Style: Shaping up

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Indy Lifestyle Online
"Who the f*** left the door open downstairs? You know what it's like here with those f****** chancers stealing clothes. Who did it? I know it was one of you." The MA students are frozen to the spot as their formidable course leader Louise Wilson makes her point loud and clear. No-one says a word. A few days previously, all 35 of Wilson's MA fashion students had shown their final collections in the tents outside the Natural History Museum and are now preparing for this Monday when their clothes will be set up - department-store like - on rails in the college for illustrious visitors to take a closer look.

Collectively, this is their final step from student life into the big, wide world, yet naively none seem to notice the incongruity of their position. Still being shouted at, still putting cigarettes out on the floor of their ramshackle studio space, and still struggling to make ends meet, these are the designers of tomorrow. One of them, Mark Weston (below right), has already got a job at Byblos as assistant menswear designer, and he's moving to Ancona in Southern Italy to begin a new life in a few weeks.

Last year, Andrew Groves and Tristan Webber graduated from the course with headline-grabbing collections which consisted, in the main, with what are called "show-pieces" - both are well on their way to success. Webber, 25, says the 18-month intensive course gave him "completely free rein to explore everything I wanted to do", and taught him how to market his clothes successfully, which accounts for a high percentage of the final mark.

The St Martin's MA course has also harboured the likes of John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Fabio Piras, but not (as is often wrongly assumed) Hussein Chalayan and Stella McCartney who completed BAs at the college.

This year's crop marks a turning point for the course. Not only is Louise Wilson leaving after five years to work for Donna Karan (she is in denial about it - "It will be hell," she says laughing), it is also the first time men's fashion has been properly represented, with six designers showing fully formed collections worthy of the international catwalk.

Richard Capstick is one of them. His range (far right) caught the eye of Browns Focus who immediately wanted to put his bright cashmere and brushed kid mohair knits with graphic horsehead patterns, battered jeans and deliberately misshapen soft tailoring into a showcase window. Unfortunately, this wasn't possible as all are currently one-off items and will be unavailable to buy. Gabrielle Greiss's "Fairies" collection (right) was also chosen for the window, but can't be used for the same reason.

Greiss, like Capstick who has worked for Ghost, has had extensive industry experience assisting young designer Kostas Murkurdis and Martine Sitbon in Paris while at college. Her collection of mis-matched separates such as a burnt gold leather jacket and matching trousers worn with stiffened muslin fairy dresses, cup-cake skirts and droopy vests was forward-thinking without being too contrived, and should secure her a job soon. They, along with Robert Cary-Williams (far left) whose womenswear, in homage to five years in the army, used military fabrics and moulded distressed leathers, should go far.

The forgotten heroes of the MA are the knitters, print and textile designers who spend their 18 months creating new ways to do things. Melanie Smith put her time to good use by inventing a new way to knit "distressed" cashmere. Clare Messenger used iron-on transfers and blobs of glue to create amazing textures and Alan Beattie brandished a staple gun to create graphic applique's on grey stretch-wool devore crepe.

On Tuesday, all 35 of them will be holding their breath as Donna Karan and a slew of industry insiders gust through the static show on their never-ending quest to find fresh talent. Will it be New York? Miami? Rome? Paris? LA? It could be London. Whatever happens, this lot may not be big show-offs, but they've got what it takes.

Photographs by Chris Moore

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