Central Saint Martins / Kings Cross

London's premium fashion college last night opened up the doors to its new purpose-built complex in N1C

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After a summer of anticipation, last night celebrated the official launch of Central Saint Martin’s £200 million relocation to King’s Cross. Across the vast construction site, the Grade II Granary Building glowed a stately red while a larger-than-life birdcage installation in neon rainbow colours lit the skyline.

Guests including alumni to dignitaries were greeted by a live choir from the London Choral Society, a part from the college’s new school of performing arts. In their addresses, Sir John Tusa, Nigel Carrington and Professor Jane Rapley OBE highlighted the crossover as brave but essential to equip students with ‘facilities worthy of their creativity’. The event also marked the beginning of a whole new cultural area for London, as King’s Cross gets a regeneration and a new postcode, N1C.

Sir Paul Smith, Sonia Rykiel, Mike Leigh and Theo Fennell were among those who joined in the celebrations last night as a light presentation showed off the reinvented building, its high ceilings and sleek lines within brick walls. ‘When I was at Saint Martins, it was a real dump; maybe students will respond to this and be neater,’ milliner Stephen Jones OBE said. Willie Walters, BA fashion course director said CSM needs the ‘strong, powerful and dramatic building to extol what we do here’.

Other ex-students in attendance, like Gareth Pugh, find it hard to be optimistic. ‘CSM in Charing Cross can be quite an atrocious experience but it teaches you to get things done yourself,’ he said. Finding a silver lining, Pugh added, ‘But nobody wants to have that fight. Perhaps it’ll alleviate that whole pressure, and it’ll be nice to concentrate on ideas rather than stressing about when you can use a sewing machine.’

In his punchy speech, recently appointed Governor of UAL and artist Grayson Perry reminded guests of the site’s red light district past, though pointing out that things have changed and students should know ‘their £9,000 are being taken very, very seriously.’ While guests were left to wander around the 10-acre space and 45-minute tours took place, Perry told Dazed, ‘What worries me about students is that they want to be artists rather than make art. Character can be so overrated.’

Dazed Digital: What has the first weeks been like so far?
Jane Rapley: Everyday something unexpected happens. Students will play rugby on the streets; some were lying on the floor doing star shapes and handstands the other day, the fine art students had a ping pong event, the drama students have draped a whole space with fabric, we’ve got a feral choir – as opposed to the official choir… 

DD: How do you transfer the heritage of CSM into new blank walls?
Jane Rapley: With the people. It’s about being adventurous, stroppy and opinionated, being passionate, working damned hard. It’s about risk taking and change. We ask our students to change all the time - to change their minds, to change how they do things and all we’re doing now is changing where we’re living. People have said to me, ‘It’s so sad to move’, well, the old buildings are sad now because the energy’s gone out of them. I’ve said without the energy of the people inside, the buildings really weren’t anything.

DD: What does it mean to be ‘an art school for the 21st century’?
Jane Rapley: Except it’s now arts, not art! The drama people get very upset because we keep calling it an art school. We have an ambitious building and it means the people who come here need to match that ambition. You’re going to need that particularly in our current circumstances, where the world is a tough place for graduates and they’re going to have to fight their way through to be enabled to do the things that we’re training them to do. Without that confidence, you can’t take it anywhere.

DD: Will the move change or enhance the public’s impressions of CSM?
Jane Rapley: We’re going to a very competitive world market; it’s not just competing now at UK or European level. China, Singapore, to Korea are all investing huge amounts into creative industries and education. We have to fight to get foreign students and it’s not because they’re paying good fees - because now our UK students are paying a lot of money as well. It’s because our industries are global and it’s important for everyone to be working alongside each other. And this gives us a chance.

DD: What misconceptions have there been about CSM since the move?
Jane Rapley: I suppose people think that we’re rich – we’re not. We get a lot of support from industries but we don’t get huge amounts of philanthropy, which this has helped us a bit to do. For the last 150 years, our culture has been that it is the state’s responsibility to pay for education. And now that’s going. People give to museums, to theatre companies, they don’t give to education, unless you’re Oxford or Cambridge. It’s like what Louise Wilson says, if you haven’t got the talent coming through, forget it. We’ve got to invest in fresh, creative minds.

We had a graphic design student who wrote a slogan for each of the colleges under UAL, which was very funny. We’ve used the polite one, which said, ‘Central Saint Martins: lifestyle, not education’. If you’re going to get the best out of the other students, you live the life. Her other slogan was, ‘CSM: Pretentious Little Shits’, which has a grain of truth and actually, what was lovely about it is that wit and edge is what you would expect from a CSM student. She summed up that grit in the oyster, if you like.

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