(Backstage photographs of Shao Yen's Central Saint Martins MA collection by Alex Sainsbury for Dazed Digital)
Playing around with Matthew Harding/Topshop's sculptural top in the snow yesterday reminded me of the white-out, neutralised class of MA graduates that Louise Wilson turned out at Central Saint Martin's this year. Maximal minimal as an oxymoron couldn't be a more apt way to describe many of the graduates, who in their individual ways all rigorously pushed technique in form and texture, keeping colours and gauche sex appeal to a minimum to tune out any unnecessary detailing and letting their silhouettes speak for themselves.
Shao-Yen Chen, one of the knitwear graduates was no exception and his long and arduous experimentation with using nylon thread to create volume backed onto cashmere and lycra was the fabrication springboard for his MA collection 'Waver' which in editorials (I've picked Centrefold and Pop as examples but there are many more… including a beautiful film by Ben Toms for AnotherMag.com) has a magnificent way of conveying volume. White strands of nylon together that are shaved into bulbous formations that look like cheerleading pom poms should have comic value. Go on… bring on the Big Bird and feather duster jokes if you wish but somehow Chen's build up of volume in these white silhouettes is strangely graceful. He seems to know where the strands need to jut out, where the curves need to be, the correct density of the nylon strands and most importantly where the shapes need to stop to prevent the pieces from entering into ridiculous territory.
(Photography by Johan Sandberg, Styling by Joanna Schlenzka for Centrefold Magazine Issue 6)
(Photography by Jamie Morgan, Styling by Tamara Rothstein for Pop A/W 2010 Issue )
Still, a graduate MA collection doing just that wouldn't have been a bad thing given that design graduates have that opportunity to do that when they're under no obligations other than to express their vision. That Chen didn't take his MA collection into the absurd put him in good stead to carry on to his sophomore collection 'Skin', which in essence is a continuation of his first but with even more restraint applied. The nylon strand shaved shapes are still there but are used almost as highlights on the body conscious dresses which introduce leather as a new material to somehow make the dresses more tangible and playful, aided by the injection of colours which still don't get up in your face when restricted to shades of blue and nude. The volume overall is reduced so that the Shao Yen Chen girl isn't so much cocooned inside a structure as she is flirting around with the cocoon that sits on her back, on her hips or as a skirt. When a graduate haps onto a technique or a signature that they become known for, they can get overly attached to it earning them one-trick-pony monikers, but in the case of Chen, I have a feeling the nylon strand shaving is just the beginning of technique exploration that he is capable of.
Photography by Nicole Maria Winkler