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‘London's arrived!': when students gatecrash Dior

This week Dior opened its atelier doors to fashion students, offering a glimpse of haute couture magic

Fashion students dressed to the nines, gatecrashing shows at London Fashion Week, is a spectacle ingrained into the city’s fashion scene. It’s less prevalent in other cities and certainly in Paris, with most of the big shows manned by burly security guards, it’s no easy feat to sneak inside.

In an unprecedented move this haute couture season, Dior waved a very Disney-eque magic wand over 57 fashion design students from all over the world, and flew them into Paris to experience what arguably is the crème de la crème of fashion shows. They, along with 24 students from Paris-based schools, were all invited for a specially organised haute couture show showcasing the SS14 collection. And the treat didn’t stop there. They were also given tours of Dior’s haute couture atelier as well as informative lectures on the maison’s history, with a chance to speak to representatives from other LVMH houses.

On the Sunday before the show, when final preparations were being done, the students were split up into groups to walk through the haute couture atelier to see it at its busiest.  “London has arrived!” remarked a PR from Dior, as a group of eleven students from Royal College of Art, Westminster, London College of Fashion, Conde Nast College and of course, Central Saint Martins shuffled in looking nervously around to see if anyone would suddenly tell them they weren’t supposed to be there. Undeniably, the three Central Saint Martins students stuck out with their expressively unique outfits but also because they were the only school unaccompanied by their infamous tutor. Louise Wilson’s chosen ones were James Buck and Matthew Bovan, who graduated from the Cental Saint Martins BA course, and Alexander Krantz, who had been at Beckman's College in Stockholm. They have just begun their MA course.

“It was important to choose students that we thought might one day end up at Dior,” said Walter van Beirendonck, who was accompanying two fourth year students.

Dior left the process of selection up to the individual colleges and it seems everybody had a slightly different approach. “I wanted to find very creative students who would appreciate this,” said Nigel Luck, director of the womenswear MA course at London College of Fashion. “To be honest, we played it down in the college to avoid resentment amongst the students. They didn’t find out until very late on the full extent of this trip.” Others thought of the long term future of the students. “It was important to choose students that we thought might one day end up at Dior,” said Walter van Beirendonck, who was accompanying two fourth year students from the Royal Academy in Antwerp. “It wouldn’t make sense to choose someone whose aesthetic didn’t match with the house.”

It might have been a select few who got to experience this, but it’s likely to be shared with their fellow students back home. From Dior’s perspective, the point was to share the passion and savoir-faire of haute couture to a new generation of would-be fashion designers. There was no business agenda for this initiative other than to encourage students to dream and perhaps somewhere down the line, work in an haute couture atelier. It seems less surprising when you remember that Raf Simons himself was former head professor of the Fashion Department of the University of Applied Arts, Vienna.

The walk-through the ateliers was brief but intense. The haute couture artisans were scurrying around in white lab coats, working at breakneck speed to finish the garments. You caught glimpses of the intricate cutwork that would become the central motif of the collection. “I was really interested in the embroidery,” said Bovan. “It's nice to see things up close because you don't get that from pictures.” For a generation of students who are experiencing fashion increasingly not by touch or first hand sight, but through screens and streams, the experience felt even more poignant. The custom made mannequins for the haute couture clients were particularly intriguing for the CSM students. “It seems much more personal,” said Buck. “There's definitely a place for it somewhere.  For a student, haute couture seems like such a far removed thing.”

"I feel like a rock star or something," said Simons as he autographed Bovan, Krantz and Buck's press pack.

The next evening, after the press and client shows, the student show took place at the Musee Rodin. “We didn’t look at any Instagram pictures or anything!” said Buck. “It would spoil the surprise.” Afterwards, there were excited exclamations coming from all quarters - “The shoes!” “The growing embroideries!” “The casting was amazing!” The students were invited to go backstage to meet Simons. "I feel like a rock star or something,"said Simons as he autographed Bovan, Krantz and Buck's press pack. As many of the journalists were going up to the students as they were to Simons, to probe them about how their experience of the house had been. “I’m so bad in front of camera!” said Krantz. It could have been some sort of strange future sequence in a movie, as these young students were getting a taste of what it might be like to deal with media attention if they stayed on course to become designers in their own right or at a house.   

“We’re just so often in our bubble in college. It’s surreal to experience something like this,” said Bovan. “Actually maybe it feels more real, how it really works in the industry.” As they boarded the group coach outside the show venue, thoughts immediately turned to what Louise Wilson might think of their participation in being filmed by Dior for their in-house magazine. “She’s going to hate it!” said Buck. It might have been a two-day surreal dream but the reality of college, and possibly their future career, now beckons.