This Autumn/Winter season at London Fashion Week was beset with spectacle – Cara Delevigne returned to the runway for the first time in two years for Christopher Bailey’s celebration of all things LGBTQ at Burberry, the Queen descended on her first-ever runway show, and an anti-fur protester broke onto the runway at the Mary Katrantzou show (which featured only faux-fur, oops). But, in the midst of all this hubbub, The London College of Fashion MA show managed to stand out to with an exceptional year of talented graduates. We saw the exaggerated silhouettes and sci-fi librarian stylings of Jiali Lu, the sumptuous and intricate knitwear and crochet of Leanne Callon and The.Ran as well as the tailoring and embroidery focused wardrobe of Vicky Leung.
As photographer Michelle Marshall went backstage at the MA show, we reached out to these four special graduates to pick their brains about their inspiration, influences and ideas.
Who are your biggest designer, artistic or aesthetic influences?
Yohji Yamamoto is one of my favourite designers, I like his avant-garde tailoring and Japanese design aesthetics. He thinks a woman’s back can display their beauty and so pays more attention to the design of a woman’s back. And also his understanding of the colour black influenced my design so much!
Talk me through your design process, do you begin with textiles or sketches and how does it progress?
In my final collection I was inspired by Jane Austen’s classic novel “Pride And Prejudice”. The whole collection was based on research around the 1940 version of that film. I explored the main character Elizabeth’s personality, as well as incorporating the clothing style and culture from the romantic period of the nineteenth century to create a modern independent, masculine, intelligent, brave, neutral and concise style. When I started my collection I did a lot of research about the patterns in this period and then I did plenty of draping to draw lots of sketches.
After this, I explored the tailoring techniques, pattern innovation and enhanced the silhouette in order to make the collection stronger and fresher. I used draping in most of my collection, especially in sleeves. I also used twisting in the skirt designs. Besides this, I used tailoring in a lot of places, for example, I referred to traditional menswear pieces, such as the shirt, parka, tuxedo, trouser boiler suit and boxer shorts. Only black and white are used in my collection and the contrast between the two extreme colours becomes very harmonious under a reasonable distribution ratio. Black and white are also the colours of my personal style.
The glasses in your collection are amazing, were they inspired by anything in particular and how were they made?
In order to combine traditional and modern elements in the entire collection, elements of mirrored frames were added in the design of the accessories; with regard to the design, corners of the frame were made into right angles and I strengthened the nose part of the frame to give the whole frame a tougher look. In regards to the choice of colour, bright silver was chosen to heighten the colours of the entire collection. In terms of the production of the frames, 3D printing, silver casting, welding, metal polishing and other technologies were applied to give the frame a striking look and metallic texture, giving the whole series a tougher and more mannish appearance.
What drew you to specifically focus on designing knitwear?
Fabrication and texture have always been the first things I consider when designing as you need to know your fabrication in order to work out how your finished garment is going to piece together and move. I entered fashion from a textiles background and had the option to specialise in knitwear at Kingston during my BA. Knit offers so much potential in colour, texture and technique that pieces are intricate, unique and desirable. Watching the garment grow from nothing is so rewarding, knitted garments are made with so much love, and patience.
What was your inspiration behind the collection?
My collection, “Informal Arrangements”, derives from a design background focusing on the processes, development and construction techniques that make up a garment. I have always been intrigued by the choices people make in selecting possessions to display and procure. As a knitwear designer, I strive to create an emotional response with a focus on process and detail ensuring that my understanding of craft and construction is visible through my pieces. This collection looks at domestic spaces and the relationship between various materials placed in conjunction with others. It is as much about the garments standing alone and being objects of desire and beauty as well as being functional pieces. On many occasions, I made a conscious decision to use the reverse side of my fabrication as this outwardly displayed the processes behind the fabric and in most cases made the fabric more desirable.
I know you’re interested in developing a “modular approach” to clothing, I think that’s really interesting in light of our alarming rates of consumption (especially in fashion), can you expand on this a bit?
Photographing my own inspiration images, originally purely for aesthetic purposes, influenced me to develop a sustainable approach to design. Within my MA collection, selected garments can be disassembled, anchored and reconstructed in multiple ways while still being functional and practical, allowing the wearer to be creative and re-invent the garment in a way that represents them as an individual.
By encouraging consumer participation in the construction process, my approach enables a more circular economy by decreasing levels of consumption and increasing levels of emotional attachment between the consumer and the product. I have used this collection to display the far reaches of this possibility through multifunctional knitwear silhouettes in order to develop and showcase a signature style that I can develop and carry forward hereafter.
I have demonstrated a framework for re-thinking identification, exploring how we can apply our creative capacity to facilitate our “identity,” analysing what this means and how this can be applied in the industry. Fashion has become a social process of imitation with us buying into prefabricated individuality, therefore the choices we make in order to combine and create an image through styling is paramount. An individual statement exists because of how we assign personal value to things, this prompted the concept for my collection and exploration of a new sustainable method of dress.
Who are your biggest designer, artistic or aesthetic influences?
I think Alexander McQueen and Martin Margiela both are the most influencing designers to me. They are the best examples showing that fashion goes beyond just a trend, it is more like an interpretation of identity and aesthetic. Not just changing my thought of fashion design but also leading me to define what’s fashion and beauty in my own way.
Talk me through your design process, do you begin with textiles, sketches and how does it progress?
My collection was inspired by a messy wardrobe, I observed the different shapes of hanging garments and then started draping on a mannequin, drafting the 2D pattern to achieve the ideal silhouettes in the next stage. I experimented with various embroideries to represent the traditional suiting material – glen plaid. I worked with different embroidery companies amongst London, Hong Kong as well as India. Eventually, I sorted out my designed pattern with them in both hand embroidery and digital embroidery.
Despite the industry’s huge movement toward sportswear, tailoring is clearing your focus. What drew you to tailoring and why is it important to you?
I think fast fashion has taken over the market by selling low-quality and mass-produced clothes. England is a place with a historical tailoring background that maintains precious and high-quality craftsmanship so I think it’s important to let people see how fabulous this tradition from our fashion history can be. I hope people will appreciate this slow fashion and define their own thoughts about fashion instead of just following the trends.
Your collection focuses on natural textiles and traditional craftsmanship, why did you choose this route?
I used to paint on cotton or natural woven fabrics to make bags and small interior stuff and also knit as well. This is the reason why I am familiar and comfortable with using natural textiles. While having a connection with natural textiles from my prior experiences means a lot to me, on their own, they do not create strong images or feelings that inspire me. I wanted to challenge myself to create a new feeling of contemporary fashion by using natural textiles with traditional ways of knitting. So, I intentionally designed this collection with its combination of natural fabrication mixed with modern hand-craftsmanship.
With all of the financial support provided, London is often seen as the city for young designers, is this true and how has your experience of the city been?
Yes, there is no doubt that London is a good city for young designers. I dreamed of becoming famous and keeping my next collections in London, after graduating from university, like some other famous designers. However, it doesn’t seem easy to provide the financial support to all. The support is limited and selected for some only based on how your collections are promoted. And of course, the expense of promotion is still really high. This is how I feel about the fashion industry in London.
I know your collection is inspired by Spanish hippie culture, what drew you to Spain and its culture in particular?
(laughs) It’s so funny that I am inspired by Spanish culture in particular. I never imagined that I would design a Spanish inspired collection. The very first motivation was an interesting picture of two different groups of people passing by each other. The one group dressed like hippies and the other group, look like Spanish women, entirely dressed in the Spanish costume of the 70s-80s. The two different groups look totally conflicting, however, ironically, the Spanish women are styled with hemp crochet bags that look more suitable for the hippies.
It was very fascinating for me as I was always into knit and natural fabrication. It was a good start and then I was able to reach a more dynamic hippie style by using natural hemp crochet. After a lot of research, I found a historically unique shop that still sells a lot of natural stuff in Mallorca. Using 100% natural hemp cords was one of the challenges in my journey to create something cool that still felt modern. Bold, tactile and fluid silhouettes of the collection can be contrasted with the regular, uniform square pattern of the crochet. As if the two together represent the free-style of Bohemians and the conservative style of Spanish women in 70s-80s.
Photography MICHELLE MARSHALL