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Bianca Batson MA exhibitionPhotography Bianca Batson

The graduate designer exploring her visa status via fashion

CSM student Bianca Batson’s MA collection is a meditation on immigration

With insane tuition fees, part-time jobs and ever-increasing rent, isn’t exactly news that life as a creative student in London can be difficult. If you’re an international student, there’s also the looming spectre of visa issues, and the fact that you might get booted out of the country as soon as you finally earn that diploma. Australian-born designer Bianca Batson found herself facing all of the above when she moved to London to study at CSM. While most might crumble under the pressure, or just give in entirely, Batson decided to instead channel her fears into her work.

After moving to London from Brisbane Batson settled on a multidisciplinary approach to design, choosing to create collages, photographs and films in addition to the menswear and womenswear looks that use materials like latex and chains in unconventional ways – all with added sparkle courtesy of Swarovski who sponsor her. 

For her new MA collection, the young designer was triggered (literally) by Brexit and the fact that she will likely have to leave the country when she finishes her studies. The collages she created while working on the collection feature news clippings that reference Brexit as well as political unrest in America. “Recently there is so much happening in terms of immigration, and not just within the European Union, in general in America, in the UK, everywhere,” she told us. “So I thought, I’m gonna look at all the issues that our generation are facing, just explore that and use this as a platform.”

Not content with presenting her designs in the traditional form of a lookbook, Batson decided to instead host an exhibition. Pooling the talents of the creative community immediately around her, the final result was a melting pot of fashion, photography, set design and film. “I think a big part of it was having people feel more involved than simply looking through a lookbook or coming to a presentation or a show. I wanted a real way to connect the collage and research to the clothing to show why I’ve done them both together.”

Here, we talk to Batson about her exhibition and referencing Brexit in her design process.

How did you get to where you are today?

Bianca Batson: I started designing when I was in high school – it was always like, ‘I’m going to be a designer’. So I started studying in Australia and then I came to London to do a six-month exchange and I was like, ‘Oh my god I can’t live in Brisbane anymore’. It’s beautiful but so boring. So I dropped out of uni and I applied for my visa for London. I applied to Central Saint Martins just to see, and I got in so decided to restart my degree over here.

How has your approach to design changed since moving to London?

Bianca Batson: For me, it was an opportunity to just work creatively as opposed to thinking ‘If I make something out of chain I’d never able to sell that’. Going to Saint Martins that doesn’t matter – it’s irrelevant, almost. I did an internship at Ashish in my placement year, and after I finished that I got really bored so I just started really documenting my life and my friends. That’s how photography became really, really important to me. And then I guess the two just started to work alongside each other.

What was the starting point for this collection?

Bianca Batson: It started off with an image of Johnny Rotten from the PiL exhibition at the ICA last year that Dennis Morris put together. He’s just standing in a glittery blue suit and it made think of all these punk references. Punk musicians were wearing suits on stage as a fuck you to the middle class. My BA collection had leather suits as well, but I decided to use a lot of latex this season, which is quite new for me. I’ve used it in ways that it’s not fetish wear at all, it’s the complete opposite. There’s cute little dresses and there’s an evening dress, and then I’ve also done suits as well.

What is your approach when designing a collection?

Bianca Batson: The way I work is really similar to my collages. I work in 3D – I don’t really draw, so I’ll play with textiles and photograph it and play around. A lot of the stuff I make is quite handmade – so there’s a dress that’s made entirely from chain and it must have like 400 metres of it. I love the idea of using things in unconventional ways. All the graphics I’ve done myself as well.

“Even some of my close friends are like, ‘Hold on, wait, you have to leave in April?’. They’ve only said this to me now because they’re looking at my collages, and at my work” – Bianca Batson

You also like to reference social and political issues too, right?

Bianca Batson: The main reason my approach to things contains these political and social messages is because I’ve constantly been asked since I began my Masters, and actually even before I finished my BA, ‘Ok so what do you want to do when you finish?’ For me, being Australian, the first I have to think of is ‘I need a visa’, so every decision I’ve made this year, I’ve had that on the back of my mind. I can’t rely on just going freelance when I graduate, I need to apply for jobs, and how am I going to get there? I just realised that it was really important to me, and I could really make a project of it.

Why was it important for you to spotlight Brexit in particular?

Bianca Batson: I think it’s interesting to be reminded about it in a fashion context. I think a lot of people don’t realise the repercussions of it – even some of my close friends are like, ‘Hold on, wait, you have to leave in April?’. They’ve only said this to me now because they’re looking at my collages, and at my work – I say ‘I’ve been telling you this for how long?’ But it’s only just registering.

What was it like putting together the exhibition?

Bianca Batson: I’ve never done an exhibition before so there was a lot running around, last minute kind of things. Sorting DJ, playlists – making sure the music’s perfect. Set design as well because the space that I used, basically it’s an empty building and it’s kind of covered in graffiti. I utilised a lot of friends’ – my friend Austin made a handbag for me, and then my friend Louis designed a newspaper for one of the rooms. My other friend Dom helped with the set design, so it’s been great to work with people and their talents as well, combining everything.

What does the future hold for you?

Bianca Batson: I’d love to get a job, after five years of studying I’m tired of being broke. But at the same time, I do really love doing my own thing. I am just going to continue to do the freelance stuff and eventually one day I would love to be the creative director of a fashion company. You have to think big otherwise you get bored – you’ve got to work towards something.