Savannah Avery, William Dill-Russell, Holly Priestley, and Paolo Carzana are the ones-to-watch
There was a febrile sense of ‘the political’ which ran through the Westminster BA graduate show – the first shown as part of the LFW schedule – as figures loomed above the heads of models like totemic suited “men in power”, and a collection which paid direct reference to Northern Soul, the miners’ strikes and working class rebellion.
There was a healthy mix of sportswear and glamour across the roster, too – with Megan Williams’ bomber jacket-wearing astronauts opening the show, or Lauren Audrey’s heavily bejewelled thigh-skimming dresses and silver python boots harking back to a disco version of the Space Race.
It was, as graduate shows often are, a totally varied offering which went from light to dark, from mourning to midnight in the club, showcasing the high calibre that a forward-thinking institution like Westminster produces. And catching up with some of the designers backstage, the group of young hopefuls proudly put their political feet forward – whether looking at fashion’s desperate need for sustainability, or how to really create gender non-conforming garments.
In a tousle of greens, blues, and oranges Savannah Avery’s models, cloaked in hand woven manes, gathered wind as they walked around the show space. “At the beginning of the collection I imagined this futuristic desert land,” Avery told us backstage. “It slowly evolved from there, into this group of bugs that are dancing in the desert under this rock, sheltering from the rain.” Her agenda was to both design a collection for the dystopia which she believes is coming “when the internet goes” – while also proving sustainable clothing can be truly covetable. “My whole collection is made out of plants, hand woven and hand knitted and hand dyed by me, and I wanted to show that sustainability isn’t just ‘hippie’ – it’s luxury. I wanted to make things look like fur, like imitating animal skin – as designers we should be looking to show that if you work hard you can formulate alternatives that are just as beautiful as the real thing.”
Long ginger hair, a black roll-neck and a black petticoat were the chosen uniform of the designer who decided to collide Elizabethan gowns, coats and dresses with PVC and ostrich feathers, all part of a successful effort to subvert the usual genders we attach to clothes. The collection was something which came from a place of personal importance to the designer. “Since I started designing, I’ve also been in a period of questioning my gender identity and what that means in a wider world sort of sense, how we are treated and how we go through day to day life,” William explains. “I wanted each look to explore some sort of transition, and the relationship between clothing and gender identity. I am always quite covered up, and I wear a lot of black. Sometimes I’ll be on the tube and someone will catch my hairy legs, or I won’t have a roll neck and people will see my adams apple, and so I wanted to express this idea of wearing a lot of black, layering up, like an armoury. Trying to create a shell, to distract away from it being so real and personal when people are not very nice.”
Emotions ran high for Paolo Carzana, who explained that his collection had felt like he’d “given birth.” Everything was huge – jeans which were strung out to double the width of the wearer, and distressed jackets and backpacks swamped the models, while looming structures sat atop their shoulders on giant juts of wood that were harnessed tightly around their bodies. Many of the fabrics used – ranging from vintage 50s calico and pineapple leather, to bamboo silk and banana yarn – were entirely sustainable. “It’s my utopia, it challenged the social inhumanities of the world,” Carzana told us, “this collection is about how we can have hope in the world for the future. The moving men represent the men in power – like a Kate Bush “Cloudbusting“ thing – where the government are controlling you. These are all my protectors that I’ve created, and they fight against the men in power.” The designer had also hidden white roses throughout the collection – “my way of paying tribute to the Time’s Up movement,” he explained.
“It’s based on the 1970s – looking at Northern Soul from the beginning, and how people came together, going out, having a good time, collectively. So I used print inspiration from the different houses, and pubs – the wallpapers, the interiors.” Holly Priestley’s collection was an ode to the history of her home town of Barnsley, Yorkshire, telling a story of working class loss, rebellion, and the power of escapism from the everyday. “Throughout the collection I moved with the time – from Northern Soul to the Miners’ Strike” she explains. What appears to be acid washed denim reveals painted pictures of people striking against the closure of the mines when viewed up close, while a PVC coat looks like a wipe-clean tablecloth with a gaudy faded pattern, “I wanted to make it all in full colour because it’s also a celebration – of those towns and the way people joined together,” she finishes.