Class of 2012

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It's been another year where UK fashion graduate shows have by and large been missed due to travel but the one chunk of graduate activity that I was able to save was to see all the BA undergraduate fashion and textiles work at Central Saint Martins quickly yesterday before leaving for Florence today.

I've not been to the new building in Granary Square, King's Cross that many times but it was only yesterday that I fully understood why finally, the move was a positive one.  It's all very well being nostalgic about the old Charing Cross site and the hallowed ground where Galliano and McQueen walked the corridors but the new building really made a whole lot more sense when you saw all the courses exhibiting in the same vicinity, seeing the way students use the building and how the flow of energy runs through the open vaulted atrium space. 

I'll stop there with my Grand Designs chat as we have about ten bright young things to plough through.  Steve went to the CSM BA fashion show on my behalf and after I whizzed through the pictures on the SD card, I gleaned about four things – toys, pugs, pink and Gooners.  All good things in my book but of course I had to go to the exhibition to glean more than just the surface of those motifs.  In addition to those talking points, I thought the year was especially strong in the knitwear department, as per usual and thoroughly innovative in terms of textiles and embellishment experimentation.  It's very rare that I take a shining to collections, based on theme alone but some of the graduates impressed in their research and dedication to their chosen inspiration point that it was hard not to be infected by their enthusiasm.

I've picked out ten here but I could have gone on and on and there are definitely gaps.  For instance, Erin Hawkes, the L'Oreal Award winner of the show is a sore omission only because I couldn't find her portfolio in the slightly crowded womenswear room, despite being a fan of her baggy b-boy-on-girl collection in the show.  For now, here are a few who of the grads who I look forward to seeing, turning up in future MA shows, positions at houses or even as fledging young designers.

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Aisling Farrell – What do you get when you rub fabrics like organza, chiffon or PVC with polystyrene balls?  A static electricity reaction that causes the balls to waft about, which isn't the most obvious source of inspiration for a collection but for Farrell, it produced an interesting exploration of reactions and relationships between different fabrics.  Creating contrasts between textures and fabrics isn't anything new but actually investigating how fabrics physically react when positioned near a material is innovative.  The visual effect of seeing polystyrene balls bouncing about entrapped in say a PVC trench coat also happens to be appealing, playful and subtly provocative.  I'd love to see similar fabric contrasts bought to life in mainstream clothing.

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CJ Yao – I keep remembering a sexy scene in some random movie where a man plays a woman like a cello?  Well errr‚Ķ. this isn't that.  This is Yao being inspired by stringed instruments like the harp or musical devices like the metronome and recreating similar structures on the body.  By raising the shoulders and broadening the shoulders, incorporating wooden shapes and creating tension with taut strings, you get these imposing silhouettes that look like they're either crippling the female body or providing them with protection.  Pushing silhouettes and proportions to the boundaries beyond wearability isn't an easy feat to achieve without the pieces looking like standalone sculpture but Yao had a firm rein on her strings, pulling them into the right position on the body.

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Hayley Grundmann – Finding inspiration in the mundane and elevating it to new heights is the trick of the trade for many of my favourite designers but Grundmann's point of inspiration was surprising and utterly endearing.  Her portfolio and collection was a Daz-ling ode (see what I just did there‚Ķ) to the launderette and the characters that can be seen doing their regular wash n' tumble dry.  Most prominently the collection features innovative knitting using shredded up woven laundry bags, the type that are universally well-know, and was once memorably used in Louis Vuitton's S/S 07 collection.  Grundmann however has taken the next step by creating new textiles with the plastic, incorporating it with wool and experimenting with different thickness of the strips of plastic.  Awkward near-ankle lengths, glasses and pork-pie hats nods either towards the elderly Coronation Street-watching generation or Mary Poppins – or perhaps both.  Either way, I couldn't quite get enough of Grundmann's process – from inspiration to conception to result.   

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Fei Feng – Right I know human Easter Eggs isn't an encouraging description of any collection but I had to admire Feng's absolute dedication and belief in this magical world, which she has created.  Chinese poetry, Japanese traditional crafts and general flora and fauna inform this fantastical collection.  It isn't immediately apparent that it's a knitwear collection as your vision is overtaken by the bulbous velvet eggs which engulf the body and the giant parasol-esque hats.  It's the level of detailing and intricate minutae that impresses you though up close and it's no surprise that Fang has already completed internships at John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, both of course kindred fashion dramatists for Feng.

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Natalia Mencej – The first thing that Steve said to me when I asked him about the CSM BA show was "There were PUGS!"  I've always been vaguely indifferent towards these squished-up, sad-looking dogs but somehow my sister and her boyfriend have turned me into a fellow pug lover.  A pastel-donning old school hip hop crew, each with a pug under their arm, was therefore a sight to behold, even through pictures.  Apparently it wasn't Mencej's initial idea to use pugs in the show but her tutors persuaded her to do so and so they found six of them from the London Pug Society (yes there is such a thing).  Pugs and theatrics aside, this was a really well-conceived collection – from research to textiles development and then final execution.  With something as specific as applying Miami-art-deco pastels to hip hop attire, there definitely had to be conviction and Mencej showed that in spades.  Plus there were pugs involved.  End of.

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Maia Bergman – Plastic, pastel and beading.  There isn't any overwrought concept behind Bergman's collection other than a celebration of doing one thing very well indeed and in this case it's her beading techniques.  She also comes up with the most delicious colour combinations and when I say delicious, I mean confectionary-derived ripples of colour with pinks melting into blue, oozing into yellow and pouring into green.  Sometimes, finding a central motif and sticking to that will yield best results and in Bergman's case, getting obsessed with beading certainly paid off. 

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Serena Gili – Knitwear students producing unconventional feats of their chosen discipline seems to be a running theme.  Gili may have meticulously knitted out organza tops with metallic threads and neon beading but on the bottom, she used resin to create sculptural skirts inspired by Anish Kapoor.  With the tops she explores everything from Elizabethan costume to Catholic school girl uniforms.  In fact, this entire collection feels like Gili's interpretation of a uniform, embed with ritual, tradition and respect for rules and routine.  You are only supposed to walk very slowly and serenely in these skirts which are secured at the waist.  Likewise, the stiffened organza tops with their high necks and concertina construction would straighten up any slouchy posture.  This is regal wear but not as we know it. 

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Isabella Newell – Gooner!  Gooner!  Gooner!  The second thing that Steve said to me about the CSM BA show was that there was a collection themed around Arsenal (now you know his priorities – pugs and football).  Steve and I are, if you don't know by now, Arsenal supporters.  I'm not some pathetic football widow, jumping on her boyfriend's sports bandwagon though.  Many moons ago, I waitressed at the Highbury football ground and served David Seaman and Thierry Henry a drink or two.  Therefore, I had to stick Newell's collection in here for the sheer novelty of saying "I've written about a collection themed around Arsenal."  On paper, it seems like the worse idea in the world to create a collection dedicated to your favourite football team but Newell has researched the subject well enough to fuse that sense of history that Arsenal Football Club has with historically-traced garments (her initial research shows costume from the 1930s, the 19th century and even earlier).  It's almost as though Newell is idealising garments for football worshipers, beyond a simple t-shirt jersey and scarf as there's a vaguely papal quality to this collection.  Arsenal FC would be silly not to snap up Newell's collection for their archives.  At the very least, she needs to get a group of girl Gooners to wear her pieces to a match.  I'm volunteering myself of course.

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Ruoxin Jin – Another skilled and fantasy knittist from Central Saint Martins emerges in the shape and form of Ruoxin.  Her collection explores limits and boundaries with boxy shapes that are then adorned with colourful crocheted mise-en-scenes, inspired by the wooden carvings illustrating Chinese folkloric tales and fables.  There's something immediately charming about her collection and once again, the attention to detail is quite extraordinary from the panels of metal hinges, knitted and crocheted together, to creating the toy-like little figures that hang off of the silhouettes. 

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Molly Goddard – I know Goddard through her sister Alice's blog Cool and Beauty.  I knew they had a cute joint line together called Love Tits.  I didn't know that Molly was at Central Saint Martins, coming up with this visual feast of a collection.  Give me fluro pink tulle, intricate embroidery and nods to various folkloric costumes and I'm a happy lady.  This is a collection that speaks to me as a wearer immediately.  Even the floor length gown with poofs out in all directions.  There's no denying that this is an ode to the magnificence and delicacy of craft – with everything from the smocking to the crocheted doilies to the embroidery beautifully considered.  Goddard plays with proportions too in unexpected ways such as dresses dipping at the back to reveal an underskirt or dropped waist gathered skirts creating stiff hoop-like structures that are fitting for the 21st century.  Meadham Kirchhoff needs to snap Goddard up.

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All backstage photography from 1 Granary, Central Saint Martins' wonderful new student-run blog, which also features many of these BA graduates' work with interviews, portfolio shots and soundtrack MP3s too!