For the autumn/winter issue of Dazed, we profiled a new class of London design graduates accelerating fashion — from the torn-up and time-travelling creations of James Crewe, to the twisted body cages of Sam Chester, seen on Björk in her Autumn cover shoot.
How many ways are there to walk? Your speed, gait and swing say as much about you as the clothes you wear. Of course, it’s not always the truth, and any time you’d like to look bigger or stronger, you can just puff yourself up with a little more swagger. Christian Stone was struck by the near-comedy of this artifice, which is so often bound up with ideals of masculinity. “Living in Brooklyn, I’d see men walking down the street in an almost monstrous way, taking these huge steps with hunched-up shoulders,” he says. “It seemed so abnormal. I found it fascinating.” Stone was watching a lot of The Walking Dead at the time, and became obsessed with how the gym-selfie phenomenon fetishises the male body. He was also questioning if we even need to define menswear and womenswear as separate. Why not put men in spaghetti strapped bodices made from Ziploc bags? Or turn women into bolshy, larger-than-life, puffer-jacketed figures? As you can see, that’s exactly what he did.
Stefan Cooke’s placement in Paris wasn’t your average year in the industry. He worked as John Galliano’s research assistant while, unbeknown to Cooke, the designer was gathering material for his first collection under Maison Margiela. “He taught me to look at everything,” says the designer. “Open any book in a shop, and you’ll probably find one thing you love.” For Cooke’s award-winning final MA collection at CSM, he spent hours in charity shops, picking out “ordinary items” like Argyle jumpers, blue jeans bordering on ugly, rollnecks and leather coats. He photographed and digitally printed the spoils, turning them into new (and illusory) skintight items, at once ridiculously comfy and yet nothing like they seem. “It’s brilliant to see clothes that remind you of people-watching on the bus taken out of context,” says Cooke. “My sisters came to the show, saw the perspex vests and said, ‘It’s Dad!’ It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of people saw their dad in these clothes.”
James Crewe is spoiled for choice. If he could live in any other era, it would have to be 1930s Paris. “Montparnasse in the age of Brassaï’s Madame Bijou,” he muses. Then again, he quite fancies the idea of living as a medieval prince “in hose, cloth of silver, and my hair in tight ringlets”, too. The designer and model is a magpie like that, hoarding cultural and historical references in his mind, and stringing them all together into a gorgeous, mish-mashed vision. “I get quite ingrained in certain ideas, though I can switch easily,” he admits. “I suppose that’s what happens when you spent lunchtimes alone in the school library.” The story at play in his graduate collection? The two ill-fated Princes in the Tower, reputedly bumped off by their uncle, Richard III. “I reinvented the boys as pre-Renaissance princes who somehow come across Debbie Harry, and end up being corrupted by her purr.” Hence all the silver lamé: “I reimagined it as protective armour, slashed on the dancefloor at CBGB’s or Max’s Kansas City in 1970s New York.”
Clothing is armour for 21-year-old Harris Reed. The more eye-catchingly flamboyant the dress, the thicker the barrier for the CSM BA student, a towering presence at 6ft 4in. “People used to tell me, ‘Wear what you want, just learn to run fast,’” the LA native explains. “That might work for some, but not for me. Every day is a stage; so I strut my stuff to Tesco Express and, when people heckle or harass me, I take it as a standing ovation!” This defiant attitude, the designs of Ann Demeulemeester and his fictional alias – a 19th-century gay urchin taking refuge in the baroque closets of an opera house – made up the moodboard for Reed’s final collection. Think ivory bodices, metallic flares and Yankee Doodle-feathered hats, as worn here by illustrator King Owusu. Soon enough, Reed’s work was gathering attention through Instagram, and Solange Knowles personally requested his designs for a shoot: “She’s a goddess, an activist and a mind-changer,” he says. “She represents who I design for almost more than anyone.”
Glam, grotesque and funny ha-ha is the sartorial sweet-spot for CSM knitwear student Katya Zelentsova. A fan of the Peter Greenaway film Drowning by Numbers, the sensory overload of American artist Ryan Trecartin and ‘exquisite corpse’ (the surrealist parlour game that involves drawing body parts on folded bits of paper), off-the-wall humour is a common thread in her work. Zelentsova, pictured here with her friend and singer Cosima, likes to strip clothes of their original function, so that they take on a head-scratching silliness: “Like, ‘Oh! It’s a bra with ears,’” she laughs. Her love of crochet and Russian lace-making grew after she left her home country. “I grew up thinking Russian culture wasn’t cool, but you appreciate things from a distance and get nostalgic.” She made these pieces during a spell of heartbreak in New York. The therapeutic repetition of knitting and people-watching in Brighton Beach brought solace: “People there wear clothes everyone wore in Russia 20 years ago. It’s a bizarre place. But cool.”
“When I was little, I would get my dad to draw figures for me, and I’d copy J.Lo’s outfits on to them,” says Manchester-born London College of Fashion graduate Maximilian Davis, pictured here with model and muse Jess Maybury. “People are scared to show their boobs. I mean, it’s provocative, but it’s just skin.” Davis decided to cut out the dress’s chest (worn by Maybury here) after seeing the Caravaggio painting The Seven Works of Mercy. In the Renaissance artist’s masterwork, a woman stuffs one of her breasts through the bars of a prison, offering her milk up to a man inside. “I went to Catholic school,” he laughs. “You can see my rebellion against that in my work.” Next up for Davis is a new job at Wales Bonner. He’s interned and modelled for the influential designer since she spotted him working at Selfridges. “She sent me a Facebook message like, ‘I saw the back of your head, it was amazing and beautiful,’” he grins. The rest is history.
Like many teenagers from seaside towns, Sam Chester felt apathetic towards Hastings, the Sussex enclave where coach-loads of tourists turn up in search of spiritual or archeological evidence of a very old battle. Since leaving, though, they’ve been drawn back to images of the coastline (plastic beach lint, old rope, neoprene surf shoes) and the importance in coastal communities of passing down skills from generation to generation. “My dad taught me how to make sculptures from willow, and I wanted to continue but none of the basketry classes in London were affordable,” says the designer, who ended up taking a course at a church hall in Hastings. They experimented with sculptures that twisted around the body, utilising willow’s bendiness when soaked in water. “The sculptures represented my own feelings of being ‘caged’ within my body,” says Chester, pictured here with sister Emily. “She’s one of my biggest critics! But she’s earned the right. She’s suffered a lot of scrapes while I tried to perfect the final shape.”
Muscle patches – those unsexy stickers used for knee sprains and sore joints – found a new use in Xiaoming Shan’s final collection, leaving impressions of nipples as they were stuck to the body. “The patches are for people to stick or remove as they like,” says Shan, who believes these playful adhesives remind us to embody beauty on our own terms. Paired with giant mobile-like shapes of polyester and silk, the result is a fun, vivid collection flitting between art and fashion. There are colourful echoes of the Memphis Group, the 1980s Italian design movement, or the birds that puff their feathers as part of wild mating dances in nature documentaries. “The garments can be anything you think they are,” says Shan, though adorning the body with a sort of graffiti was the guiding idea. Next, he hopes to set up shop with his own label. “I don’t want to follow fashions or other designers’ ways of creating brands. I want to create something new – something more artistic, but still wearable.”
“I remember workers renovating my family home – the way they carefully covered our pink and orange hydrangeas with a shiny protective foil,” says Peter Movrin. “I found it so beautiful.” Amid the “ghastly uncertainty” of today, Movrin was drawn to that evocative Quality Street palette, or in fact anything that winked with unadulterated pleasure. “I created my own universe of elegance and glamour,” he explains. “It’s something we lack at the moment. I was thinking about workwear references, and the way the precarious meets the glamorous, obscuring the line between the so-called bourgeois and the proletarian.” Stitching together organza, foil and butcher’s paper (stolen from his family’s business), he married cheap with expensive – an apt ambiguity, given the trend for telling public porkies about what one can or cannot afford on social media. In this sense, the internet is another place for proletarians to play dress-up. More fun and foil: that’s what the world needs right now.
“We saw a video of her on top of a mountain in Bulgaria, dressed in full costume doing Beyonce’s Single Ladies dance.” says Emma Chopova, explaining how she and design partner Laura Lowena came across artist Gery Georgieva. Georgieva - like Chopova - moved away from Bulgaria at a young age and shares a visual preoccupation with honouring and even prodding at their homeland’s traditions. Chopova and Lowena, who’re the second design duo to complete the MA Fashion course together at CSM (the first was Marques’Almeida) are interested in how people mix everyday clothes with costume; whether that’s traditional folk dress, or a uniform of some sort - in this case, 1980s rock climbing kit. Seeing a photograph of the French climber Catherine Destivelle in spandex laden with climbing clips was one catalyst, the other was a folk costume festival in a Bulgarian forest. “You had to be in traditional dress or you weren't allowed inside, Chopova says. “It was a magical, mystical place, and a lot of women were wearing sneakers under their big dresses, or their own t-shirts layered underneath, which gave this strange combination of old and new.” It was a reflection of how most people really dress - sometimes a piece of clothing is a cherished or conscious statement, and sometimes it’s just chucked on. “Seeing how people mix their own clothes has always been an important aesthetic to us.”
Have you ever seen a Biedermeier china doll? They’re portly things, with long foreheads and cheeks like slapped bottoms. They’re sort of gormless but graceful too; something to do with stuffed linen bodices and their look of certainty. Preparing his final BA collection, womenswear designer Jordan Dalah was struck by them: “I wanted to treat each of the looks as if it is a different doll.” He says. Growing up in Australia, Dalah - who is half Hungarian - was obsessed with painting Tudor portraiture, and he set out to mimic both pigments and process. He chose leather in rich cherry, moss and cornflower blue, lining it all with hand-washed natural linen to emphasise this idea of paint being applied to a canvas. With careful attention to the way a fold catches a shadow, he struck a balance between classical Flemish painting (see those pillowy Jan Van Eyck-ish hats), and the rituals of Tudor dress. The winklepickers were inspired by men’s square-toed Tudor shoes: “They were handmade by my friend who makes shoes for mock medieval festivals - those reenactments in the countryside where everyone pretends to battle!”