Having recently attended the graduate fashion shows for both Edinburgh College of Art and Glasgow School of Art, I have become fascinated by the work of these adept, inventive and devoted young artists, capable of the most beautiful and otherworldly creations. Browsing the collections of different institutions around the UK, I have compiled a list of some of this year’s designers who have captivated me the most.
An increasingly important criteria in fashion is environmentalism, which students adhere to with the intelligent use of novel materials and innovative techniques. Brian McLysaght (Edinburgh College of Art) employs sustainable and biodegradable wood with organic and recycled fabrics to produce unique, armour like garments resembling the scales of some unearthly creature. These beautiful, sculpted pieces take inspiration from McLysaght’s ancient Irish heritage but are realised using modern laser-cutting and digital printing methods. Radka Blazickova (Northampton University) and Allison Elizabeth Orr (University of Central Lancashire) both implement upcycling in their designs, namely of plastic. Blazickova’s garments, which manage to look like both space suits as well the translucent shell or cocoon of an organism you might find in outer space, are made entirely from plastic bottles and raise awareness about plastic waste and waste in general. Orr’s collection similarly highlights plastic in oceans and it reminds of me of the artist Philip Beesley’s installation “Sargasso” – both recreate the foamy mass of debris and refuse floating in the sea using white, delicate, gauzy textiles.
Another common creative stimulus among some of the designers’ work this year (and universally for many artists in general) is nature. But these pioneering artists are not drawing inspiration from predictable subjects like flowers and birds but rather looking towards the more obscure and less obvious elements of wildlife. The psychedelic, flamboyant, harlequin ensembles of Lisa Gestenfeld (Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts) are fit for this year’s Met Gala Camp theme. The theatrical designs are not only inspired by colourful visions but also by hallucinogenic plants themselves; fungus colonies growing on a tree trunk are mirrored in the contrast between some of the garments’ solid silhouettes and the large, frothy ruffles and frills. The other garments’ overall billowing shapes also resemble giant forms of mushrooms.
The feminine, tawny and fawn coloured designs of Maimi Sadai (Nottingham Trent University) also evoke images of mushrooms. Although the shapes are modelled specifically on butterflies, the bare lower half and the ruched mass of floral, quilted fabrics gathered at the upper body of the garments, look respectively like a mushroom stalk and cap. They could also resemble a trunk and its branches, the loose ribbons make the outfit look like an unravelling corset or a skeletal tree. The pieces of the collection by Ziqing Xu (Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts) together form a narrative. Inspired by an unlikely element of the animated masterpiece, “Spirited Away”, greed and excess, the designs begin modest, unassuming and delicate, then swell and balloon into diaphanous forms like overgrown tutus. The concept brings the designs to life, like an expanding, beautiful and monstrous entity; the biomimetic colours and voluminous shapes make the garments simmer like a small seismic force.
Increasingly, fashion is being regarded as an art form and as such students have imbued their work with respective depth and meaning. Sara Fehres (Edinburgh College of Art) uses soft, elegant and sustainable materials like organic felt, bamboo silk and crocheted lace to construct delicate, layered garments which create an “emotive and sensory experience.” Her creations are not just garments but artworks built with poetry and sensitivity. Gothic architecture, clerical dress and religious habits inform the designs of Harriet Philpott (Nottingham Trent University), with their harmony and “grand divine design.” The kaleidoscopic collages, silvery palettes, architectural shapes and rose window references all evoke a sense of history, whilst the oversized, draped layers shroud the body like a sacred relic.
All the works of these forward-thinking, imaginative and accomplished students instil much hope for the future of both art schools and the field of fashion. Their social and cultural awareness and use of cutting-edge practices pave the way for works of art which are as timely as they are beautiful.
[Anastasia Nevarez-Pyrkova – she/her]
[Photo credit: Anastasia Nevarez-Pyrkova]