CSM MA: What makes a star year?

It’s no secret that the talents of Central Saint Martins pepper the London Fashion Week schedule and beyond – just take a glance at it and it could easily be its own Mastermind subject of which designer, which year: go!  And it’s the reason so many students apply in the first place: they want to be said stars of the future, they want to be the ones showing that collection – theircollection – to the fashion world (and now the actual world, thanks to social media) that dark and cold February Friday night.

 


Harry Pontefract, CSM Fall/Winter 2016 show, London (photography by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION)

 

16 students showed their wares – an offering that traversed a world of Margiela riffs to Donna Karan whiffs re-worked and some nude-utility-undressed-millennium-ness somewhere in between (this, the opening collection by Harry Pontefract, especially good). It was a strong year. And so much so that two awards were dished out instead of one – to Harry Evans and John Skelton. Whether said students will go on to conquer the future schedule is left to them and the fashion stars (mostly them), but those that didn’t “win”, fear not – they were potentially even more interesting. But what makes one year more standout than another? For there have been those that made their mark more than others. I’m referring to Central Saint Martins MA 2010 (they signed up 2008): Simone Rocha, Thomas Tait, Jackie Lee of J. JS Lee and Adam Andrascik, who is now creative director at Parisian house Guy Laroche. And those are the headline names. There’s one half of the Palmer Harding duo, Matthew Palmer, Tze Goh, Shao-Yen Chen, Lilly Heine and Rock Hwang that will ring familiar bells in your ears too (expect to hear more from Rock in the not-too-distant future).

 

CSM Fall/Winter 2016 show, London (photography by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION)

 

“Yeah, it was quite an impressive year,” recalls Thomas Tait, who will be showing by appointment in Paris this season and who, since graduating, has scooped the LVMH Designer Prize 2014 award as well as having been a special guest designer at the menswear showcase Pitti last year. “At the beginning, we didn’t really think it was going to go anywhere because it was really quite bad in terms of economy, we were all sweating a bit,” he thinks back. But it turns out that economical downturn proved to be quite the creative incentive.

“I think we all thought that we were all screwed to be honest,” says Adam Andrascik, approaching his third successful season at the storied house Guy Laroche. “I mean, what was quite interesting about it was that it bred something in the air that meant we didn’t care, it didn’t matter. You knew it was going to be a hard sell but maybe this was the last collection I get to show for catwalk, let’s do what I want, let’s do something great.”

That mentality obviously translated, and as the aforementioned roll call notes, the students obviously did. It was a proper stellar year.

 


J.Js.Lee Fall/Winter 2016 ready-to-wear show, London

 

“Everyone was a lot about luxury and quality, finishing things off properly,” recalls Jackie Lee, who for the past few seasons has had the responsibility of opening London Fashion Week. She notes that those in her year had all done work experience or lived lives first, a notion that Tait acknowledges too – he was meeting someone who had already been a pattern cutter, for example, and it was refreshing. The other thing about that year was that they all got on. “One thing I noticed was that there was a serious amount of secrecy happening [in the year above] and people were more guarded. Our year was the opposite, we were pretty much drunk all the time, going out together and everyone got along. I think they were a little bit envious,” he fondly recalls. “I mean I can’t speak for other designers, but I feel like our year was class against the college, rather than being students against one another, we would help one another out.”

And so it’s nice now when he finds himself bumping into a fellow classmate in Paris. “It’s really lovely. I think it was maybe a little bit unique to our year.”

It turns out what was especially unique to that year were those pre-years of Nu Rave too, circa 2006 to 2008, an energy that emitted from London like no other – and one that possibly hasn’t done so since.

 


Adam Andrascik for Guy Laroche, Spring/Summer 2016 ready-to-wear, Paris (photography by Régis Colin-Berthelier for NOWFASHION)

 

“It was the tail-end of that Boombox kind of stuff, but coming from New York when you came to London, you were like: wait, this is way better [than what was going on in New York], this is the new movement. I think that had a massive impact later and completely changed my world view,” says Andrascik, who had his own eponymous label in London before making the move to Paris.

 


Thomas Tait Spring/Summer 2016 ready-to-wear show, London (photography by Gio Staiano)

 

Tait is in agreement. “That [energy] was one of my biggest motivations to come here for sure. There were a lot of young people in East London, and Boombox was really – that whole scene was on fire,” he says.

Of course with Tait, when he arrived, he – now quite famously – was one of the youngest students on the course. Something he's found especially strange now having returned to guest teach, and, as he confesses, realizing he is pretty much the same age as those on it now.  But it’s these stories that make that year memorable, just as much as it was a new aesthetic the students seemed to be embracing.

“Minimal, yes…” considers Lee, herself a minimalist at heart, though don’t that let deceive you from the construction and detail of any garment. Ditto Tait. His graduate collection required you to look inside and appreciate the finer detail. His attention to detail.

“I think there was that shift in the industry, especially in London, where everything was going from overworked to pealed back,” notes Andrascik. “People were more interested in techniques, the precision of clothing, the silhouette, it was about people pinpointing exactly what they wanted to say in the collection and nothing else in it was superfluous.” He flags the influence of Celine at the time too. “What was interesting in that year is that everyone caught that idea but we didn’t know what it was – a lot of the collections in the MA before that were heavy with embellishment.”

The result meant that there were, as Tait reflects, “a good bunch of us that gave it a go; a big wave of people who started their own brands.” Lee, for example, hadn’t even intended to launch her own, but then she went and won the Harrods Design Award (jointly with Lilly Heine) and then meant suddenly it became more than a viable option. “If you look at the collections, there was a good amount of us that had a clear vision in mind, it was a good example of individualism,” looks back Tait.

 


John Skelton, CSM Fall/Winter 2016 show, London (photography by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION)

 

Which is exactly what seemed to be back on the Central Saint Martins MA catwalk this evening: no collection the same in spirit or execution as another (though body stockings did seem to be a thing): there were pronounced-but-denounced-by-ruching silhouettes of Siiri Raasakka for smart-casual wear and the be-backpacked gowns of Austin St. Maur Snyder alongside some serious disco spangle from Michael Halpern.

 

CSM Fall/Winter 2016 show, London (photography by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION)

 

So back to the original question: what does make a star year?

The show notes of Fabio Piras, the course director successor of the late and great Louise Wilson, were an eclectic ode to discovery, living, landscape, exposure, abstraction and more. It’s that, yes, and all of the above. It’s the excitement and anticipation of the CSM show that sits in the air like no other; such is the legacy of its alumni. It was certainly whatever that was in the water that graduating 2010 year.

 

Harry Evans, CSM Fall/Winter 2016 show, London (photography by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION)

 

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