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Class of 2020 fashion design Mariana Malta
Mariana Malta, Royal College of ArtCourtesy of Mariana Malta

The Class of 2020 fashion grads who should be on your radar

Their collections may have come together in quarantine, but the coronavirus did little to dampen the wild creativity shown by this year’s students

This year’s graduates might have had a rough ride – as they were forced to finish collections in quarantine, and come up with new ways of showcasing their work – but the coronavirus has done little to diminish the creativity rising out of fashion institutions around the world. In fact, we’d go as far as to say 2020 might be one of the most impressive years on record, given the circumstances.

Here, we’ve picked out just some of the talents that should be on your radar. Tackling a whole bunch of obstacles ranging from wtf to source fabric when basically nothing was open and how to actually piece things together when equipment was out of reach, to the anxiety that came with facing an IRL pandemic head-on, their inspirations might be as diverse as the drudgery of the morning commute, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Adhocism, but all are united in championing sustainability and slowing down the frenetic pace of fashion. 

Go through their sketchbooks in the gallery above and meet them below.


“My final collection, Surrealistic Joy, was based on my research of surrealist artists’ stories – I learn from their passion and combine their visions with my own analysis of the body – and was conceptualised after a visit to La Specola (The Museum of Zoology and Natural History in Florence) where I was struck by the great silence of a waxen Venus. A lot of lace has been used throughout the offering, some of which I dipped into silicon liquid to give it a skin-like texture. Other pieces were printed with hair, which were reminiscent of Gerhard Richter’s gestural brushstrokes, with looks finished with metallic chokers studded with spikes. 

Creating a collection in isolation was quite hard! I had to dye fabrics in the kitchen sink or spray paint shoes in the backyard. More positively, the whole process challenged me to compress the collection and helped me adapt to different environments. This whole situation has meant fashion has slowed down, and I believe every cloud has a silver lining – right now, it’s time for the industry to assess and adapt in relation to production, diversity, sustainability… I also hope in the future it will care less about designers’ fame and status and more about design and creativity. There are a lot of young designers who make fantastic collections – their creations should speak for themselves, rather than them having to emphasise or create a larger-than-life personality.”



“My graduate collection is a commentary on inner-city living from the perspective of young men. I reflect on the daily grind and discuss the need to make ends meet and pay rent, the pressures of communal living, and the false illusions of success, and how these can manifest in damage to mental health, feelings of exhaustion, alienation, and burnout. My research started with taking candid photos of commuters on the Tube, including one hilarious image of a man standing asleep in his suit, holding an ‘Every Little Helps’ Tesco bag that had crumpled to say ‘Help’. I spent a year documenting my commutes, my nights out, the comedowns, and a range of various objects and literature – I wanted to tell a story of my 20s and reflect on just how fucking hard it is to exist in London trying to make something of yourself. 

When it came to the clothes themselves, knitwear with displaced, differently-sized ribs draw inspiration from my rubbish home printer that is constantly running out of ink, while an upscaled, silver-plated dress pin is designed to ‘just hold together’ the lapels of one jacket, which really fits the narrative. Denim and leather trousers were crafted using waste leather with these lush imperfections from the bargain bucket. All the clothes are meant to look a bit broken, a bit off, but also with this sexy, luxe energy. Some people make clothes to get you laid. I guess mine are much more inspired by the next day when you regret it. 

I really believe in collaboration within my practise, and lockdown really connected me with friends and pushed new collaborative ideas. I Ubered the clothes I’d been working on to my friend Charlie Parker, who modelled them on FaceTime while I did the fittings. My group chat became a place myself and close classmates would critique and give feedback to each other. My flatmate Daniele Fummo shot the lookbook in our flat with zero equipment bar his camera, and Fiona Hartley 3D printed the jewellery from her domestic printer. I’m disappointed not to have been able to present the collection as part of a physical show, but as it stands, doing it this way has helped me refine and keep coherency in my one and language, and pushed me to think about how else I can do this outside the context of a show.”



“My collection Revalue is a playful, critical experiment on clothes’ fabrication, cost, and function – I was inspired by the controversial issues of value and affordability in fashion, especially the uber-hyped streetwear that’s become mainstream. Streetwear has become the new luxury, but ironically, most young ‘authentic’ streetwear wearers can’t afford it. What’s the new idea of streetwear for the upcoming generation, what’s affordable but cool? 

The clothes themselves include a jacket made from kitchen towels, as well as a leather t-shirt. These two items, with their very different reversed materiality, are both representative of my collection. In fact, all of the jackets in the offering are made from disposable, dissolvable materials, such as kitchen paper or toilet roll. They embody my intention to dissolve value, to make nothing into something, or take nothing and make something of it. This isn’t exclusive fashion made from expensive fabrics – I’m not interested in making fashion for the elite, I want to speak from my community and other minorities. 

Creating the collection in lockdown was challenging because it hindered my making process a lot, but when I finally persuaded myself to jump out of my box and actually embrace this period, it felt like an important moment in my life and warned me there is no going back to normal. I used to prefer making garments that were simply beautiful and less opinionated, but now I’m determined to design with honesty and timeliness. In the future, I hope there will be systemic changes in the fashion industry, in terms of racial and sexual disparities, as well as sustainability.” 



“My final collection, Life At Last: Salutations From The Other Side, was about exteriorising the experiences we collection through life, as raw as they are, with their marks of failures and the beautiful lines of our journey. I read a lot on Kader Attia’s artistic practise and particularly his work on ‘destroy and repair’, as analysed by Phillippe Dagen. The idea that a repaired object carries traces of a story is so poetic to me. There’s also a bit of my love of punk and rock music in there, as well as influences felt through Brian De Palma’s movie Phantom of the Paradise – the portrayal of a fallen hero, this damned musician fighting for his own justice. 

The whole point of the collection was to work only with materials that had a life and a story, so I collected unused soles from Nike’s factory, flexible bio-resin, recycled nylon, denim waste, and recycled yarn. My favourite pieces are the ‘Traces’ trousers, made from denim and resin, and the modular ‘Memory’ backpacks. They were the hardest pieces to make which is why I have a special connection to them I think! 

Lockdown has meant I’ve had to explore new ways of presenting my work and the idea is very exciting. It feels like a restart, and that a door to so many new possibilities has been opened. I don’t want to insert myself into the old institution of what fashion was pre-COVID – the fashion industry is currently a crazy train going straight off a precipice, and we’re all taught, from the experiences we gain within it, that we need to jump on the train or give up. Quality takes time, and we should cherish it. I hope I will help people realise that we should enjoy things that have a story, a journey, and take time and care to be made.” 



“It was extremely difficult to motivate myself in lockdown, but once I sat down and got into the flow I was working until I dropped on my final collection Moving to Mars. Drawing inspiration from the space age of the 70s, movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a space exhibition at the London Design Museum, I wanted to create something simple, modern, and wearable, with a focus on sustainability, so there are pieces in there that are crafted using only one piece of fabric, and natural materials like cotton, wool, and silk. My aim is to bring sustainable fashion to all, especially those who struggle with the affordability of sustainable fashion. In the future, I hope to do my small share in making sustainable fashion as standard.” 



“My inspiration comes from my mother, who I’ve looked up to since I was a child. She’s very vibrant and independent, and she’s so proud to show her Somali culture by wearing her traditional clothes, despite the fact we lived in a western country – I was born and raised in Amsterdam, so I wasn’t really exposed to the Somalian culture or language until I got a bit older and started asking questions. She told me her story, about how she was forced to leave her home due to civil clan war and settle in Holland as a refugee at just 18. I was so proud that I got to call such a strong woman mum (or ‘Hoyo’ as I call her). 

My final collection, What Is Your Qabil?, was made using materials that weren’t harming the environment, so there were a lot of secondhand and upcycled fabrics that held some form of connection to my heritage, and I also included traditional clothes my mum no longer needed, remaking them into garments representative of displacement and healing. I also made a short documentary to go alongside my collection in which my mum talks about her experiences in Somalia. Just the idea of having a conversation with her where she speaks in her own language about her past was beautiful.”



“My graduate collection centres around the power-dressing of the 1980s and Adhocism – the art of solving problems using materials at hand, rather than waiting for a perfect moment or ‘right’ approach. I deconstructed men’s tailored pieces and used them as a base on which I developed shapes. Textures and the palette evolved through analysis of Richard Wentworth’s 1984 photographic series Making Do and Getting By in which Wentworth documents human resourcefulness on the street.

I tried to subvert everyday objects to create hybrid accessories for ‘a woman on the go’ throughout – all accessories and buttons on tailoring have multiple purposes: a key-button opens the door of your apartment, a watch-strap tells the time, arms of eyeglasses are hair combs etc. I used recycled wools for tailoring and poplin shirting, which I bonded together, or waxed to achieve a paper-like texture. Since the collection was made in lockdown and I didn’t have access to shops, all buttons, zips, and shoulder pads are sourced from deconstructed vintage pieces I used as toiles. 

Creating a collection in quarantine was at times pleasant, but overall quite a challenge. I’m not too disappointed I didn’t get to show my clothes on the runway though. Catwalk shows, in my opinion, are a very old-fashioned way of presenting collections, so I’m pleased we had to come up with an alternative this year. I’m more sad that I haven’t gotten to go through the last few experiences of studying at CSM with my friends. It’s heartbreaking that we haven’t been able to celebrate our achievements together. After five years of working together, we became a family.” 



“My collection was inspired by ideas of the post-colonial experience and the idea of being a person that is an amalgamation of different visions. I did a lot of research into African tradition and contrasted this with pop culture and ideas of the future of tech. I was trying to combine the mystical with the more clinical technology to represent a hybrid of the two. Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty was my initial inspiration, and I also looked at Hausa architecture and Gundam girls. 

When it comes to finishing my collection in lockdown and missing out on an end of year show, I feel like I’ve accepted what happened – obviously it would have been more fulfilling if there was more of a conclusion to the part four years, but everything that’s happening is a lot bigger than myself and I try not to think of what could have been. 

In terms of what fashion will look like post-COVID, I would love to see more Black women being celebrated and given opportunities and leading roles in the industry and educational areas. I also hope fast fashion makes some major changes in the way workers are treated. For me personally, I hope to be able to have the space to create work without the confines a design student is faced with, and that I can stand for things I feel good about rather than doing what’s expected.” 



“My collection is called Marry The Night – something used, something found, something for tonight. I used a lot of repurposed materials that were once very important, but ended up losing their value: nylon tights and wedding dresses became the core of the collection, along with the performative act of dressing for weddings, which played into my love of performance and the joy of dressing up. I’d love to see someone fun wearing it – someone who’s not restricted by ideas of gender. I am inspired by the brave creatives of London, and all the people I surround myself with are actively engaged in society and want to make a better world. 

I’m passionate about what I’m doing and can’t wait to show the world my ideas. I’m excited about rewriting the idea of couture, and using up-cycling as the key method to make a garment unique. These are uncertain times to graduate in, but I’m positive about the future. I’ve been studying fashion design for eight years now and I’m ready to start using my skills to make the industry a better place – it’s time it slowed down and became more ethical.” 



“The main inspiration for this project was a weird moment of intimacy. He stops what we were doing, gets off the bed and turns off the lights. I freaked out, and thought, ‘he doesn’t want to see my body!’ It made me realise that, as much as I’ve learned to love and be proud of my body, that old voice in my head telling me I’m not enough will always be there. Alongside this, I was inspired by a performance by Karen Finley called “Shut Up and Love Me”, as well as the work of Carolee Schneemann, Katerina Jebb, Poppy Jackson, and Audre Lorde’s essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic of Power”. 

My process re-appropriates areas and imagery of the body which would traditionally be taboo, undesirable, or a source of shame, vulnerability, and insecurity, with this project exploring the tension between conflicting selves. It’s about acknowledging that, as ever-evolving beings, we are in a continuum of change, influenced by who we were in the past, who we believe we are now and who we wish to be, and that these different versions of ourselves exist simultaneously. The more we embrace the full spectrum of our being, the parts we deem shameful, the move vulnerable we feel. True power, however, comes from embracing these vulnerabilities, our imperfect humanity. Much of the collection itself is made of silicone, which is my obsessionfor me, it has the ability to portray the elasticity of skin, to blur the lines between garment and body. Elsewhere, silk chiffon and satin sits alongside leather. 

Lockdown has inevitably made us reflect on what fashion means, what its purpose is, and why should we produce one more garment? What can we, as designers, give to the world, and why should people stop to listen to us? In the future, I think fashion production will slow down and the amount of shows companies do will reduce because people will buy less. The pandemic and all the social issues we have been discussing the past six months have made people reflect on things that are really important in life. Buying more clothes stops being a priority. I believe consumers will want to buy fashion that matters, from brands we believe in, with ethics, ideals, and values they agree with. I hope to change the industry by offering people a way to grow their self-love, to celebrate sensuality, to celebrate our imperfect humanity, to disrupt the chain, and to say ‘fuck off’ to all the things that are preventing us from being who we want to be. I want to give hope that fashion can be kind.” 



“My project started as a therapeutic approach to my own experiences of gender dysphoria, depression, and chronic illness. I wanted to visualise myself as multiple enhanced digital beings in this post-gender and trans-human world where I wouldn’t feel limited by any physical, mental, or societal constraints. By doing this I managed to distance myself from my own body in order to question what my ideas and expectations of gender, health, and fitness were, and whether my desire for a masculine-appearing body was authentic or whether it was a result of my internalised misogyny. The main reason I started working exclusively in digital is because my depression made it difficult to accurately express my aesthetic within the physical, as it would permeate into everything I did. The digital world offered me a way to filter my aesthetic and thoughts. 

The collection was entirely made for myself as a method of self-care and it’s only intended to be viewed and absorbed for what it is, but I would love to know that someone out there might relate to my work and find it helpful in any way. It’s a little disappointing to not have been able to show it as part of a final presentation. Seeing my work on a small screen on Instagram or on a laptop is still relevant, but having the opportunity to create a large scale installation and immerse the viewer is something I would have wanted. I hope to do a physical exhibition in the near future, though.” 



“I’d describe myself as a working class northerner with a dirty sense of humour, outrageously homosexual, the future of couture, and I love pink! My final collection, Working Class Scum!, investigates the roles of the masculine within class structures, through humour and the contrast of identities – there’s a riding jacket inspired by a costume that Queen Elizabeth II wore during a trooping the colour parade in 1972, crafted in houndstooth material like my grandma wore in her Dallas days.  

I also incorporated sportswear material, the idea being when you walked and zipped up the garment it would sound like something else, a play on the senses, and there are embroidered pieces inspired by Tudor tapestries – during invasions of countries they would remove threads of gold and silver. During lockdown, I actually developed a new love for working by hand and found embroidery was a way to communicate emotional response. Hidden messages within the garment are something I want the wearer and future museum curators to explore, almost as if you wwe decoding a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. 

People keep asking how I see fashion changing post-COVID, but we’re graduates! Although we’ve just been through education we do not have the answers to fix previous generations’ problems, but we will soon. I am seeing a lot of previous graduates move towards made to order, which is a great way to make for what is needed rather than left for the shelves or bins. People have to wait for a product and remember what luxury is, rather than expect it at the click of a button or a like. Otherwise, the future has to be about honesty, transparency, and inclusion. As a designer, coming from a working class family is hard because the system is economically against you. Where is the funding for the innovators of the future?”