This year’s students explore everything from Japan’s obsession with female youth to Surrealist iconography and teenage fandoms
The press notes given at last Friday’s Middlesex graduate show open with a brief description of the institution’s history, but one line in particular stands out: “We do not have a Middlesex ‘house style’: instead we value self-expression, independent minds and genuinely innovative ideas”.
This laissez-faire attitude was evident in the varied collections on display, inspired by everything from Japan’s obsession with female youth to Surrealist iconography and teenage fandoms. Many designers looked within themselves for inspiration, turning their own experiences of adolescence into inadvertent celebrations of British culture and its eccentricities.
Show highlights included Kelsey Dykes, whose scrawling prints were juxtaposed with classic silhouettes, and Lee Duckworth, whose graduate collection explored the contrast between the structure of sculpture and the transience of movement. In a world dominated by rules and regulations, the work of the following students is proof of the brilliance that comes from allowing creative minds to roam free.
Amie Bell spent her youth in Kidderminster being bullied by boys in Ellesse and Adidas popper tracksuits; these, she says, were markers of status. As her confidence grew, she found herself drawn to these brands, eventually reworking them for her graduate show. JD bags and TM caps received modern makeovers, but the standout was a blue velvet jumpsuit with popper detail – a reference to the tracksuits that dominated her youth.
Surrealist imagery was a starting point for Minji Kim’s sculptural menswear; bulls and birds were emblazoned on garments alongside puckered lips and snarling fangs, all of which looked to be hastily melting away from fabric. For Kim, a key reference was the balance between elements of humanity and nods to the grotesque – “they aren’t ‘ugly’, but I think a lot of people would find them ugly!” Her exploration with the unconventional paid off – unique silhouettes, intriguingly repulsive prints and the fantasy element of Surrealism combined to make one of the show’s most interesting and innovative collections.
There were many references woven within Charlotte Roden’s graduate collection, but the most prominent was a nod to fandom. Fabrics were printed with the same DIY poster collages adorning teenage bedrooms worldwide; mixed in with these prints were slogans such as “One for the lads!” Roden said it was about turning that aggressive masculinity on its head and showing that boys can be fangirls too. These men were shy and sensual – a sensuality which translated literally into sparkling pleaser shoes on the runway. “They were all open to it; I just wanted to allow these boys to have fun and be sexy!”
Joshua Clark set out to create a sartorial representation of working-class dystopia with his graduate collection. There were flashes of Burberry check which referenced “chav” culture in particular; hybrid garments held together with straps were a reference to piecing together outfits in the midst of chaos. This mentality resulted in distinctive silhouettes, such as one piece which initially looked to be a skirt but, on closer inspection, was a fusion of a shirt and a pair of jeans. Models wore balaclavas to hide their identity; a detail which Clark said represents that “chaos is going on in society.”
Japan’s annual Doll’s Day – a celebration of the beauty, youth and wellbeing of young girls – was the inspiration behind Leanne Croshaw’s saccharine celebration of all things kawaii. There were sprinkles of glitter, flashes of pink and more than a few cameos from Mickey Mouse, whose iconic silhouette adorned everything from cropped jackets to custom bras. Silhouettes were often exaggerated; in fact, the show’s standout piece was an enormous semi-sheer dress not unlike those that usually adorn china dolls, which Croshaw revealed was made from 80m of gathered black dress net.