970s stickers, anime, coffee mugs and more that were still being sold worldwide today. She also looked at archives and museums online, but she also described a Hello Kitty coin purse that she has from 1975, the year after Hello Kitty was created and discussed how she hasn’t changed as her representation worldwide is widely protected. Showing Philip her research over the first term however she said, «you can get so focused in your research and don’t have the skills to bring it back and contextualise it». Yet Philip explained how certain students can reach saturation points once they run out of books but, «it’s getting them to explore things in a different way and nudging students to look beyond their specific area of interest. For example, if you can’t find specifics that have been written about your own subculture then how does material about other subcultures relate». This constant dialogue is the one that will continue until Mary hands in her final thesis. «Mary has not needed much nudging and that’s enjoyable when you’re teaching a student and they come to you with more material, with more evidence, with a clear direction, it makes the process so much more enjoyable». Before finishing, Philip said, «I found a book over the weekend and I need to mention it now before I forget — did you look at A Japanese Nation, it’s Land, it’s People and it’s Life? It was written by a Japanese author post-war and it’s audience are westerners but it’s about encouraging western people to view Japan and understand Japanese culture. It’s interesting as a piece of propaganda, produced by a Japanese author». At this late stage of her process Mary was a mere week away from handing in her work and still was finding new research to add to her study.
«I think the research process is something that I’ve really enjoyed and to be able to go back and chronologically trace something. Being able to contextualise things is really important. Moving forward I’m hoping that I can use the processes I’ve used for my thesis in future work». Before the quarantine, tutorials took place face to face and lasted up to an hour or more, a few times per term. Today these tête-à-tête meetings happen online to check Mary’s overall progress. Philip explained, «every student that you teach helps to broaden your perspective. You can’t be expected to know everything about everything. Aesthetically I was already interested in Japanese pop culture so it’s been a fascinating process with Mary. A challenge with Mary’s project was being able to access something directly when she’s based in this country which is why it ended up being a focus group. I think it was important that this project wasn’t just based on secondary research but also included some primary research».
Before embarking on her project, at the end of second year, students are required to submit a rough thesis thematic before they come back in final year. During this period, some students take a year out and go on placement working in industry. Mary had already decided what she wanted to work on but still took a placement year and worked at Tank Magazine in London for two months working in the fashion cupboard. As many internships in the UK are still unpaid today, Mary took a job writing for an online women’s magazine based in America that was paid and enabled her to write for an entirely different audience. During this time, she also collected elements of research and books that would be helpful by the time she returned to college for her final year.
In light of the current circumstances, the students were given an extension which Philip claimed that Mary did not need. «It’s only a 10 to 12, 000-word thesis so you’ve only really got enough space to touch on key points. If you could get funding and money and get yourself to Japan and explore the Japanese perspective in Japan you could take your project even further». As part of her initial research, Mary looked at Shojō illustrators, «meaning young girl or young maiden in Japanese» — she said — «so people that will draw young girls in a kawaii aesthetic. I’d like to be able to go to the Shojō museums and speak to Takashi Murakami who was key in illustrating the kawaii aesthetic. Still, some people in my class are looking at 17th century dress so there’s definitely a wide range of topics to read from» she finished. In order to showcase her work, Mary’s thesis will be featured as part on an online exhibition and print publication featuring her abstract and mood boards from her thesis amongst the work from the other students in her class.
BA Fashion Promotion – Julian Dufour x Adam Murray
Diane Arbus, was born in the beautiful neighbourhoods of New York City in 1923. Her parents ran a store on 5th avenue, and she grew up on Park Avenue feeling deprived of reality as a child and she compensated for that sense of unreality with her camera work. In 1950s and 60s America, Arbus delved into her subjects and their story rather than make icons out of them, instilling herself into the history of American photography shooting Siamese twins, transsexuals in hair curlers, children with Down’s syndrome dancing in the sun, older women or close ups of children screaming and generally derailing beauty concepts at the time. Similarly, photographer Mary Ellen Mark, was drawn to vulnerable people – the disenfranchised, outsiders, ‘freaks’ – but she documented them with respect and a sense of kinship. She was never exploitative but she was unflinching in her gaze – unafraid of crossing social barriers and breaking taboos. These were people who deserved to be heard, seen and understood, a young girl smoking in a paddling pool, a prostitute in a brothel in India, a couple of elderly twins in wedding dresses.
Then it was Sally Mann, the renowned photographer who became synonymous with the American South, but also her close-up, candid shots of human life, often women and children. Known for her unsettling portraits of rotting corpses, Mann’s lens never shied away from taboo topics. «Sally Mann — observes Julian Dufour — it doesn’t get more taboo than that as far as an American photographer with Mary Ellen Mark and Diane Arbus. That trio of photographers is like the wholly American grail as far as my photographic research goes».
When Julian Dufour, a twenty three year-old young American Jewish fashion photographer and BA Fashion Communication and Promotion student first moved to London he applied to the foundation course at Central Saint Martins, focusing on the graphics department before moving over to the fashion communication side. Shock value were recurrent themes within his work, «it was not necessarily commenting on anything wild or specific to me it was just very shocking work for really no reason», he commented, in a Zoom interview alongside his BA Fashion Communication and Promotion tutor and pathway leader, Adam Murray, and myself. The more he studied throughout his degree and the more feedback he received, the more he understood why theories of taboo and difficult subjects were so appealing to discuss socially and through a lens.
«Something really weird happened when I began shooting for my degree project, I had spent four and a half years studying high European art at the Central Saint Martins library ignoring any American influences that I had. When I began shooting, all of the sudden, in my head, reeling were images from American photographers, image makers, illustrators, etching artists, painters and sculptors. I really was afraid to embrace that I was intrinsically American in the way that I worked which I was ignoring because it was as if I was afraid to know who I was». He continued, «my taste lies within very American aesthetic values as far as 1950s photography».
In the world of Sally Mann, Mary Ellen Mark and Diane Arbus everyone deserved a spotlight yet their black and white portraiture reflected the mundane accuracy of an everyday life unmarked by the glossy magazines and picturesque staging that influenced photography at the time that the images lived. Today, the hush-hush identity of Julian’s work focuses on the human form and social taboo. Still he said, «I’ve been trying to bring it back to the body, bring it back to what my philosophy on what fashion and style means to me and also trying to harness what it means to be a New York jew». Julian like Arbus, comes from New York. His mother was a plant photographer and his father works in advertising. Never feeling like he belonged, he could never see himself doing commercial work working on campaigns and logos. «I felt kind of like I was a reject of art itself», he explained. Then he found Steven Meisel, looking at fashion photography, and the experimental side when he did a cover for Vogue US using images shot in a photo booth.
«My reasoning for being involved in fashion was that I always had this idea in my head that memories and nostalgia are woven through clothes and can be transmitted from an archival and curatorial perspective. I’m so interested in curatorial studies and maybe one day I’ll end up at a museum but I just love the idea that some garment worn by someone at some time, can be interacted with». He observed, «now for instance in a zoom meeting, we get to see what we’re all wearing, we can all be aware of the sign of the times. What we’re wearing is always a fact of the moment and I wouldn’t be able to wear this if I hadn’t flown to my family house in New York». Julian’s hair was bluntly trimmed, revealing sharp cheekbones, pink blush lips and shimmering skin wearing a vintage cowl neckline green and black top that resembled weaved branches covered in moss.
Before working on his final major project, Julian interned at Tom Ford, at Visionnaire Publishing and also did the Vera Wang pattern cutting internship. «I’ve done a weird range of internships but what I’ve learned through all of them in addition to Central Saint Martins is that real recognises real. If you make work, there will be a crowd that will understand and recognise it but we were always told throughout the degree to think about who our projects are for. Having met his new pathway leader, Adam Murray at the very beginning of the global pandemic and lock down, the two never really had the chance to work together before this moment where their introduction was virtual and the discovery of Julian’s work was through online tutorials. «What really amazes me» — explained Adam, «because I’m still leading the MA in Fashion Image at Central Saint Martins as well as now the BA FCP, which all happened about six weeks ago — is that there was the initial shock and nervousness and anxiousness about how this was going to work and how things were going to happen but actually, students have really risen to the challenge. There have been such exciting and innovative uses of different technologies to create. And almost in a way, it’s not an ideal situation for anybody but it has forced the production of work that would never have been produced before. People are collaborating in ways that they wouldn’t have ever thought of doing because the necessity wasn’t there so that’s been the really exciting thing».
At Julian’s stage in the degree and project, his ideas are already meshed together and now is the time for refining them. «You know much more about your project than I can offer. We’re just helping you to refine it in different ways, encouraging you to think about things that you perhaps hadn’t thought about in the past and certainly to recognise that you are the experts in whatever your subject is — we can just help you to guide you along really», explained Adam. «We can suggest different ideas, It’s quite interesting for me coming in having not seen any of Julian’s development and coming straight into it as a total outsider, thinking about how people can interpret it and what you can read from the project. Even over the last month I feel like there’s been some very exciting developments for your project».
The final year project is a incredibly long that initially begins with research officially when the first term starts in October but students tend to work on their final projects throughout their year placement year or at least think about it during the summer before they return to college. Meticulous organisation is required to plan it out. «It’s a long process» — said Adam, «but it’s also having that awareness of how you can then apply it in certain situations because the joy of these projects is that they are pure indulgence basically doing whatever you want to do for such a long period of time. In an ideal world you would keep doing this forever, but that’s unrealistic in its’ purest sense». Skills developed over the years are encouraged here, students are graded on portfolio work in which they create 3 to 6 secondary pieces of work to accompany their final major project, on top of the degree dissertation. Following this they have to create personal web portfolios and are guided with job applications and career advice preparing them for when they leave. «By the final year of FCP (Fashion Communication and Promotion), you would have received so many opinions and so many people bringing up resources and pieces of research that either support or disarm your ideas and it’s basically up to the individual at this stage to ask, ‘what do I stand for? What aesthetic makes sense to me and what is going to be the legacy of the work? It’s not like you’re born with this – you have to struggle to get that point», explained Julian.
Due to the global pandemic, the Central Saint Martins physical degree show has been cancelled, however, an online showcase is currently being set up on the Central Saint Martins website offering every student a spot. For some of the fashion communication students working on digital projects, this will incredibly enhance their work, perhaps more than it would have if it had been shown on a projector amongst wonderful magazines and publications. In Julian’s case, enormous prints were envisaged and even a private exhibition featuring them but due to the pandemic, a different approach is being established. For Adam different outcomes are appropriate for different projects, as long as the student can justify why they have made those decisions. «It’s a communication course so if it takes five images to communicate your idea, great, if it takes 500 that’s also fine», finished Julian.
«The photos I’m working on represent me in a unique way because they mirror my experience of pieces of my childhood. It’s also not morphing any of the sitter’s realities because a lot of them have had the same or similar experiences as me with their bodies so it’s an honest expedition. Yet I also want the world at large to understand why I’m doing this, so it’s the juxtaposition of research that is not necessarily ‘I’m showing you beautiful photos for the sake of beauty’; it’s a communicative tool».
When Adam first saw Julian’s work he viewed a first trial through a PDF document that summarised everything Julian was doing including his own work, images from the actual final product and other research and references. «From that I had a complete understanding about what the project is about and since, it has been a question of your presentation. ‘Will it include other works in a curatorial sense presented alongside your own or will it be just your own original work?’ — so that has been the main topic of discussion over the last few weeks».
Concerning the process, Julian experimented by photographically documenting work and gathering knowledge in digital photography. «I used to work a lot with analog, as the art student stereotype. But working with film and in the dark room often, I was learning how to capture straight to computer and shoot in a way that allowed me to retouch and refine to make great giant prints which is my ultimate goal if we ever resume out of this quarantine».
«Prior to Saint Martins my research was very book heavy» — Julian explained, «until someone like the legend [and fashion historian and writer] Judith Watt said ‘go out to the clubs and do your thing, that’s research’. Introspective research is just as good as sticking your nose in fashion and art history of books. And that really started to speak to me when it came time to get down and dirty with my final major project. It was about finding who I was as a creative but also telling my story in a biographical sense and I found that many other individuals had a similar story as far as a curious childhood».
Still the current crisis has forced him to be more open and less of a stickler concerning the final outcome and aesthetics of his work. «This is a studio, all three of us, here together. I did my first zoom shoot yesterday which was fascinating when directing someone left and right as everything was the opposite way around. Challenges ranged from a stream lined zoom conversation, where you have people collaborating over each others voices and then you’ll have something like uploading giant files to a cloud which is quite scary». In order to show his progress to his tutor, Julian uploads his work to servers which can be quite daunting in a world where intellectual property is fragile and the lines between what is online and who owns what, can seem very blurred.
«I sketch almost every image I take before I take it», mentioned Julian. Then when he casts people from the street he’ll do a line drawing of them so he can get a head start as to how he wants to photograph them. «I love cutting and pasting and drawing and illustrating but I’m most foreign to an in-design document», he continued. Working as a freelance make up consultant during his degree for various brands including My Beauty Brand, elements of beauty have filtered into his research. «But to explain it all to a child, I would say, ‘I’m getting people involved together that would never normally be involved in any way and you probably wouldn’t see at a house party so it’s almost inventing a community through the lens of a director or an artist’». The process and the technical side of his project has evolved by learning online and through the photography department and dark room technicians at Central Saint Martins as well as his teaching team including adam.
Prior to the lockdown Julian wanted to get to know London better through his project. For this he decided to spend time in the city casting for models, on buses, on the tube and in the street, approaching strangers with the aforementioned taboo. «These aren’t easy things to talk about to someone on the tube», he said. But now this all takes place online. In a time when global fashion brands and publications have been sending luxury goods to models to be worn and photographed via FaceTime or selfies, when production across the globe has halted and the fashion industry as well as the planet, is yet to find out the extent of the damages incurred due to the pandemic is one of the things that motivates Julian to do better. «Knowing that a fashion campaign runs a company roughly 100, 000 grand, doing selfies at home on your cellphone is kind of a hilarious reality that is also challenging that idea of sameness. You have these super models holding bags or doing their poses from their homes and they’re all starting to look very similar so it’s exposing something in our industry of frivolity, and superfluity where we could be going further as far as teaching other aspects of the industry, like how to push an image». Finally Adam said, «I’ve seen a lot of the students being more innovative than many of the bigger media platforms during this time and I think that is vital».
BA Fashion Print – Margaux Lavevre x David Kappo
At this time of year most students would have been handing in their work for evaluation and soon be showcasing it for the world to see. For the students in final year at Central Saint Martins, this would mean producing a fully finished collection to be shown in the Central Saint Martins BA Fashion Show. Each student is launched into the industry using this penultimate show as a benchmark for their future careers whether they pursue a career in fashion or not.
For BA Fashion Print student, Margaux Lavevre, the final days before the college closed due to the pandemic in March were used to pack up her work and squeeze what had initially been scheduled for three weeks worth of printing into 3 days. In a three-way conversation using Zoom Margaux, myself and her tutor and pathway leader David Kappo; she said, «we learnt on a Tuesday that the school was going to close on the Friday and that was the week I was supposed to start printing for my collection so I printed so much in three days». Originally from Bourgogne in France, having followed a French education before attending Central Saint Martins, Margaux studied spatial design for a year at the University of Applied Arts in Paris, Olivier-de-Serres. Delving into architecture during her time there she then went on to pursue her interest in fashion at the École Duperré, studying fashion amongst other subjects as is customary to the French education system, including philosophy, economy and French. Heavily theory-based, she then applied to Central Saint Martins but was redirected to their Fashion Folio course available as a 6 months intensive portfolio builder. Finally discovering her love of working with prints she was accepted onto the course and began her degree.
Over the years Margaux built up a network of contacts looking at a spectrum of sources outside of fashion as part of her research on projects. Collaborating with people has prevailed throughout her degree, once working on a project with people suffering from Alzheimers. For her final major project, lasting from the beginning of the academic year up until she produces her final collection, Margaux has continued to collaborate working with a filmmaker and her musician brother in producing a joint group called the Hios Collective. «It all started with the question of perception of movement and time and understanding that time wasn’t linear by looking at the stars in the cosmos». Further educating herself, Margaux studied the law of physics, understanding more about human exchange. «I didn’t want to do a collection about Jupiter prints – but because I want to go all out, I decided to make a global art project and surpass a fashion collection» she mused. To this end, the first point of contact was to the director of the European Space Agency who then invited her along to do a residency at the heart of the advanced concept team which was composed of scientists including biologists and physicians who all work together on the future of spatial research. During this time, the trio created a 12-track album working with sound as Margaux began designing from the music and they started filming a documentary.
While this was going on, Margaux had started working on her degree collection. «The project is called Void Memory of Speed», she explained, «and each word represents a clear group that was divided into three parts to explain the three physical laws. The album is also in three parts, one for Void, one for Memory and one for Speed. From there, the garments became three separate chapters too». The idea was «to highlight the beauty of the ephemeral. There are so many things you can’t see from cosmic rays to tiny molecules, so I created transformable garments as a tool for transformation», she continued. In comes David Kappo, the Final Year BA Fashion Print tutor who noted, «when I first spoke with Margaux about her work she did something that a lot of students do which is they tell you about the collection, or the garments that they want to create and the small reasoning around the creation of that body of work. And then you have the tutorial and you have that discussion and there’s this pause and out comes the ‘by the way, I’ve been working on all this other stuff’».
Originally he explained, «Margaux hadn’t realised how all of these elements of the project could be one big thing». He continued, «Margaux is ambitious, she’s a worker and I think at the beginning it could have been overwhelming but once the conversation had started, she was able then to see how they weren’t separate elements, they were just different chapters of the same story. Once that seed had been sewn – then she was off». The degree collection starts in September and ends in May when students are expected to produce a full collection to be shown on an official catwalk that is usually part of the London Fashion Week schedule and last year saw Frederik Tjaerandsen’s balloon dresses. The time with their tutor’s during this process is precious and for many will determine the success of the collection and support and guide that student for the period that they will be working together. «From a tutor’s point of view it was brilliant to see this because you then see the student make sense of everything that they’re doing».
During this time, Margaux will have tutorials and present her work to various members of the teaching staff who may at once give her completely different opinions that are designed to make the students question who they are. «My favourite question to ask is why?», said David. «I think it is important as human beings to understand why we make the decisions that we make and how is that going to help moving forward». By doing this, the students are asked to be more reflective and critical of the decisions that they make. The collaborative relationship between a tutor and their student, such as David and Margaux’s, is precisely built on this exchange where Margaux feels like she has the guidance to find her voice and David equally learns from her. He said, «It’s great when you see a student get completely out of their comfort zone, they’re terrified of loving the challenge but they take what they do more seriously and they see the value of it and that for me is when I get the warm fuzzy feeling. It’s when you can see the penny dropping».
David could see she was nervous of the enormity of it yet knew it was a project that could go on for years and be the start of her career, «where it grows and develops and she flies to the moon with it», he said laughing. As a serious line of enquiry and research driving what she does, Margaux places value on her work. He explained, «I feel so lucky that I get to deal with students that are really amazing [close your ears Margaux, I don’t need you to get a big head], but these students that want the challenge and they rise to the challenge and they challenge me because I don’t know about The European Space Agency. I don’t know about a lot of the things that she is talking to me about but what I do know is the value of it in her work and how all these things are part and parcel of who she is and what she does. I love those conversations because I don’t feel like I’m being a teacher. What we’re doing is entering into what Margaux is presenting».
Due to the global health crisis, the tutorials in which David would look over Margaux’s work or their simple interactions throughout the day as he walks through the fashion studios in the college have completely changed. Today they have weekly one-to-one meetings online and then have what they call a «whine on line» where all the students from Margaux’s course are invited to talk and see each other in the same virtual space. «In a studio, things are completely different than the online meetings with no distractions. Someone might be running around being silly, someone else is cat-walking, someone is tugging at your sleeve because they want to show you something. So it’s a different experience». Still when working physically together, David will tell Margaux to put something on and it is then pulled and physically held to which he said, «you’re altering stuff, touching the fabric, how does the fabric feel? How is it against the skin?» For David the physical element is missing yet it makes the students think and work in a different way. He said, «Margaux managed to print fabric, other students didn’t. They basically fled in the clothes they were wearing to wherever they come from. For some students, this situation has made their work stronger and I take my hat off to them».
Concerning research processes, David said «Margaux would come in with files with stacks and stacks of paper in each, all showing a different process. She is underplaying her process it is so thorough». Margaux replied, «I’m french so effective». For her pre-collection, she experimented with materials and techniques, using velcro as her main material, she also tried magnetic fabric. «Velcro really takes the light in and doesn’t reflect anything so the fabric is a blank canvas on the body». For colours she worked digitally, later trying spray paint and dyes, but then went back to working digitally as the non human aspect caught light effects more fluidly so she worked with gradients whilst dying. «My goal was to print on a screen with light onto my fabric, but it was too tricky in terms of the UV light but I’m definitely going to push this technique further». Then, «you try techniques and sometimes you’re happy with it and then you try something a little bit better and you realise that was really bad and I think David has really pushed me saying ‘are you happy with this? Push it, try something else, try again’». For Margaux, this collection is a starting point, it’s an experiment for what is to come.
To start off with, Margaux had created one base garment that endless looks could be moulded or transformed from. For her initial line up however she showed up with over seven variations of this garment meaning an infinite number of possibilities for transformation. For David, «that one look is an infinite number of iterations, you have hundreds of looks Margaux». Due to the nature of the fabric with the soft part of the velcro and the rough part, everything is interchangeable. Using a hand-dyed gradient of colours from electric blue down into pinks, the various textiles are then top-stitched following layers and layers of tulle that she has dyed for one garment, creating movement through the fabric with the print and textile manipulation. Margaux continued, «I think through my degree I really questioned this idea of transformable garments and wanting to give an experience to the wearer. It’s not just a question of me being the designer and this being my collection and that is final». The owner of Margaux’s clothes will be able to take from her collection and deliver something new with the tools they have been given as part of a co-design initiative and creating together.
Initially due to open an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London in May, this was then cancelled and left Margaux and her team working towards a new way to showcase her work. Ideally she would like to put on a concert with live music and a performance with the garments. In the same way that the collection has so many hybrid elements to it, the presentation of it will be in similar fashion. Still, Margaux is working on a performance and stop-motion 90 second video of her work to be featured alongside the class of 2020 as part of the Central Saint Martins digital platform. To finish, David said, «this is a moment that is going down in history. All eyes, for years, are going to be on those students that went through the Covid-19 lock-down and graduated in 2020. You are part of history and you should be really indulging in this whole weirdness because in 20 years time people will still be talking about this. You can just imagine, ‘where are they now, the COVID graduates?’».
BA Fashion Design and Marketing – Andrea Brocca x Stephanie Cooper
Madame Grès, also known as ‘the sphinx of fashion’, had formal training in fine art and then dabbled in millinery before applying her sculpture background to haute couture dressmaking. Her innovative takes on classical drapery emphasised female form and revolutionised the female silhouette. Azzedine Alaia in turn disregarded the fashion system and favoured technique over fame resulting in notorious rivalry with Anna Wintour’s Vogue US and the lack thereof of his presence in the publication. The dresses he shaped and sculpted, with their close relationship to the body, changed the notions of femininity in the 80s. Breaking away from soft shapes and full skirts, he created a new body-conscious silhouette, using his outstanding expertise that influenced fashion for the decades to come. Similarly when Charles James invented the wrap dress he created a single pattern and made his own moulds that were used again and again. His clothes would make their wearer reevaluate their posture. «When he was draping» — observes Andrea Brocca — «he used strict measurements that have been applied by designers ever since, using a vertical, horizontal then diagonal system. As a young designer you are obsessed with these methods, because you can understand it on a deeper technical level and put it into context in your work».
Andrea Brocca, a Guinness World Record holder as the youngest couturier and now BA Fashion Design and Marketing student at Central Saint Martins, is producing his graduate collection and echoes these three designer’s modernist approach to the female silhouette. Exploring 80s and 90s glamour, through fantasy and creating a more marketable world, he brings silhouettes to life on the body using finely developed draping and pleating skills meshing his mother’s Sri Lankan, Italian and Dubai heritage into an exuberant couture escape.
«For me the introduction to fashion came as a child when I had this strange obsession with perfumes and my mother’s wardrobe», says Brocca in a three-way conversation between Andrea, myself and his tutor and pathway leader Stephanie Cooper. «My mother never confirmed to me anything about her side of the family so I didn’t know what half of my nationality was. This mystery became fantasy in my brain which is why I looked inside her closet all the time because I was constantly trying to find links to my past». Pulling out a vintage diffusion Gianfranco Ferré jacket edged with velvet musical notes, emerging up to the collar, «when I was younger my mother would teach me about quality, she would buy quirky treasures and bags from Italian to French couture. As a child I was obsessed with her shoes. I’d wear her shoes, I’d wear her clothes, I’d dress up in all of her clothes. At the time I was really embarrassed by this growing up in Dubai, because homosexuality is illegal there. I think it was a way to mirror myself to her because I idolised her». Linking this to his graduate collection, Brocca is exploring the fantasy of his mother’s past life before meeting his father and linking in his Sri Lankan background with Italian glamour of the 80s and 90s.
Growing up in Dubai, Andrea first interned for Temperley London at the age of 14 before returning to Dubai and opening his first shop selling personalised couture dresses catered to private clients. Juggling the life of a 15 year old whilst running a shop, from the designs to the financial pressure, he decided to deepen his skills and technique. To this end, he moved to Paris and entered the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne where he experimented with various techniques before finding his love for curved pleating. Inspired by the orgasm scene in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac and the spiral shape that takes her place in the film, he studied the Fibonacci sequence, shells and creating 3D volumes using a pleating technique. Flash back five years ago and he meets his now tutor on the Fashion Folio course at Central Saint Martins which is a six months intensive portfolio building course to prepare students for BA fashion courses.
Having taught at the Chambre Syndicale de La mode, «I know the level of the students is very high in technical and perhaps less in creativity — says Stephanie Cooper during our Zoom interview. «I tortured him on a daily basis from then on, [laughing], because it’s really making sure the students get their portfolio together for BA application. I’ve been pathway leader whilst Andrea has been in final year so we’ve been on a journey together since September. What I kept saying is that you have to go back to all the techniques you were obsessed with when I first met you, looking at those pleat forms and spirals that you’ve now refined in your collection».
When Andrea first arrived at Central Saint Martins, like all first year fashion design students, he took part in the annual White Show in which each student is asked to produce one look made from white material. Never conforming to the rules, Andrea saw this as an opportunity to prove himself to his peers, «the White Show has existed for years and I wanted to prove a point with a bit of a shock show factor in my white garment so I spray painted the look black the night before and then put it down the runway and collaborated with the Fashion Communication and Promotion students to do so. I didn’t want to disregard anyone on the course but I just wanted to have fun and go against the status quo as much as I could».
Having followed Andrea’s work for five years, the two have constructed a relationship over the years that has led them to equally learn from each other and offer Andrea the support that he needed throughout the period of working towards his degree collection. «The one question I always ask in final year is, ‘is that the biggest dream you could ever have in fashion because if it isn’t then you shouldn’t be doing it?’» said Stephanie. «The great thing about fashion is that you can have a dream and you can actually make it because it’s a 3D subject so it’s a fantastic industry to be in. Anything you can dream you can do and bring to life with different processes. In Andrea’s case he was already technically very competent and able to create things so it’s really just pushing to make sure that when he sees the final collection, he knows he couldn’t have dreamt any more than that».
For Andrea, Stephanie has always pushed the idea of creating a fantasy and in the case of his graduate collection, he has done just that, whilst finding his own identity. Financially independent, Andrea spent the first few months looking for sponsorship for his collection as well as working multiple jobs and sleeping on a friend’s sofa after returning from his placement at Bottega Veneta in Italy. The course starts in September and it wasn’t until January that things had settled down, «I could then start thinking about why and what I was doing. Before this I was experimenting technically but only after I got the weight off my back was I able to understand why I was doing this degree and the point that I was trying to make». For Stephanie, it was important for Andrea to find authenticity and his own identity in his work – «that’s where Andrea is good because he understands clothing and detailing and is really disciplined in terms of the craft of creating a garment. If you look at a tailored jacket it will have huge voluminous sleeves and there might be foam inside to keep the shape together and there could be velvet mounted on top of the foam and diamanté highlighting the shape». She continued «there’s the craft element but also dream, poetry, the fantasy part that is so important because there’s so much overflowing of basic commodity items in fashion, like clickbait fashion when it should really be a precious artefact. You live your life in fashion and carry your experience, your memory your whole person is embodied in your clothes and you communicate to others through what you wear so it’s so important not to get sucked into just buying a commodity item – things should be more unique than that».
Amongst a love for craft and technical design, Andrea has always positioned himself in a high-couture spectrum of design where he would like to continue working towards his craft in a niche couture market of emerging designers that celebrate craft and quality as a matter of importance. Still, he said «I think you need to understand why you’re doing design because if you don’t there’s no point doing it and Stephanie has really helped me with that over the years». Having built up a network of contacts during his degree he explained, «I want to create a demi-couture label which appeals to a private clientele of friends that I’ve created over the years and I want to go against what the fashion industry represents today». Believing brands should commit to one level of luxury, «today they are selling this idea of luxury that people can buy into to feel part of this economic time in reality. They’re buying into this false notion of luxury so they can be part of something». Designers such as Richard Quinn, and Dilara Findikoglu are designers that he believes to have achieved this idea of luxury whilst counteracting global luxury brands and fast fashion. Using considered fabrics and innovative techniques, Brocca wants to make his mark with his collection that will once released act as a benchmark to the rest of his career.
The pressure felt by Andrea during the process of working on such a big project for so long is mirrored by his tutor. «It has been painful at times because I know what Andrea is capable of so for me, I will be relentless until I see that potential happening. I don’t let go, if I see something that isn’t going to reach up to the potential, if the concept isn’t strong enough then I will not stop until I see that coming out. The final collection is like a huge mountain and the students are at the bottom and are looking up wondering ‘how am I going to get there?’ — It’s not like you can do the whole thing at the beginning. You’ve got to do it in stages and the main thing is your research because that tells you everything about the process and once Andrea got to that point and knew he wanted to go back to his past of his background and the mystery of his heritage and obsession with his mum and clothing that’s when it all started to happen».
Concerning design processes Stephanie said, «the reason I want Andrea to succeed is because I want there to be this group of young people who actually use these techniques and are going to establish them again». For one of Andrea’s garments, the twisted pleat dress, he made a sculptural under-structure made from boning and stiffened fabrics with a pleated form on top. Experimenting with various materials to create his understructure he said, «it can be any fabric, usually a power mesh with plastic or metal boning. For my crinolines I’ll create the shape I want through different processes of mesh and mould the fabric onto it. I then drape it and add metal boning. Then I will use string around the waist to tie it or will join it to a bustier and crinoline with them both attached to each other like a unified structure which is what I’m doing for the pleat dress too». He continued, «the power mesh is made with boning and any form of soft fabric I can put in the bustier to bring the bosoms up and I finish the edges by attaching a lining, stitch it and fold it over. There will be hooks at the back of the corset with holes so you can make it as tight as you want or perhaps I’ll use holes and string to fasten it all together». Then he explained that he uses a curved pleated fabric on top made from taffeta and this pleated structure goes on top of the bustier and is then hand stitched onto the bustier. Thanks to a small invisible stitch, the pleats fall onto the bustier naturally. Following this, Andrea is using foam as the structural volume around the end of the pleated bustier for the gown to sit falling off the pleated bustier. He uses foam then again for a soft volume around the body finally paints on top of the silk covering the foam which is then folded over and made into a hood. Using stapled boning, he finishes it over with a turtle-shell understructure for the hood, revealing two chained straps around the arms. Following this formula, Andrea will have created one of his looks, without mentioning the research, fabric sourcing, sketching, and pattern cutting, draping and pleating that will have taken place prior to the production. «I’m doing a lot of corsets, but they’re covered inside. They’re all about sexyfying the body and bringing the bust up and waist in to reveal the ultimate shape». Originally, Andrea had asked his friend and model Teddy Quinlivan to walk for him at the Central Saint Martins BA Fashion Show amongst others. Today the college is working to put together a digital show for the students to showcase their work on the Central Saint Martins website.
«Anyone that ever says to me that fashion is frivolous, it’s like the most ridiculous thing you could ever think. It’s a real art form and a craft and involves so many processes in terms of creating the fabric and creating the garments», said Stephanie. «I think there is a level of determination that some people have until they reach some level of a dream and that might never happen but if you keep on working on it and you don’t get discouraged that’s the most important thing and I hope that is what Andrea is doing». Due to the global pandemic, Andrea has returned to Dubai to finish his collection whilst still having weekly tutorials. In an ideal world, Andrea would like to have an art exhibition featuring his collection and designs as he is also an illustrator and last year sold them in an impromptu exhibition to help finance his degree. He is currently working with an animator to animate his art work and have them all moving. Finally Stephanie said, «you can either be wallowing in self pity or doing something really creative, either way, I do think it will go down in history».