LFW’s Student Style-Off

In what was to become a London Fashion Week graduate special of a season, one thing has become clear: streetwear-sportswear (either, or a combination of the two) is over in the minds of today’s students. Finally. Hoorah! (Save for a few outstanding Balenciaga notes that are still loitering around). It comes as a blessing in what was fast becoming a same-y same-y fashion landscape that was all too easily filtering down onto young and impressionable minds, which was resulting in us seeing more than a couple of homages to a handful of big brands time and again. Yawn. Next. Move on.

CENTRAL SAINT MARTINS MA FW18 show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

But thanks to a stellar show from the Central Saint Martins MA this year, as well as the addition of Westminster’s BA crop onto the schedule, we need not worry. Well, not as far as the ideas are concerned – Westminster wiping the slate clean with 11 collections that ran the gamut from super-shiny, space-age, and shapely to tassel-festooned and the possible wardrobe of the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) for a Paolo Carzana awning of an oversized jacket. And Central Saint Martins deservedly lived up to its hype.

Because the collections here were anchored in history, in clothes that boasted technical design and detail, shape and silhouette. Where often student collections can fall foul of being brash, clumsy in their crassness with their naïve ideas, here that overriding homage to the past was intensely refreshing for menswear that was elegant and sophisticated in velvet and beading, tuxedos and knitted blazers, fitted coats and jackets – beautifully executed and with a sense of occasion, a sense of formality. Charles Dickens’ Oliver even made for a recurring muse as shorts and trousers took on a 19th century vibe, sailor collars on jackets. Archie Alled-Martinez, Daniel Martin Crabtree, and Joan Rose Garrofe were among those to explore this territory, the latter of whom added zip details in for a modern twist. It was clever. Tracksuits, these were not.     

On womenswear and a flock of lovely cream knitted looks that followed Dior, Bar jacket contours came from Elise Perrotta, with shots of yellow and blue on occasional pieces making it all the more gorgeous; Yuhan Wang combined Edwardian-style draped dresses with boudoir pretty to create slashed and ruched buttoned iterations which were sumptuous; and Liam Johnson opened the show with a jubilant and colourful version of shapes probably once tried out by Gareth Pugh. It was a clean and striking beginning. 

Later, there were poodle shoes and there were Trump mask trotter shoes; there were inflatable paddling pools and plastic bag skirts; these moments were fun and, to a degree, what we come for, too, but, if anything, they worked to make the overarching return to elegance and the past even more pertinent and relevant.  

Rebecca Jeffs scooped one of the night’s prizes for her evocative flourishes of texture – big leather belts on white tailoring, purse clasps on shoulders, a bra that seemed the equivalent of a body tiara, and a net cast over an entire look. It was lovely and the latter an idea we’d seen touched upon earlier in the week at London College of Fashion – by The. Ran – which has come to traditionally show its MA collections on the eve of LFW.

LCFMA WOMENSWEAR CATWALK FW18 show in London. Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

There, too, it was the looks that wandered into Ann Demeulemeester realms that worked best – Rongxia, among them – and had Dmitry Gotsfrid stuck with the brilliance of that first Wonder Woman look, she apparently on an evening out at the opera, for a party dress with a sweeping scarf, that would’ve been a gem. 

The thing we might need to worry about, however, is: Is London Fashion Week a place for students? So many of them? I don’t ask this to unnecessarily stir hyperbolic style intelligentsia and suggest that it isn’t; I ask because this season the schedule came peppered with a more-than-usual amount of them, a quota that would look more familiar come June time when Graduate Fashion Week rolls on round. And seeing as fashion is a hard cookie to break, that even fashion’s biggest names can struggle with or are ambivalent about, it seems like something that makes sense to ask. And while CSM has long held its coveted spot on the schedule and LCF has caught on, the University of Westminster’s BA show marked the first time that an undergraduate course has been invited to show on the official LFW schedule.

Which is not to say it shouldn’t be there. Outside of LFW, Westminster has long been a hot graduate show ticket: its alumni including Vivienne Westwood, Christopher Bailey, Stuart Vevers, and more recently Liam Hodges, Ashley Williams, Claire Barrow, and Roberta Einer; and it’s led by none other than Andrew Groves, an original enfant terrible of the London fashion scene alongside Alexander McQueen back in the day, and a continued progressive thinker now, restructuring the course to align with the international fashion calendar.

UNIVERSITY OF WESTMINSTER BA FW18 show in London. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.

“I have long believed that fashion education needs to provide our students with the most realistic and industry-ready educational experience. By showing their collections in February rather than June, it enables our accomplished final year students to become truly part of the industry,” he explained. “This bold development also allows us to build on our world-class internship programme: after the second year of the BA Fashion Design course, students work for two seasons with leading international fashion houses and designers, allowing them to experience where they might fit in this diverse and exciting industry.”

But in a time when the calendar keeps changing anyway, from see-now-buy-now to menswear and womenswear being shown together and designers hopping onto the couture schedule in July instead, does it make sense?

In a preview of her Autumn/Winter 2018 collection last week, I posed the question to Holly Fulton, herself a supporter and mentor to student talent, involved as she is with Graduate Fashion Week as an advocate of emerging talent.

“For me, blurring the lines between the conventional fashion system and the established graduate showing system, it’s an interesting proposition. I’m not 100 per cent sure if I know the right thing to do because, for me, the joy of something like Graduate Fashion Week is its pure celebration of graduate talent,” she says. And much like LFW for industry members, it makes it easier for everyone to see what they need to. “It’s consolidating it all in one place.”

Pressure is also another potential issue – to be creative, to be compared to MA students, to be compared to established designers. Of course, showing at LFW comes with pros too.

“It has kudos. The student perception is that we’re showing at London Fashion Week before we’ve graduated and maybe that instils an amazing confidence, that will give them an awareness of the system, in terms of those deadlines, maybe that’s amazing. But it might challenge the gestation period,” she points out, thinking back to her own cultivation of creativity. Fulton herself has also explored different formats for showing her collections and at different times.

Because increasingly that’s what the system seems to be facilitating: less rules, more personalisation – especially in an increasingly connected world, a world to which a new crop of students, the first day down of London Fashion Week, are one more step closer to being connected.


See the full FW18 collection from CENTRAL SAINT MARTINS MA here.

See the full FW18 collection from UNIVERSITY OF WESTMINSTER BA here.

See the full FW18 collection from LCFMA WOMENSWEAR CATWALK here.