Have they invented the ability to be able to split one’s body in two and be in multiple places at one time yet?  No?  That’s my pressing question for Silicon Valley peeps to ponder over in the near future.  Seeing graduate collections, more so than established designers, takes a fair amount of in-person vision because you’re trying to understand a something you’ve not seen before and grasp at what might the designer be thinking.  Still, in my absence in New York, photographer Russ McClintock was able to attend both the Royal College of Art fashion show a few weeks ago as well as the private view of portfolios of the graduates.  From his beautiful and comprehensive photography, I was able to glean a sense of optimism emanating from the students’ work – primarily in their use of colour, textiles and innovative materials as well as in the ideas themselves.  It’s a visual feast that requires closer inspection beyond the performance choreography of the show – a major change-up instigated by new head of fashion Zowie Broach, formerly of the label Boudicca.  I might not have gotten the gist of these clothes in movement but in stills, in inspiration imagery and in the details, these particular students for me encapsulated an uplifting energy that needs to be harnessed – especially because at this particular moment in time, when it feels like such a precious privilege to be studying the creative arts.


For most publications and journalists, Hannah Williams was a stand out from this year’s batch of students.  That’s no surprise.  I remember her silicone-dipped trompe l’oeil BA collection from when she was at UCA Epsom.  Her investigation into all things plastic and shiny continues into her final MA collection, which was inspired by the sculptor David Altmejd.  Williams eschews garment making norm by creating these pieces live on the models, adopting a sort of live-sculpture approach, where both clothing and body are doused in liquid latex that feels spontaneous and of its moment.   It’s basically the prom scene in Carrie re-enacted with a more nuanced consideration of colour palette.  And the results?  A beautiful sort of mess.  

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“If it doesn’t sparkle, don’t buy it.”  That’s a phrase that knitwear designer Sarah Isabella Sweeney overhead in her home town Liverpool.  It’s also a mantra that I’m more than familiar with.  As Sweeney delved deep into sparkle, into 1970s glam rock culture and styles of icons like David Bowie, Mark Bolan and Patti Smith, her ombre-dipped tactile knits take on a glittery bolshiness.  This is one of those collections that does exactly what it says on the portfolio cover.  Sparkle magpies unite!

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Hanging out with my erm… excuse the un-PC term… “gaysian” friends has taught me one or two things about Grindr.  I therefore had to laugh out loud when I saw that the title of Hong Kong-born Ka Wa Key Chow‘s collection was called “No Asians Plz” – a profile description that prompted Chow to use innovative and beautiful textiles to start what he calls a “Rice Queen” revolution.  You can ignore the mildly offensive terminology if you have a gander at Chow’s Monet-esque collaged knits and painterly pastel fabrics.  Dating apps basically still baffle me but I can certainly get down with Chow’s textural vision.

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Turkish graduate Tuğcan Dökmen did a very abstracted riff off his own culture as he looked at the popularity of the lined polo shirt in amongst Turkish men, combining this masculine garment with traditional female-focused Turkish bead work.  Dökmen used 3-D printing to create his own large scale beads which were then spray painted in vivid colours to snake around the body along with undulating waves of layered tulle.  It’s a delicate balance between hard and soft with a clever colour palette used to define the silhouette as well as decorating it. 

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It wouldn’t be a graduate fashion show without some unfettered commentary on society and designers Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl have opted for the 2-become-approach to put together their collection for joint label Namilia.  Their collection “My Pussy, My Choice” is a celebration and exaggerated representation of female icons who have used social media to put unapologetically put themselves out there.  Li and Pfohl cite the likes of Miley Cyrus, Arvida Byström, Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian as pop culture leaders that put themselves “out there” and so quite literally, every silhouette comes engulfed in phallic inflatable shapes – brandished with slogans like “Think Outside The Cocks”.  It brings to mind some of the reversed gender jokes in films like Pitch Perfect.  He’s a hunter” says man-eater Stacie or the main character Beca referring to her “toner” as her “dick”.  This is the kind of vernacular that makes Namibia’s collection a) timely and b) engrossing  as feminist-fuelled expressions in fashion takes on quite literally, new forms. 

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Finally Morwenna Darwell also has something to say about representation of women in mainstream media.  She says her work is about celebrating “the beauty possible in the mundane and the everyday” but the older women she opts to portray in her lookbook and in her research are anything but mundane in their glamour-laden animal prints, worthy of Advanced Style attention.  Darwell uses her collection to debunk these “glamourous” style tropes though by deconstructing her fabrics to reveal the “real” skin underneath the faux animal one.  After all wild cats evolved to obtain their spots and stripes as a form of camouflage for their environment and so it is that Darwell’s collection unfurls on the body so that we might look beyond the surface .

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All photography of portfolios and of the RCA Show by Russ McClintock

>> Another short trip notched up in New York meant another trip to Paintbox, not with palm trees, pineapples or other emoji-esque motifs that are so de rigueur of summer manicures.  Instead, pastel speckled foam came to mind – sometimes called compressed or recycled foam – and normally used as furniture stuffing or flooring underlay.  Its haphazard colour qualities and reconstituted material composition mean that anything from powder blue to slate grey to lemon yellow could be in the mix.

It’s the slightly wonky and awkward cousin to its more luxurious cousin marble – another texture giant that has ensconced itself across the fields of fashion, interiors and graphic design.  And slowly but surely, that speckled foam texture has seeped its way into certain collections (mostly of the graduate sort because it’s so a) a cheap material to buy and b) good for sculpting exaggerated silhouettes), into art installations and creative still life shots, and now, in a swirl of pastel orange, blue and grey, onto my nails for the next month or so.

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kenjikd2013 CSM MA graduate Kenji Kawusami‘s collection

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LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 08:  The Brutalist Playground is the latest work by Turner Prize nominees Assemble with artist Simon Terrill at the RIBA on June 8, 2015 in London, England.  The installation is open free to the public from 10 June to 16 August at the Architecture Gallery, RIBA, London.  (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for The Royal Institue Of British Architects (RIBA))

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1granary_csm_central_saint_martins_xinyuan_xu99CSM 2015 MA graduate Xinyuan Xu‘s collection

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Trudging around the Pitti Uomo tradeshow, I often feel like an errant five year old being let loose in the grown-up’s area as I take in a blur of ties, suits, brogues and yet more suits.  There are limitations to the ways in which I admire a three piece suit, a lovely bit of tweed or a properly tricked out sole.  Wandering aimlessly around the main Central Pavilion area, a face caught my eye.  Drawn out with rope and looking a little like Picasso’s dislocated faces, it certainly stood out in amongst the suited and booted set.

The abstract face-off is the creation of Yii Ooi, a young designer based in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, who studied at Raffles Design Institute and proceeded to set up his own line Yii after working as a hair stylist.  His clothes come with the tagline “We Never Grow Up” but his Peter Pan syndrome doesn’t necessarily equate to naivety as his starting points are are often the darker facets of growing pains.  His S/S 16 collection, presented as part of L’Uomo Vogue and GQ Italia’s the Latest Fashion Buzz in Pitti was inspired by Mary Ellen Wilson, the first reported child abuse case.  His A/W 15-6 collection is about the bogeyman of our childhood nightmares.  And for his first foray into womenswear, Yii delves into the mind of an autistic child called Pito, imagining what artworks he would draw.

“I’m a kid at heart! Most of my ideas are generated through a child’s eye, it’s always from their perspective.”

Yii approaches his clothes with the workings of a child’s mind and so everything feels exaggerated to the point of being absurd in some instances.  And yet, I’d refrain from calling his work cartoonish.  There is a level of refinement to the stiffened fabrications and stylised graphics and the way they are combined with oversized and pronounced silhouettes.  Yii’s inner child allows him to create his own world where headless chickens, a child’s foot stepping on insects or a black and white stripy 3D banana can grace his clothes without fear of being chortled at.  Yii’s references might be creatively wayward five year olds but his work is anything but childsplay.

YII S/S 16 ‘Mr Jones’ collection:

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YII A/W 15-6 ‘Boo!’collection:

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YII womenswear S/S 15 ‘4 Years of Pito’ collection:

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At Graduate Fashion Week, I came across a stand for Ciment Pleating.  They claim to be the oldest pleating firm (established in 1925) and one of the few remaining in the UK and they just so happen to be based in Potters Bar, not ten miles from where I grew up.  People who are savvy with all things savoire faire might be familiar with Lognon, the famous plisseur to the haute couture houses, which is part of Chanel’s Paraffection group.  Even there, what was once an employer of over sixty people is just down to five craftsman, entrusted with the noble art of sculpting fabric in this time consuming yet magical way.

Ciment on the outskirts of London, works on a similarly small scale, and has survived by working on projects for clients such as Alexander McQueen, Victoria Beckham and Mary Katrantzou as well as one-off pieces like iridescent creations for Lady Gaga as well as countless student collections calling for expert pleating know how. 

One designer who relies on the work that Ciment does is multi-displinary designer Jule Waibel.  German-born but London-based, Waibel studied her MA in Design Products at the Royale College of Art and graduated in 2013.  Her work be it in furniture or garments are based on precise foldability achieved by geometric pleats.  It’s the transformative element that captures Waibel’s imaginations, which is why her organza pleated dresses have such a lively quality to them. 

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JuleWaibel_2015_08NNPhotography of Jule Waibel’s “Raised” collection by Jasmine Deporta

I was going to pay Ciment a visit but as we’re coming up to the quieter summer period, it would be tricky to see any pleating in action.  I therefore have to thank Waibel’s site for the extensive photography that shows her processes when working in Ciment’s pleating atelier.  I wouldn’t have been able to depict the process any better if I had tried.  The basics of pleating are thus – you have a pattern or mould made out of two pieces of card.  Fabric is sandwiched inbetween the two pieces of cardboard and then rolled into shape, bound and placed in a steam cabinet to heat set the fabric to the shape of the mould.  Knife, box, sun ray and accordion are the common pleats but Ciment can do what they call “fancy” pleating.  This is where Waibel comes into her own as she devises various geometric and intricate moulds to create her  fabrics for her “Cone” series of chairs or her diaphanous organza dresses.  Following in similar vein to another famed fabric manipulator Issey Miyake, as well as Junya Watanabe, who produced astonishing feats of fabric origami for A/W 15-6 –  Waibel demonstrates that there are yet new geometries to be discovered within the sculpting of fabric.  The fact that this can all be achieved just outside of the M25 is even more of an astonishing feat.

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Photography of Waibel working in Ciment by Julian Busch