Fashion’s new movers and shakers

We hot-footed down to the Truman Brewery this week to soak up the vibes at Graduate Fashion Week. In its 27th year, it showcases the most innovative and exciting emerging design talent and gives us a sneak peek at what we might all be wearing next year.

With work from over 1,000 of the very best grads from the most influential universities, 25 catwalk shows, and 40 exhibition stands plus that acclaimed Gala Award Show, Graduate Fashion Week attracts 30,000 guests each June.

Founded in 1991 by Jeff Banks CBE, Vanessa Denza MBE and John Walford, the charity is supported by fashion royalty: Victoria Beckham, Christopher Bailey, Vivienne Westwood, Nick Knight and, new this year, Diane Von Furstenberg and Nadja Swarovski.

Caryn Franklin said  ‘the students this year had focused on sustainability, diversity and happiness’, with most designers using ethical materials and recycled pieces to decrease their harm on the environment.

An unrivalled platform for the promotion of new talent, Graduate Fashion Week bridges the gap between graduation and employment and is responsible for launching the careers of some of the most successful designers of our time including Christopher Bailey MBE, who was the winner of the first ever Graduate Fashion Week Gold Award, Stella McCartney, Giles Deacon, Matthew Williamson and Julien Macdonald.

The first ever Gold Award (currently sponsored by George) was won by Burberry’s Christopher Bailey. It is the highest Graduate Fashion Week accolade to scoop.

This year 24-year old Kingston School of Art designer Saskia Lenaerts presented a collection called Rare Fruit, with the concept for the collection based heavily around sustainability and repurposing – one look featured an overcoat made from a tarpaulin sheet. She won 2018’s Considered Design Award.

Saskia winning The Considered Design Award

Foundry Fox caught up with the young designer.

Congratulations on winning the Considered Design Award. How does it feel? And why do you think your collection was considered?

It feels amazing – I’m extremely grateful an external panel of accomplished judges liked my work and saw the relevance of it – that is incredible.

I think my collection was chosen because it uses sustainable materials, it looks at diversity, it looks at colonisation and how parts of our world are left behind and considered as unimportant by the West .

Where is home?

I feel that London, as a big, cosmopolitan city, is where I truly belong. Belgium is home, because I have history, childhood friends and family there but ultimately I feel more at home  and understood in London.

Can you explain what the creative process was like from initial ideas to the show…

It starts with research, which includes reading and literature but is mostly image research and analysing those images. I then collage selected images, finding ones that will work well together to form a silhouette.

From that I make a drawing and try to translate that into 3D – it may then go through some changes once in 3D, if I find it works better a little differently. I’m not a designer who comes up with something from thin air. Research also applies to the types of material that reflect a vibe or mood. But the process of getting to 3D always starts with a collage for me.

Your collection is a lot about identity. How do you think we select and choose elements of our past and present to create our unique identity?

I think it’s different for different people. I realised from a young age I was different. In Belgium, physically I looked different, my parents gave me a different upbringing and I enjoyed that and rolled with it.

Then there are other people who want to fit in and that informs their identity – they might leave aspects of their heritage behind. Others may have lived all over the world and have contacts with other people and decide those experiences are equally important for their identity – it all depends on your character, how proud of things you are and how they relate to you.

What are your views on how the fashion industry is embracing sustainability?

I feel it’s more a hot topic than a real industry-wide desire to change at the moment. It’s something I still need to learn and discover more about.

It’s difficult to call an industry sustainable when it keeps making products – a ‘buy buy buy’ culture really negates sustainability. The education side isn’t there yet because the industry is not there. But I do think over the last few years the perception has started changing, and people now believe sustainable can be fashionable.

Can you explain your choice of mixed gender models? Why male and female? What did it mean for you? And what did it mean to the collection?

I felt it was natural to have a women’s silhouette as part of the collection to create something different and maybe re-inspire myself – I felt a strong woman belonged amongst five men.

The vibe of the collection is quite masculine but I see myself as having a masculine side so the women in my work can also embody that.

How did you feel backstage?

At the award show I was excited, I was enjoying seeing everybody’s work, then I got the message that I was winner and had to go onstage and accept the award! It was very spontaneous and I had to walk with the models – I wasn’t prepared for that.

The Kingston University catwalk show was over quickly – it was a real runway show and there was more adrenalin. I didn’t feel it was stressful, I met lots of really interesting people around our stand and it was interesting to hear different people’s perspectives on my work. Overall it went really smoothly and I enjoyed every part of it.

What is next for you?

I am doing an MA in menswear at Central Saint Martins which starts in October. This summer I have some travels lined up but am still looking for an internship or something to do that will benefit my development. I’m keen to soak up different experiences that might inspire me to create a new collection, which I have to do in the MA, and see how I would work in the industry.

What is your dream job?

If I could be totally free to choose what to do I would live being an artist – I might make clothes as well. I’m not sure I want the same job for the rest of my life.

I believe all accomplished designers and creative beings are interdisciplinary and don’t just stop at fashion, and that is what I would like to become – limitless in my options and not put into a box. For me fashion is undeniably interwoven with art, image making and concept building, and that can manifest itself through different media to express a fully rounded mood and concept to the world.

I’ve always been interested in art from high school. For me though there is still something more meaningful about making something for a human or to be worn on the human body than creating a painting to be hung on a wall. 

What is your advice to anyone wanting to study design?

To be as creative as possible and to do whatever you want during your studies. I feel it’s your chance to not make any compromises. You might go on to sell it but that’s not the idea – education is that time as a fashion designer where you can be totally loose and true to your vision. In a company, you might need to compromise. Young people might stress about making a living but I hope that doesn’t stop them fully expressing themselves. Research, being cultured, going to exhibitions and engaging with the world are all fundamental to people who want to study in fashion.

Follow Saskia here.

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