Central Saint Martins is the arts and design college revered around the world for consistently spawning the most innovative of talents. Many of its fashion graduates, in particular, have gone on to become major designers, successfully heading eponymous labels, or installed as Head Designers and Creative Directors within long-established fashion houses and luxury brands in London, New York, Paris and Milan. These include John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo, Riccardo Tisci, Kim Jones, Giles Deacon, Katherine Hamnett, Sarah Burton, Hussein Chalayan, Matthew Williamson, Stephen Jones and Gareth Pugh, to name a few.The fashion department at CSM has existed since the 1930s—formerly housed in various West End buildings, but based at Kings Cross since 2011. There are so many CSM fashion stories—endless images, designs, runway shows, parties and memories from across the decades up to the present-day—that it’s no surprise at long last an amazing book, Fashion Central Saint Martins, has been put together to tell the full story through a myriad of words and pictures.
Full of interviews with famous alumni, essays and fondly-recalled anecdotes from esteemed fashion editors, critics and authors, as well as over 700 archive photographs—the majority of which have never been published previously—the project is clearly a labor of love. Its co-editors comprise of CSM Fashion staff members Hywel Davies (Fashion Programme Director), and Cally Blackman (an author and Fashion History and Theory Tutor). Both are deservedly pleased with the results: “I think there are two main themes that run through the book—hard work and fun,” explains Blackman. ”The book is packed with images of the results of hard work—for example the amazing Balenciaga project in 2017 where incredible tailoring is married with crazy shapes, pattern and color,” Davies elaborates. ”It was also brilliant to read how much fun people had at college—most stories are about people either being naughty or going out—not so much about the work they did. Reading happy memories is a wonderful experience.”
To celebrate the launch of the book at The Standard, London on September 12, we now look back at five of CSM’s most legendary end-of-year graduate fashion collections from across the past few decades.
JOHN GALLIANO, 1984
John Galliano was born in Gibraltar, but grew up in South London after his family moved to the UK when he was 6 years old. When he first attended CSM, in 1981, his intention was to become an illustrator. His astounding ability to sketch clothes prompted his tutors to push him more towards Fashion Design. Whilst he was a student, Galliano also worked part time as a dresser in a West End theatre and assisting the acclaimed Savile Row tailor, Tommy Nutter.
Galliano’s love of research—at the college library and the V&A Museum archives—led to his discovery of a movement from the post-French Revolution era, named the Incroyables, who dressed in outlandish finery to express their disdain for political and social norms. Galliano channeled this inspiration into his ground-breaking graduate collection, Les Incroyables. In an archive interview featured within Fashion Central Saint Martins, he recalls working on the collection: “I used anything I could get my hands on—furnishing fabrics in parts, for example… Jackets were worn upside down and inside out, romantic organdie shirts were accessorized with everything from magnifying glasses—smashed, and worn as jewelry—to rainbow-colored ribbons sewn onto the insides of coats.”
Scheduled as the finale of the annual graduation show, Les Inroyables created a sensation when it was modeled by various of Galliano’s nightclubbing friends, who pranced and danced across the runway to a cut-up soundtrack specially mixed by DJ Jeremy Healy. In Dana Thomas’ 2014 book, Gods and Kings, one of Galliano’s most supportive tutors, Sheridan Barnett, recalls the stunned atmosphere when the show concluded: “There was a quietness. And then suddenly everyone was screaming and clapping—like a delayed reaction.”
After receiving a standing ovation from the audience, things moved fast. Joan Burstein, the owner of Brown’s boutique, on South Molton Street, snapped up the collection, displaying it in the windows. The iconic singer, Diana Ross, was one of the first of Galliano’s famous customers—she bought a Les Incroyables’ coat. (Another of the original coats from Les Incroyables would decades later sell at a London auction for £65,000 in June, 2019!).
Over the ensuing years, Galliano has enjoyed unparalleled success as a designer—he is summed up in exhibition notes from the London Design Museum as, 'A powerhouse, a man whose ambition to go down in history as one of fashion's greats is awesome, even intimidating'. In addition to running his eponymous label, from the mid-90s to the early-Noughties, Galliano was the Head Designer at the iconic fashion houses Givenchy and Dior and is currently the Creative Director at Maison Margiela. He won the British Designer of the Year award in 1987, 1994, 1995, 1997 and was recognized for his services to fashion in 2001 when he received a CBE at Buckingham Palace. He would later confirm this regal moment as one of the all-time personal favorites of his decade-spanning fashion career.
ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, 1992
Alexander McQueen’s 1992 MA graduate collection, Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims was inspired by the East End-born student’s fascination with Jack the Ripper, the serial killer who struck terror in the 1880s by murdering prostitutes, predominantly, close to the rough-and-ready area in which McQueen would eventually grow up. The young designer’s interest in this was personal rather than ghoulish, though. A distant relative of his had apparently once rented a room to one of the Ripper’s victims…
Stand-out pieces from the collection included a silk frock coat, adorned with a thorn print and finished with a beautifully cut origami-like tail, as well as the tuxedo with a red-lined lapel. Locks of McQueen’s own hair were sewn into the labels throughout the collection. “The inspiration behind the hair came from Victorian times when prostitutes would sell theirs for kits of hair locks, which were bought by people to give to their lovers,” McQueen would later explain to Time Out magazine in 1997.
By any standards, the collection was technically accomplished and oozed confidence, already revealing his love of research and story-telling. This was later confirmed in Andrew Bolton’s notes for the 2011 McQueen retrospective Savage Beauty at New York’s MET Museum: ‘The collection’s title reveals his fascination with the Victorian culture. It also established his distinctly narrative, autobiographical approach to design.’
The Fashion Editor and Stylist, Isabella Blow, who went on to become a close friend and collaborator with McQueen, loved his graduation collection so much she bought it for £5,000. She paid him in regular cash installments, during the financially impoverished months that McQueen, like many ex-fashion students, endured after leaving college. A far cry from the wealth, global fame, industry awards and success that McQueen would later command throughout his career, prior to his death in 2010.
In a related twist, two decades later, CSM MA Material Futures student Tina Gorjanc proposed a conceptual range of leather accessories, for her Pure Human 2016 graduation collection, utilizing DNA sourced from the locks of McQueen’s hair found in the 1992 Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims collection. She then ‘harvested’ this DNA into usable skin tissue from which backpacks, jackets and bags could be made. It was an unsettling concept which McQueen would have surely relished. And just one more example of his creative influence living on.
HUSSEIN CHALAYAN, 1993
Following on from his Foundation course at Warwickshire School of Arts, British/Turkish Cypriot Hussein Chalayan secured a place on the BA Fashion course at CSM in the early 90s. From the outset, he avoided obvious fashion references, instead looking to the broader inspirations of politics, nature, the human body, history, architecture, modern anthropology and technology.
As a starting point for his graduate collection, The Tangent Flows, Chalayan dreamt up a story about a group of 17th Century dancers who were murdered then buried. He then covered his designs with iron filings and buried them in a friend’s garden, leaving them under the ground for a month or so until he could dig them up again: “The anticipation and the waiting was really exciting,” he recalled to Dazed Digital, 20 years later. When the clothes were exhumed, their now-oxidized surfaces were rusted, rich with surprising textures and beautifully-decayed. As a fashion ‘statement’ this was in stark contrast to the pristine minimalism proposed at the time by high profile designers such as Calvin Klein or Helmut Lang.
The collection propelled him onto the fashion media’s spotlight. Chalayan secured a backer for his namesake label and over the subsequent decades—in which he received two British Designer of the Year Fashion Awards, in 1999 and 2000, among many other fashion industry accolades—he has continually thrilled not only fashion lovers, but artists, film makers and architects, too. As the Architect’s Journal noted, in 2009, Chalayan’s work, ‘reveals how high fashion can be used as a crucible for artistic and practical expression.’
Since his graduation, Chalayan has imaginatively referenced car interiors and planes, or merged clothing with furniture, or utilized early-era laser LED technology within his collections. He has also collaborated with brands such as Swarovski, Vionnet and Puma, as well as music icons including Bjork and Lady Gaga and the actress, Tilda Swinton. He was awarded an MBE, in 2006, giving his avant-garde approach to fashion the Royal seal of approval.
CRAIG GREEN, 2012
When Craig Green started on CSM’s Foundation course in the mid-Noughties he intended to become a portrait painter. The North West London-born student soon changed his mind, however, when he undertook a fashion-based project. "The reason I found fashion so attractive was the fast-paced nature of it,” he later explained to i-D in 2014. “I look back and still don't regret the change."
The enthusiastic fashion convert went on to study womenswear on CSM’s BA Fashion course, before fully focusing on menswear while undertaking the Fashion MA. His memorable 2012 MA graduate collection comprised of 17 different looks and was inspired by workwear, uniforms and the 1960s horror film, The Village of the Dammed. Green’s designs juxtaposed tie-dye techniques with strong silhouettes and cumbersome-looking wooden structures sported stoically by the models. The overall effect was cerebral, sculptural, yet ultimately wearable, and provoked much media debate—not all of it supportive. As Green puts it: ”It's good to split opinions and start a discussion."
Green’s graduation collection promptly gained him the coveted L’Oreal Professionnel Creative Award and was praised at the time for its ‘precise monochrome layering’ by the well-respected fashion critic, Tim Blanks. The following year, London’s Design Museum nominated the graduation collection for its prestigious Designs of the Year Award 2013, alongside long-established brands, Comme des Garcons, Prada and Louis Vuitton. Dylan Jones, Editor-in-chief of British GQ duly described Green as, “A designer who uses big brushstrokes to amplify his design aspiration…”
Since his graduation, Green’s collections have bagged the British Menswear Designer category at the Fashion Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018. In addition to collaborating with Moncler, Grenson and Nike (and designing the medieval-futuristic costumes for Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant film of 2017), he has also made his mark on The Standard, London. Hotel guests get to wear the radically-snuggly dusty-pink pinstripe and chocolate-brown herringbone bathrobes designed by Green, while front of house staff are resplendent in his functional-yet-quirky color-blocked uniforms. Clearly, portraiture’s loss has become fashion’s gain.
FREDRIK TJAERANDSEN, 2019
The latest confirmation of CSM’s capacity to send fashion in startling new directions was found in Moments of Clarity, a graduate collection that went Instagram-viral before the end-of-year runway show had even finished! Fredrik Tjaerandsen’s vast inflated-and-deflating ‘balloon’ or ‘bubble’ dresses and garments—made in various colors of natural rubber sourced from Sri Lanka, and accompanied down the runway by the dramatic film soundtrack of Mica Levi’s Under the Skin—were a triumph, gaining him a standing ovation from the audience. This was quickly followed by him winning the L'Oreal Professional Young Talent Award and later the 2019 MullenLowe NOVA Award. Tjaearandsen also received endless messages of praise for his work from around the world, including those from celebrities such as the actor Lindsay Lohan and singer Erykah Badu. Overnight, as a result of social media users seeing the uploaded video clips from the show, his Instagram following surged from 1,600 to 70,000, marking him out as a fresh 21st Century talent with a rapid global reach.
TJaerandsen, who grew up in Bodø, Norway, originally completed the Foundation course at CSM and considered pursuing sculpture before specialising in Fashion for his BA. Despite proving himself to be an accomplished pattern cutter, he was challenged by his tutors to explore way beyond his undeniable technical skills. That journey led him to look at the work of artists such as Paul McCarthy, Roni Horn and Andreas Serrano, as part of his research for his graduate collection, as well as thinking deeply about his hazy memories of childhood. Tjaerandsen told i-D: “I really wanted to have this idea of capturing that mist... Sometimes there are these images that I can't really put into a place or a time. It's just that general feeling of fogginess, mist.” He further elaborated to Vogue: “The inflated bubbles are about being able to wear an unclear memory. When the bubble emerges onto the catwalk, it’s the dream. The deflation of the bubble visualizes the moment when we realize we have a consciousness.”
Prior to unveiling his ultra-performative collection, a huge amount of trial and error went into refining the mechanics of the inflated creations (a few of the prototypes burst), not least to ensure they contained sufficient air so the models inside them wouldn’t suffocate. The results are certainly breath-taking: Moments of Clarity proves beyond doubt that ideas, originality and innovation are the oxygen of modern fashion.