For the best part of the last decade, London’s status as (revived) world fashion capital has come firmly stamped with the initials C.S.M. Led by its formidable professor Louise Wilson, Central Saint Martins’ MA course in Fashion Design became a byword for wildly inventive, deeply compelling visions, and its graduates - Christopher Kane, Sarah Burton, Mary Katrantzou, Roksanda Ilincic, Phoebe Philo, Stuart Stockdale, Jonathan Saunders, Gareth Pugh, Christopher Shannon, and Craig Green amongst them - stormed the runways (and editorial pages, and shop rails) of the world. The college’s MA shows, staged during London Fashion Week, are now firmly established as eagerly-looked-to launchpads for the latest Next Big Things. And the city’s fashion week schedules, both for menswear and womenswear, continue to be dominated by the college’s alumni.
The Royal College of Art show 2016, London (designer: Laetitia Berthier), Courtesy of PR
But nothing stands still in fashion. So it was inevitable that a time would come when CSM’s invincibility would be challenged. In 2014, Louise Wilson’s death sent shockwaves through the industry. Last spring, The Business of Fashion published their first Global Fashion School Rankings - a survey which placed CSM’s undergraduate course, unsurprisingly, at number one. Three other UK fashion colleges (Kingston, Westminster, and the London College of Fashion) also placed in the top ten. Regarding the MA rankings CSM came second, behind the Royal College of Art - the venerable South Kensington institution which first created a professional fashion degree course in the 1950s, and which is enjoying a resurgence of its own under new course leader Zowie Broach. Four of the five shortlist names for this year’s BFC/GQ menswear fund prize were Royal College of Art alumni - Astrid Andersen, Lou Dalton, Sibling, and Christopher Raeburn (although the sole CSM representative, Craig Green, ultimately won.) And while St. Martin’s BA show, staged last week at their vast Kings’ Cross campus, was as impressive as ever, the RCA’s MA showcase made a powerful statement of intent.
Craig Green menswear Fall/Winter 2016 show, London, Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION
"This year we will be showing just as London Collections: Men begins,” Broach explains, “so we become ‘l’avenir’ - in effect, the new arrivals; what is to come as far as the aesthetic and visual language by silhouette, material, or movement.”
The show was held in a grand, abandoned Edwardian hotel, its salons half-stripped of their ornate gilding and propped up with steel and plywood. Instead of the usual procession of collections, each student had to choose a single garment to express their viewpoint - a brutally concise approach which, intriguingly, made the whole experience powerfully coherent. Recurring themes - savagely deconstructed silhouettes, harsh textures, and violent colours, as well as a sensual interplay between bodies and garments - united aesthetics which ranged from stubborn minimalism to wild exuberance. Mao Tsen Chang’s chaotic patchwork flurries and Supriya Lele’s sleek, molten surfaces were particular standouts amongst the womenswear collections, while Per Götesson’s slumped workwear and Luke Stevens’s romantic collages attested to the strength of the college’s menswear branch.
The Royal College of Art show 2016, London (designer: Mao Tseng Chang), Courtesy of PR
Not to be outdone, the London College of Fashion unveiled earlier this week the first images of its new East London campus, a spectacular new construction scheduled to open in 2021, described by course leader Frances Corner as a “workshop for the 21st century." And in a series of Shoreditch warehouses yesterday, the college’s menswear graduating class staged a public-facing event which examined modern-day masculinity through a series of talks, workshops, live presentations, and tutorials. It was a bold move, stepping away from the conveyor-belt system to focus on the larger issues of menswear and male identity.
MAN menswear Fall/Winter 2016 show, London, Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION
Taken all together, it makes for an exciting time. And London’s menswear SS17 shows, starting this morning, have perhaps never been quite as diverse. Today’s MAN show will feature CSM’s Charles Jeffrey alongside RCA alumnus Fengchen Wang (as well as Götesson, fresh from his MA show). Elsewhere in the schedule, the likes of Ravensbourne’s Bobby Abley, the RCA’s Liam Hodges, and self-taught names like Nasir Mazhar all serve to add to the cacophony of voices. It’s all to play for. Let the games begin.
Bobby Abley menswear Fall/Winter 2016 show, London, Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION