Fear and Clothing: Fashion Grads Look to Change the Course of the Industry
As the past year has proven, true creativity can flourish under stress or unprecedented circumstances. When the first UK lockdown of COVID-19 struck in 2020, art and design students were hard at work on their degree final collections. As university studios closed their doors due to the pandemic, these students had to transport their workshops into the corners of their bedrooms, using makeshift tools from their kitchen utensils and draping bedsheets over furniture to create photography backdrops. What drove these determined young people to complete their collections was a conscious effort to be a part of the radical shift in what fashion communicates to the world about gender binaries, sustainable practices and mental health.
We meet four individual designers who all had a clear agenda when approaching their designs: to challenge and change what power clothing has. Speaking to them about their processes, from the initial vision to the final product, it gives hope for what clothing collections are capable of reflecting in our ever changing and uncertain society.
“Men don’t get the chance to express themselves as much.”
For Saffron, the fascination began with a soldier huddled within the trenches working on some embroidery. He’s not a woman carrying out domestic work, but a young man sent to war to be brave and strong. It’s his gender, and the subsequent masculinity expected of him, that brought him to the war. He sits in a place beyond fear, yet also of utter boredom – how strange that these two states have come together. So, he sews.
For her final year collection at Kingston University, Saffron pieced together latex offcuts to create a men’s trench coat. Dragging her boyfriend out of bed during lockdown to shoot the piece, she photographs him in a corner of her flat she’s disguised by draping white sheets over the walls and furniture. The coat is inspired by military uniforms, as Saffron's collection was driven by her fascination for the fear that clothing creates: the power padded shoulder in an office suit, the sharp lines of a sergeant’s trench jacket, the intimidating silhouette of a headmaster's cloak. Despite the solid structure her clothing creates, they challenge its own masculinity by introducing themes of embroidery and feminine florals into the pattern. Her initial concept was inspired by soldier’s quilts and stained glass art, looking to associate textile craftwork with men, rather than a domestic housewife activity. She also challenges gender connotations with the material, determined to work sustainably, she used latex as a vegan alternative material to leather. Latex is predominantly associated with the kinky, sex scenes, usually adorned by female dominatrix. Yet what Saffron has done is spin the material’s stigma into the opposite direction, this texture is now one of robust bravery worn by a stoic man.
Saffron’s designs have a fresh intention to challenge the current fashion conventions. She describes going clothes shopping with her boyfriend and feeling disappointed that there’s little choice for men, “Men don’t have the chance to express themselves as much...we need to break down the gender barriers, challenge femininity and masculinity in clothing, but this can only be done subtly”. She wants to showcase the unbinding of gender roles in fashion slowly, ensuring it can be accessible and wearable, so that slowly this idea of male femininity can be replicated down the fashion chain into high street shops.
“Knitwear is often associated with traditional hand knits made by your granny, but I like to think that my work challenges those perceptions.”
A fellow Kingston university grad, Amy’s own goals is to revolutionise how we see knitwear, bringing it to the forefront of sustainable fashion. When the first COVID lockdown was announced, Amy was syet to finish her final collection, and had to think laterally in making do with what materials were accessible to her. However, her niche is being able to revitalise recycled and ethically sourced materials. Her work has an impactful aesthetic, clearly set to make a statement. The chunky, oversized jumper adorns giant floral shapes with yarn spilling from it. Her work inspires a new radical way of presenting knitwear, not with neat, uniformed patterns but wild forms of expression. Yet she feels she has only scratched the surface of what the possibilities of knitwear can achieve. She believes that the creative opportunities are boundless: “Knitwear is often associated with traditional hand knits made by your granny, but I like to think that my work challenges those perceptions.”
Her pieces are intended to tell the story of the individual wearing them. The nature of her process means each piece is one-off and always unique. Choosing to see a garment as a lifelong treasured possession, meant to be loved, Amy wants to encourage the idea of sustainability into our shopping habits. She wants us to think less about trends and more about investing in a piece to adore and cherish for years to come. Hoping to promote sustainable solutions and handcraft in the fashion industry, Amy leaves us with a lasting message: “think slow”.
Follow Amy here
“People have taken old footballs apart, and used the leather to create corsets.”
Gracie’s collection is a powerful force of vibrant pinks and deep blues, all worn by women marching with plaques reading ‘Who made my clothes?’ Before she graduated from Leeds university this year, Gracie interned at Oxfam’s waste saver facility, where she learnt more about clothing waste. It brought a grounding reality to how fast fashion creates so much unnecessary landfill. It was here that she began the process of her work, from collecting discarded materials to constructing the final product. She followed a gut instinct as to what colours and shapes to put together, and slowly her vision took form. One of her showstopper pieces is an incredible gown made up of different hues of purple and blue patches stitched together, that eventually creates a trail of sleeves which cascade to the bottom. The back straps are two strips of fabrics simply knotted together. She allows the stitchwork to be unapologetically visible, bringing the craftwork to the surface of the garment, allowing for the process to be an integral subject matter of the piece. By hand stitching, it allows her to unpick and rearrange the patchwork if she wants to change her mind. For her, it’s all about the physical artistry of building a garment. Her clothing is for those who appreciate the labour and love which goes into the art.
So what can practising sustainable craft do for her creativity? Gracie believes it is actually easier to be more innovative with upcycling materials. She cites a Tik Tok craze as a source of inspiration, where “People have taken old footballs apart, and used the leather to create corsets.” The art of upcycling is to design with longevity in mind, not allowing the piece to be controlled by fickle trends, but instead to be timeless. There is a new beauty in design and it branches from the imperfections of damaged, unwanted clothing being made into something indestructible.
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“I’m always fascinated by human beings’ resilience to face every hardship in life and adapt.”
The heavy weight of struggle takes a poetic movement throughout Jessan’s work. For his final year collection at Central Saint Martins, the models wear architectural structures built within garments. Jessan geniusly camouflages parts of furniture into the design, symbolising how overwhelmed and burdened we are with the pain that life gives us. “I wanted to highlight the progression of frames that start from a big sculpture on a body ,and then become smaller on the next models. This signifies that when you face a struggle, it becomes smaller and eventually becomes part of your body, making you stronger, more powerful and a better person.” Jessan approaches the first stages of his creations with a personal concept or story – taking inspiration from individual accounts of mental health. Knowing that this is a universal topic we can all relate to in some way, “I am always fascinated by human beings’ resilience to face every hardship in life and adapt.” He then follows the visual impact based on abstract notions, allowing his own mind to be guided by colour and fabric. What is most impressive is how powerfully uniformed the overall collection looks, yet every individual piece has its own unique shape, drapery and colours informing it.
The consistent focus throughout his collection is led by the drapery, allowing for a seductive sway when the models move in the fabrics. The physicality, a willingness to invite touch and feel, is the main force behind his designs. The combination of the slick, delicate details with the robust structures of the shape allow for it to be a surreal and avant-garde work of art. He says “I think my work appeals to individuals who are experimental and perhaps non-conformist. Embracing these looks means not being afraid to stand out and a willing to be provocative in the eyes of others.” With a plan to begin a postgraduate degree in the Autumn, we can expect even more from this designer.
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Article by Sophia Sheppard