Fashion: Young bloods

Next week, the creations of a new crop of fashion hopefuls will hit the catwalk in BhS Graduate Fashion Week. Tamsin Blanchard goes in search of tomorrow's stars

Next week, the country's fashion graduates have their moment of glory before their tutors, potential employers, the press, and their parents, who have supported them through three or four years of frocks and silly hairstyles. For the majority, BhS Graduate Fashion Week is the only time their designs will make it on to a catwalk. Only a small percentage will be offered a job either here or abroad. And only one or two will aspire to becoming the next Hussein Chalayan or Alexander McQueen.

Over the years, British art colleges have drained their talent into the major design houses of the world. Brighton has sent graduates to Alberta Ferretti and Valentino in Italy, Donna Karan in New York and has produced its own star, knitwear supremo Julien MacDonald. From the University of Central England, graduates have gone to Paul Smith and Carolina Herrera, while Surrey's young stars are now scattered across the international fashion world, from Stephen Jones and Gieves & Hawkes in London, to Adidas, Reebok, and Puma. Thierry Mugler and Givenchy both employ graduates of Middlesex, while Calvin Klein and Gucci are home to graduates of the University of Westminster. Meanwhile, Central Saint Martins students continue to find work from Tokyo to Tuscany.

Perhaps it is not surprising that students today are so fabulously adept at self-promotion. Take Lina Hamed, a womenswear undergraduate at the University of Westminster. Not only has she commissioned Italian Vogue illustrator Richard Gray to do her drawings, but she is also having shoes made by Christian Louboutin, who makes shoes for Chloe, and Anya Hindmarch, who makes bags for ladies who lunch. Other students' ambitions are a little more down to earth. Patrick Grandin, who graduates in menswear from Northbrook College, has no interest in playing the starving genius: "I don't see the point in making unwearable clothes. I think that menswear is about making a living." He will go far.

So, will Helen Richards, a footwear designer from Cordwainers in east London. Patrick Cox and Emma Hope trained at the college but Richards has that all-important unique selling point. She has spotted a niche in the market making bespoke shoes for people with disabilities. She got to know the specific needs of one potential client and completed a work placement with the orthopaedic and surgical appliance specialists Jane Saunders & Manning, who, in turn, worked with Richards on her final project. The result? Three pairs of shoes for day, evening and active wear. If Teresa Palmer, from Nottingham Trent University, is persistent enough, there is no reason why she can't achieve her ambition of joining the design team at Red or Dead. She has designed three outfits for men and three for women, "defying conventional rules of dress". Her industrial aprons are a subtle attempt at getting men into skirts.

British students are welcomed by fashion houses from New York to Milan because they are given some of the best and most creative training in the world. Our colleges are swamped with applications from foreign students eager to be given the platform that only a college such as Kingston or Central Saint Martins can give. Each year, however, fashion students seem to get more worldly wise and to be less impressed by anyone or anything. One student found himself on placement with Karl Lagerfeld. While you might imagine most fashion students would pluck out their granny's eyes for such an opportunity, this young whippersnapper hated every minute and complained that Karl scrawled on his sketchbook. We should all be so lucky.

Main picture protective clothing for men who want to break with convention, by Teresa Palmer from Nottingham Trent University. Far left American workwear meets sportswear goes to the pub. Menswear by Patrick Grandin from Northbrook College. Left a collection for women who like their clothes luxurious, precious, exclusive and mysterious, by Kwai-Sze Tang from Middlesex University. Below far left knitwear by Joy Campbell from Fashion Design with Business at Croydon College. Her collection is inspired by African hairstyles. Below organic and fluid separates by Tamsin Cook from Surrey Institute of Art and Design

Main picture footwear by Helen Richards from Cordwainers.

"After some initial research, I realised there were significant numbers of people who needed orthopaedic footwear, but who desperately wanted shoes in new materials and fashionable colours with innovative designs," says Richards. After getting in touch with her first potential customer, Christina Bonnett, an artist and picture framer, who had had polio, she made her first prototype. For her final degree show, she has made three pairs of shoes for Bonnett, for day, evening and active wear. "I can't tell you what a thrill it was to wear this fabulous pair of boots," Christina wrote in a letter to the college. "For someone like me who has never had the possibility of just putting on a different style according to the occasion, the prospect of seeing myself as a whole is so exciting." The shoes will be on display with Cordwainers degree show at the Barbican, July 2-5.

Below Saffron Howells's collection was inspired by sex in advertising and the exploitation of the human form. She graduates from Bretton Hall. Below right a simple and elegant collection in white by Suzy Connolly from the University of Westminster. Below centre "protect to survive" is May Kew-Winder's theme for her final collection for the University of Central England. Her aim was to mix new technology with tradition. Below far right Luc Goidadin studied Fashion Design with Marketing at St Martins. "The good thing about this degree is that the final collection can potentially be as mad as I want it to be," says 23-year-old Goidadin. "We look at fashion from a wide and pragmatic point of view, so the end result is always backed up with a realistic and viable marketing strategy." He gained sponsorship from Evian for the mini-collection, and the clothes - which are pure and fluid in line, and use luxury fabrics such as cashmere and silk - attempt to represent the Evian ethos. They are best described as glamorous evening wear - he says they are for "modern water nymphs".

Additional research by Hannah Hunter

Graduate Fashion Week runs 8-12 June at Jubilee Gardens, the South Bank, London SE1, nearest station Waterloo. Opening hours: Monday, 8 June: 2pm- 6.30pm; Tuesday, 9 June - Friday 12 June: 11am-6pm. A limited number of tickets are available to the public at pounds 7.50. Tickets for the Gala show on Friday 12 June at 6.30pm cost pounds 25. Each participating college has a catwalk show. For a catwalk schedule and to order tickets, call the Graduate Fashion Week Hotline on 0171-629 2885

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