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CSM Portraits
Neon LeePhotography Balint Alovits

Intimate portraits of Saint Martins’ wild and wonderful young talents

A new, stripped-back photo series spotlights students past and present

Where once the hallowed halls of Central Saint Martins hummed with life, as flamboyantly dressed students from all four corners of the globe rushed from lecture hall to classroom to canteen and back again, now, like so many other creative institutions, the university lays dormant and dark. 

Closing its doors as the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to an abrupt standstill, final shows and fashion presentations were cancelled, as people returned home to hunker down in the face of the pandemic, as the Class of 2020 came to the realisation that their graduation celebrations, this year, would be slightly more subdued than that of those who came before them. 

But while CSM remains closed for the foreseeable future, beyond its walls its young community remain as creative as ever: whether they’re organising remote photoshoots, crafting collections from the confines of their own homes, or fighting back against COVID-19 by sewing scrubs and face masks for the key workers who so desperately need them. 

Now, as part of a new project dreamt up by former Saint Martins photography student Balint Alovits and the anonymous brains behind brilliant Instagram account @thats_so_csm, the students who roam its halls – or once roamed its halls – are captured in a collection of portraits that demonstrate the school’s vibrancy and diversity. “Basically we wanted to document the landscape of CSM, but as we started working on the project, we realised it was much more than that,” explains Alovits. “The series raises questions about gender issues in the 21st century, adequacy and rebellion, integration, difference, and simulacra.”

Setting up a mobile DIY photo booth within Granary Square outside which 10-15 students could sometimes be found lining up in wait, by the end of the project they had captured over 300 characters. Beyond the multicoloured hair and wild outfits, each portrait conveys the the unique people whose big dreams unite them all.

For now, Alovits and @thats_so_csm’s plans to curate the images into a book and exhibition have been put on hold, so, as we collectively wait for normal life to resume, they have chosen to present a small selection of the poignant portraits across their Instagram channels and here, on Dazed. 

Below, we get to know a few of the young talents coming out of CSM, as they share their experience of the school, its community spirit, and where they go from here.


“Growing up, CSM seemed like a utopian paradise I needed to escape to when I could, and so I did! It liberated me, nurtured me with freedom of though – it’s a huge playground, and one only has to dare to play. My favourite memories of CSM are the first months I spent there. The people I met during my foundation year, the shared motivation we had, the all-nighters we pulled together. CSM students, especially the fashion students, are racehorses – no matter how hardcore it gets, there is always excitement and commitment, with competition subtly felt in the air. 

The portrait of me seen here happened between an espresso martini break and a mental breakdown, hence I think they got me at exactly the right moment. Back then, I was still accentuating my moustache with make-up, and I guess that’s my favourite thing about it. It reminds me of this period of time when I needed that moustache to conquer my daily marathon – a little confidence boost.” 


“I come from Tallinn, in Estonia, and the first things I knew about Saint Martins was that it was big, that it was in London, and that people there would hopefully understand me. I learnt there that often, the harder the process and how painful things seemed, the bigger the victory in the end. It’s a supportive place, but it’s also tough. How would I describe the students? It’s made up of, in a way, some very lonely and ambitious young people who are working very hard, hoping that one day, their dreams will come true. Some of my best memories of CSM are of dancing on the tables in the student union and feeling the energy of all the young people. 

Right now I’m lucky in that I have a very safe and nice place to isolate with loving people, and I’m staying creative, too. Nature and books are a big part of it: as well as going through old and new gathered information, building ideas, and re-thinking and re-evaluating. When this is over, I want to go back to Estonia to finally meet my brother’s just-born son Ruben, introduce myself and see how he’s getting on with the big wide world. And then, I want to find a job.”


“I was born in Zimbabwe, grew up in Northern Ireland and Newcastle, then moved to London at 18. I thought Saint Martins was just a fashion school, but also one of the coolest universities in the world because of its alumni. Now, being part of it, I’ve had it confirmed that it really is an amazing, cool university. I’d describe its community as creative, fashionable, and pretentious, but when you’re a student at a school like CSM it’s hard not to be! 

Isolation is a struggle mentally, but I’m staying creative. I’ve been making a lot of beats, and am currently re-thinking what I was going to do for my final year. I’m also working as a cleaner in a hospital with COVID patients, as well as trying to find a way to create a digital exhibition. 

I’m really happy with my portrait! My favourite thing is that I look like I could be in a Helmut Lang fashion show in the 90s.”


“I’m from Kiev, Ukraine, and my first thoughts of CSM was that it was one of the best schools for arts. Now, I think it’s one of the best schools for fashion. I haven’t been too eager to participate in school life since I got here – maybe because art practice is quite a solitary activity and CSM is the last place to be if you wanna be far from people. The main thing I learnt here is that education doesn’t necessarily involve tutors – it’s the other students you learn from. 

Lockdown is the best time of my life. I’ve bought a stock of materials and I make paintings every day, but I hope the neighbours don’t murder me for listening to music so loud. I found that this quarantine teaches you to think slower. We all need to think slower. Anxiety is a product of thinking too fast. 

When we come out of this, I want to go to a pub for two pints, then the cinema. And then I’ll make more paintings, as always. A Russian saying goes ‘What is a fly going to do? Keep flying.’ I hope people will look at more art when this is done.”


“My name is F-E-double-M-I-Femmi! I don’t age and I am a global pop sensation. I love all my fans from Saint Martins! They’re the most beautiful and supportive fans I have ever encountered. When I met them for a meet and greet they were super nice with awesome fashion sense. 

As a global sensation pop star I have my portrait taken a lot. I don’t usually like to Photoshop my photos at all because I like my fans to be able to see the #realme. For this, I think the way I was portrayed was a bit too airbrushed, but I think it works. I remember when I shot with David LaChappelle for the first time it was crazy but I loved it: you really have to trust a photographer’s vision. 

My self(ie)-isolation is going well, but honestly I’m finding it really hard being inside my massive LA dream house with ten acres of land, a swimming pool, a games room, a cinema, a gym, and a chef all the time! I hope this is over soon so I can leave this HELLSCAPE. The first place I’ll go is Starbucks for a venti caramel iced latte with soy milk and two extra pumps of caramel. Can’t live without! Struggling without! After that, I’m really dedicated to recording and releasing music, so will be looking to record a new Billboard number one album and creating more smash hits for my fans.”


“I’m from Italy and before I came to CSM I didn’t know much about it – just that it was one of the prestigious and renowned colleges for fashion design and art. When I got here, I found that it was a very dynamic and creative environment, though sometimes overwhelming. It’s a place that encourages experimentation which I found very important in developing my practice. I mean, I entered CSM thinking of myself as a photographer and ended up doing a performance as my degree project.

The portrait series was shot by one of my classmates, so it was fun to take part in the shooting and I was pleased to be part of it. I was glad he asked me to model topless, because I’m very proud of my chest scars. I had my top surgery only a few months earlier and was happy to have reached that goal and just wanted to show it to the world. 

I’m a very introverted and solitary person, so isolation is something I can actually enjoy. I’m currently designing a new digital live performance that I’ll be performing at an event on Zoom in May. My creativity has really benefited from being part of a community of queer performers and artists who have been using internet-based patforms in order to create events to showcase their talent. It’s really inspired and motivated me to think of new digital possibilities for performing.

Follow @thats_so_csm for more, and revisit the time we made it our Instagram of the Week here and in the gallery below.