WILL FERREIRA DYKE visits the Graduate Fashion Foundation showcase in Coal Drops Yard, Kings Cross, noting the difficulties 2020’s cohort have faced.
For many fashion graduates, leaving the safety net of one’s higher education institution is painfully scary. The sheer unpredictability of the industry surely keeps creatives up at night. The class of 2020 have had it even worse, and to them my heart goes out. Not only do they have the regular art-school insecurities regarding the unpredictable, incalculable and erratic conditions of their field of work; this cohort had a global epidemic to battle with.
To start off, pandemic pressures cut the creation of final collections short, with studio spaces shutting far sooner than expected and materials becoming somewhat limited. Social distancing measures have similarly limited the accessibility of final year fashion shows and exhibitions, and therefore the potential success of creatives.
Positively, certain institutions are mobilising in order to provide a somewhat normal degree-show experience for emerging talent. For London’s fine art graduates, Saatchi Gallery temporarily filled its walls with its London Grads Now. exhibition, showing works by the soon-to-be alumni of the city’s leading creative institutions: CSM, Slade School of Art and Goldsmiths to name a few. For fashion students, the Graduate Fashion Foundation hosted a six-day showcase in Coal Drops Yard as a part of London Fashion Week, highlighting the genius of graduates both nationally and internationally. Here I must praise how the coverage is beyond that of London’s institutions. I often fear that such overt celebration of the capital’s creatives ignores those beyond the boroughs. GFF rightfully celebrates the masses.
The showcase was held this September at Samsung KX. Such a show provides invaluable visibility for the student’s work and their future careers, provoking connections with buyers, stylists, recruiters and media personnel in the absence of a traditional graduate show. Exemplar to the importance of such exposure is Mariah Esa (@mariah_esa_), the GFW19 Shein People’s Choice Award winner, who has just released a four-piece capsule with Browns. This De Montfort University graduate takes repurposed garment labels to create fabrics, her garments striving for a more sustainable fashion future. Mariah, send me a sample please and thanks!
150 graduates took over the Kings Cross residency in a room full of 300 garments. The visual stimuli were intense. In an ideal world, I would have preferred a larger exhibition showroom, giving additional space so that works could sprawl out beyond the confines of a few rails. Though as we have experienced this last year, our world is not by any means ideal.
Understandably, not all works from each designer’s final show could be included, which meant that the clothing lacked a visual narrative and aesthetic continuity. Though there was a virtual catwalk show, shot live from Samsung KX, only the works of a small curated group of the best graduates and winners of the twenty-two awards were displayed, averaging at two looks each. Of course, there could have been tweaks and alterations to improve the experience, better framing each artist to that of individual importance. However, despite the limited scope, this keyhole format did offer a glimpse at the graduates’ capabilities, a taster of what each artist’s large oeuvre has to offer. Notable mentions from the catwalk worth further investigation are Anya Sims (@anya_sims_fashion), Norwich University of the Arts graduate, who explored the fantasy of fashion through her beautiful fuchsia pink and pastel ensembles. I also loved the work of Elise Keeling’s (@egk_textiles_prints), who studied at the University of Creative Arts Rochester. Her architectural shapes and eccentric patterns were truly captivating and commanded viewership despite being shown through the screen.
It would be impossible to spotlight all of the artists as the showcase consisted of such a plethora of talent. I fell in love with the work of Manchester Metropolitan University student Oscar Munro (@designby_oscarmunro) and his perfectly pleated trousers. The Iris Van Herpen-esque design was exquisite, and his craftsmanship enviable. I was not the only one gobsmacked by his talents, as a couple of other visitors close to me, Covid conscious, stood in a similar state of bewilderment in front of the flares. Edinburgh College of Art’s Leah Holmes’ (@leahholmes_design) work also had my mind blown. The mammoth chilli applique coat was simply magical and well, mouth-watering. Emmy Eves from Nottingham Trent (@emmyevesdesign) showcased garish garments inspired by child development in vivid greens and fluorescent, youthful hues. For a further insight into individual talents check out the GFF website.
The Graduate Fashion Foundation is not a new initiative, rather twenty-nine years old, but the importance of such an organisation is paramount, especially in such pressing realities. At the heart of GFF, an organisation which is notably non-profit, is the determination to facilitate the future success of graduates in the UK’s fashion industry, as well as globally. Viewing the works first-hand made the experience far more emotive, stratifying for me the importance of such showcases for graduates. Being able to touch and interact with the different garments is an experience that is seemingly idiosyncratic throughout fashion week, as so much is left to online lookbooks and virtual shows. Entering the showroom, one was struck by the prevailing sense of community, one of tactility and togetherness.
It is this feeling that has restored my faith in our country; not its leadership or governmental policy, no no! Rather its visionaries. Its thinkers. It’s art students!
Featured image: installation view of rails at the Graduate Fashion Foundation showcase in Coal Drops Yard, Kings Cross, 2020. Image source: Graduate Fashion Foundation.