Britain's got new fashion talent

The economy may be floundering, but at last week's graduate shows, creativity flourished. Harriet Walker rounds up the highlights of the student season

When Alexander McQueen showed his graduate collection in 1994, fashion editor and impresario Isabella Blow bought it in its entirety and set him on the road to international recognition as one of the most talented fashion visionaries of the twentieth – and twenty first – century.

"The last recession brought a burst of creativity," says Willie Walters, course director of the BA fashion degree at London's Central St. Martin's. "Young designers understood there were no jobs out there, but they soldiered on with a hope and a prayer. It takes hard times for creativity to really be appreciated."

These are hard times indeed in which to be a young designer, but the graduate shows in London last week saw passionate displays of ingenuity and resilience, as well as hard work and natural talent. After the boom years of the late Nineties that saw British graduates taking some of the top jobs in the industry – with Galliano at Dior, McQueen at Givenchy, and Phoebe Philo followed by Stella McCartney at Chloé – it seems fashion's wheel of fortune has gone full circle, and while the job market may be inert, the reaction amongst young British designers is anything but.

Graduates seemed freed up by the commercial shrinkage and were able to express themselves more conceptually. It showed in their many different takes on deconstruction: Yun Jeong Yang at London College of Fashion showed reconfigured skirt suits that morphed into overcoats, and at the Royal College of Art, Jae Wan Park's traditional menswear collection featured extra sleeves worked into suits as lapels, and jackets with waistcoats attached at the back. It's a method of questioning the role of the designer in a culture used to excess and now cutting back, a way of ushering in the 'new' by developing a different mode of dressing and creating other forms of garment, just like Yohji Yamamoto did in the Eighties, the last time we had more than we needed or could afford.

Anatomical imagery was another trope used to the same effect, both unnervingly and with a sense of humour. Central St. Martin's graduate Kye showed a sweet knitted jumper decorated with a to-scale representation of the model's digestive system. Sarah Benning, from the University of Westminster, had leggings really earning their soubriquet, painting them and rubber shift dresses with detailed Vesalian renderings of muscles and tendons, while the RCA's Matthew Miller made bibs for his tuxedo shirts out of skeletal bone cut-outs, the arms of which swung free next to the model's. CSM knitwear student Caroline Jarvis showed a baby pink sweater embellished with a plastic spine, perhaps to remind us that in even the most romantically-minded of men there need also be a bit of backbone.

Opulence was a variant refutal of the economic gloom though. In a show of extreme media savvy, fashion and marketing student Philip Preiswerk at CSM presented a collection inspired by Kill Bill and made up of six enormous, crinoline dresses in various eye-popping shapes and colours. These were show pieces indeed: singer and directional clothes horse Lady GaGa has reportedly been in touch with Preiswerk about purchasing or commissioning his designs. It may be an extreme case in point, but it's proof that there's still a lot of value attached to British fashion graduates, who are pored over by this restless global industry.

"There's so much tribalism in the UK," says Richard Bradbury, CEO of Graduate Fashion Week sponsor River Island, "and it's that diversity coming out of our universities that makes the UK very appealing , whether to Gucci or Prada, or Nike or Puma." Now in their fifth year of sponsorship, River Island boasts an impressive selection of GFW alumni in their creative team and has recently launched a range of pieces by graduates for their stores; like ethically sourced meat, you can track who has worked on each piece and how they started out. "We typically take in a lot of graduates every year," adds Bradbury. "We're a fashion business and we need fresh talent coming in." There was talent in abundance in London last week, cementing its reputation as creative capital, where new names and raw talent are not only nurtured but held up as exemplars. "If fashion is personal expression through clothing, then Britain is its head and heart, and the graduates are its lifeblood," says milliner Stephen Jones poetically.

There was a sense at the shows of a laying bare of the very design process itself. Many graduates used layering to show off the technical intricacies of their pieces. At the RCA, Anna Ruberg used large interlinked swatches of suede to create dresses held together, it seemed, by the very holes in the pattern. And winner of the LCF fashion textiles award Alicija Aputyte showed jackets and tops with 'tunnels' in them, through which belts and cords were visibly threaded, to create a confluence with the inside and out of the pieces and therefore with the ideas involved in their genesis.

And when the talent weren't showing off their skills, they were modestly hiding them in subtle and elegant pieces. A crop of designers looked to the minimalism of the early Nineties – a recession trend if ever there was one – and showed pared down silhouettes made from neoprene (in the case of Neil Young at CSM) and austere boiled wool, as at LCF's Hannah Beth Stenberg. Siofra Murphy at the RCA gave us new, or luxe, minimalism in discreet futuristic shapes made from elaborately textured and printed fabrics, mixing "over-decoration in a tasteful way" with "starkness and a measured linear approach." If this is a sophisticated shell into which we can retreat in hard times, then some designers also offered heavy-duty armour to fend off the financial apocalypse – Asger Juel Larsen had male models clad in chain mail vests and hoods at LCF, and Kim Choong-Wilkins at the RCA protected effete models in voluminous and ironically bourgeois Oxford bags with chain mail knits.

It should be clear then, that fashion's class of 2009 are ready to face whatever the industry and the economy may throw at them. "In times like this, our students get more and more creative," asserts Lucinda Chambers, fashion director of British Vogue. "After all, in this country, we're used to doing things on no money."

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

    SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

    Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

    £85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

    Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

    £55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering