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10 FASHION GRADUATES TO WATCH FROM CSM’S CLASS OF 2021

10 FASHION GRADUATES TO WATCH FROM CSM’S CLASS OF 2021

by CULTED
20 min
CSM
Jad Jreissati ©

As an incubator of talent, Central Saint Martins has built up its reputation as one of the most prestigious fashion schools. Its alumni includes some of fashion’s legends such as Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Stella McCartney… And the list goes on. Almost all CSM graduates have gone on to create their own successful brand or worked for some of the industry’s best. And considering their talent, we’re not surprised. Some of their recent graduates include Chet Lo, who’s works have been worn by Doja Cat and Sza, Mowalola who’s been appointed design director for YEEZY x GAP, Wales Bonner who was honoured with the award for Emerging Menswear Designer by the British Fashion Awards in 2015, Fredrik Tjaedrandsen who’s BA balloon collection was an instant viral hit. You get the picture. 

In celebration of graduating during one of the most hectic academic year – lockdown, no lockdown, lockdown again – we have curated a list of CSM graduates which deserve your attention. Each unique in their design aesthetic, these students have persevered to create outstanding graduate shows, when they sometimes didn’t even have access to their university’s workspace. Calling them skilled designers would be an understatement. There is no doubt each of these individuals will succeed in their respective paths. From knitwear-based to genderless collections, these creatives produced an outstanding show, for which they even modelled their own pieces.  So check out these 10 incredible designers, already paving their way to the top of the industry. But most importantly, remember these names, as we’re sure you’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the future.

MENSWEAR

FARIS BENNANI

Minimal in his colour choice, Faris steals the spotlight with his futuristic shapes and sharp cuts. Although Faris completed his degree in menswear, gender constructs have never been of worry to him, creating genderless looks designed for anyone.

Looking back to first year, is your final collection anything like you expected it to be? How do you think you’ve evolved as a creator through your time at CSM?

Looking back on my first year, my collection is very different from what I initially imagined it to be. While I do think that it still carries the same sensibility as pieces from my earlier years, I definitely feel as though I have evolved design-wise. I have always been obsessed with materials, different textures, their feeling and touch, but during my time at CSM I expanded the range of materials which I experimented with. I also feel like as a foreign student, my time abroad has made me somewhat more attached to my hometown and this allowed me to draw a lot of inspiration from my culture throughout my course.

Like many other rising designers you describe your work as gender neutral, yet you’re completing your BA in Menswear. In your experience, do you think CSM and schools alike would benefit from a Gender Neutral Fashion Design course?

Great question! While there is a course called FDM (Fashion Design of Marketing), which doesn’t have strict rules on gender, it is more concentrated on marketing rather than the fashion elements. So I definitely feel like CSM could benefit from such a gender-neutral course. Funny thing is when I first applied I actually had no idea the course was separated by gender! I think that nowadays people often see fashion clothing like they do pieces of fabric rather than attaching gender to it by fit or colour even. More than this, there is no rule book of what is, or should be, women/mens but I do think that they should both still be available for those who want to enrol, in addition to a gender-neutral course. 

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JAD JREISSATI

If it’s blue, Jad will have his hands on it. Using his personal upbringing and culture to create his collection, Jad incorporates beads, crochet and other materials and techniques to fulfill his vision. And we’re here for it.

Looking back to first year, is your final collection anything like you expected it to be? How do you think you’ve evolved as a creator through your time at CSM?

My collection is nothing like I expected it to be. In my defence I had no conception of what my collection would look like in first year really. This last year has seen some quick turns around sharp corners, my collection was mostly designed in improvisation. Regarding my final year, Covid-19 acted as a catalyst. Speeding up the designer launch process, we had to do most of everything ourselves from our living rooms, not to mention prepare a fashion film. This year has been a testament to my hunger, in a positive way I was able to experience what working from home as a graduate is like under the guidance of the institution. I’ve learned to not worry about the opinions of imperfect people. As a creative, we can be unquestionably sensitive (which is a good thing) but learning how to use fear to motivate, as opposed block myself has been one of my own key essential lessons. 

Your work’s use of beads, patterns and symbols feels very personal and specific. Would you say your final collection is an ode to anyone in particular?

This collection is heavily influenced by my own British-Arab identity, specifically Lebanon and London. My collection points reference at ‘Dabke’ which is a Lebanese folk dance of spinning and jumping. There is a strong influence contributed by the life of ‘Anita Mahood’, a pioneering Dancehall Queen and activist who belonged to the Lebanese Diaspora in Jamaica (it’s estimated that 75% of people with Lebanese lineage do not live in Lebanon). The symbol in question, the evil-eye or ‘Nazar’ is present in most Arab homes as well as other cultures. It repels off negativity and ill-will, a protection from curses. This collection is about using what you have around you at arms-length, not only to create a fashion story, but to showcase my own twang as a designer. I wanted to use my BA collection as a platform to embrace the odd and to challenge refinement and taste. I felt a stronger connection to our shared experiences through lockdowns by working with mediums and techniques such as crochet, where a machine is not needed. This collection is also testament to my spirit as a creative, our careers have not even started, to continue full-steam ahead during a pandemic has kept me optimistic for where my future is as a designer. I am excited for a more optimistic, connected and open future.

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WOMENSWEAR

SELI KORSI

Inspired by all things faces, Seli meticulously uses different prints to create a loud yet harmonious look. His three-piece oversized suit was definitely a highlight of the show.

Looking back to first year, is your final collection anything like you expected it to be? How do you think you’ve evolved as a creator through your time at CSM?

When I look back at first year I would describe myself as being a sponge: I wanted to absorb everything the course had to offer, from print workshops, using the metal workshop for the white show, to denim patch working. As it would have been my first real year after foundation creating exclusively fashion work. It was this new exciting venture, I really did not have any foresight as to what my final collection would be, I just embraced whatever came. I would say I owe my evolution to my tutors Anna Nicole and Heather Sproat: I remember I would bring in maybe two or three pages of drawings in an A5 sketchbook into a crit, and them seeing something in the smallest of lines; to which they would push me from working at “20% to 30%, 40% and so on”. I remember those words so vividly from Heather. And so in final year it was a matter of looking at my strengths and giving it room to flower. So I went from A5 drawings to larger than life size drawings from which I make my print work. 

Being both designer and artist, do you think this has added more pressure to your final collection? Or do you think the combined knowledge and perception of both illustration and fashion design has helped you through this process?

At first I had a hard time to really see or think how I could bridge the two worlds in a way that felt harmonious and not forced, but I felt it was always at the tip of my tongue. My tutors just reminded me to not dwell on the how and just do. So then it was by me getting my print samples and it was a massive “Aha!” moment when I saw two prints layered one on top of the other…

Being that my art is 2D and my fashion is 3D It would make sense to see how the 2D drawn element of my work could become 3D In a way to marry the two worlds. As for the design element I took straight from how I draw and illustrate in ink: my line work is fluid and rounded. I tend to use wavy lines so I designed the shapes around the body as such; the rounded shoulder and sleeve is directly taken from how I draw the body in life drawings. 

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YASHANA MALHOTRA

Playing with shapes and silhouette, Yashana has become a standout designer and sculptor. Her final collection felt otherworldly, merging hardware metals with soft fabrics.

Looking back to first year, is your final collection anything like you expected it to be? How do you think you’ve evolved as a creator through your time at CSM?

I really had no idea what to expect at that time, I was just trying to make it through the first year! 

Your use of shape and colour is something to behold! Where did the inspiration for such extravagance come from?

I just believed in myself especially when it counted, now! And believe it or not, I used to only ever wear black back in first year. Now I keep work as far away from black as possible – for me, playing with so many different colours is a lot more fun. And when it comes to silhouettes and shapes… they just come naturally at this point!

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BENAISSA BEITSNEKS

Benaissa takes inspiration from her own life to create authentic garments straight out of an underground world. Her grunge-esque final collection is filled with symbols and hidden meaning, making it all the more enticing.

Looking back to first year, is your final collection anything like you expected it to be? How do you think you’ve evolved as a creator through your time at CSM?

To be honest I think my work has developed a lot since first year, it’s very different and so much more ‘real’ or ‘wearable’ than projects I was doing back then. I think at times, I relied on making people laugh with my work to hide behind, because I was too scared to take myself seriously. The years have definitely built my confidence. Also, reflecting on the garments I’ve made that I never want to wear or ever want to see again after the crit, I realised the relevance of making clothing that I actually have a personal relationship with. This year it was my personal goal to bring the clothes back to reality, and give myself – and my work – a bit more respect. So no, It’s nothing like I’d imagined in first year, but for all the right reasons! 

Your final collection uses a variety of unexpected materials and attention grabbing symbols. Could you talk us through some of your themes?

My collection is heavily inspired by my formative years in Scotland, and the facets of different people that surrounded me. Developing garments from archetypal characters like neds, moshers, and school kids, while trying to develop a new way of representing these identities through experimental fabrications and styling. Scotland has a beautiful relationship with life and decay: in the cities, in the suburbs… wherever you are you can see elements of such chaotic energy within a rainy grayscale background. Neds hanging about in front of uninhabited shops, ‘taps aff’ and blaring music. Or abandoned buildings left to rot, surrounded by incredibly vibrant nature. I try to portray these feelings and concepts through natural dye techniques to create an authentic but neutral colour palette, and balance this with the ‘life’ of hand woven Scoubidou strings from my youth or creating colourful chainmail pieces from the pop tabs of canned drinks. This translates into my accessories too – as a kid when I was trying to be “one of the lads” I used to go out and steal/collect car dust caps, these have manifested their way into charms and kilt pins that I have worked on with Glasgow based artist, Jonny Walker.

In regards to the symbolism, it was really important for me as a fashion print student to have visual stimulation which I felt like I was developing with colour and dye techniques as well as the chainmail and scoubidous, but a massive inspiration for my work at the beginning was FRUiTS magazine and also the artist Jamie Hewlett’s work, specifically the stylistic identity of ‘Tank Girl’. She would have eye catching prints in everything she wore, whether it was the drawn version or the live action movie adaptation, her Ben Sherman t-shirt is iconic and I wanted to have a logo type of feeling that was colourful and bold, so this came out within Celtic Knot patterns within my chainmail pieces and also within my charms. 

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KNITWEAR

OLIVER FAIRHURST

Dark and enticing, Oliver’s design lives in a universe of its own we all want to be a part of. The knitwear designer explores the endless possibilities of his fabric to create ethereal looks.

Looking back to first year, is your final collection anything like you expected it to be? How do you think you’ve evolved as a creator through your time at CSM?

I have evolved in terms of my skill, my ability to knit and create what I have envisioned in my mind as a designer. My time at CSM has been integral to my development as a designer, yet it has been important that I have stayed sincere to my own aesthetics and individuality. Being in the studios, the talent is so overwhelming, and it is easy to feel lost, yet the belief you are instilled within by the tutors encourages you to make the things that are important to you. I feel during the process of making my collection, I have found the things that excite me once again. 

Your final collection is outstanding. What made you choose to specifically study knitwear instead of FD in a broader sense? Have you felt at all limited through your time on the course?

The exciting nature of knitwear is that you start from the literal beginning. You have control of how the fabric is going to feel, look, and drape. Though technically challenging, knitting introduces worlds of possibilities that as a designer you can explore. As a knitwear designer, you are tasked with not just focusing on the cut and silhouette, but the fabric that will form the very foundation of the garment. The possibilities are endless; changing one yarn while knitting can change the entire feel of the piece, and consequently you can create something entirely exciting and original!

At CSM, the tutors encourage you to explore the limitations of everything, exploit and then destroy. Throughout first and second year, this becomes the main process in the journey of becoming a designer. Each student has individual personal limitations such as budget, space, connections… only then to be exasperated further by the pandemic. Yet, these are also what can make the work individual to you.

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FASHION DESIGN & MARKETING

BOY KLOVES

Boy Kloves uses an explosion of bright colours and unrestrained talent, resulting in an unapologetically joyous collection that you simply cannot take your eyes off.

Looking back to first year, is your final collection anything like you expected it to be? How do you think you’ve evolved as a creator through your time at CSM?

My collection is nothing like I would have expected it would look like during my first year! I think over time at Central Saint Martins you evolve and grow and so does your confidence in creating and decision making. I think as creatives, we are also really at the whim of our environment and the time we live in! The collection I might have thought of three years ago may not be as relevant today. 

The theme for your inaugural collection ‘Boy Against the Sea’ is incredibly specific  – could you walk us through your thought process for some of the silhouettes and fabrics used?

I tried to be as sustainable as possible with the fabrics for my collection. I utilized deadstock silks from Taroni Italy, vintage US Naval panels, upcycled Hawaiian shirts, sustainable tailoring canvas, and vintage wetsuits sourced from Cornwall as backing! The silhouettes developed from the mix of inspirations I had. A few of the jacket shapes developed out of the film Querelle. The trousers were inspired by vintage sailor’s trousers. I then mixed those ideas with elements from wetsuits and beachwear from the 70s.

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DYLAN MEKHI

The bigger the better, right? That’s Dylan’s approach when it comes to fashion. Oversized trousers that trail along the catwalk, this young designer knows how to make an impression.

Looking back to first year, is your final collection anything like you expected it to be? How do you think you’ve evolved as a creator through your time at CSM?

Honestly, in first year I had no idea what my graduate collection was going to be like. My collection is working through a concept/s that I have been pregnant with for my entire university career, only now am I able to properly begin to articulate them – an autoethnographic vessel, rooted in the exploration of the self, individualism, and essentialism through community. An in-depth examining of my culture, heritage, and personal history as well as life experiences through a gay Afro-Caribbean American lens. Although the concepts behind the work have been developing for years, the work itself was born through ‘in the moment’ processes of action and reaction. Throughout my time at Central Saint Martins I have evolved and grown immensely. It’s almost as if I died and was reborn over and over again every year – with every rebirth, levelling up to a stronger, more assured and refined version of myself. Finally leading up to the evolved version of myself that I currently am, in which I created this collection, which is the most real and authentic work I have ever created.

Your final collection feels truly personal. Do you think the fabrics you’ve chosen had a large part to play in this, and if so, in what way?

My graduate collection, “An Ode to Memory’,’ is a body of work that is very specific and rooted within my personal identity and experiences. It is entirely autobiographical and auto ethnographic – so in a sense, in its rawest form, I am my work. So yes, the collection is extremely personal and the overly tactile and detail-oriented way of working and presenting through my fabrics and materials plays a huge part. All of the prints used are original prints I made digitally and by hand, all fabrics were dyed by hand, and all pieces that are knitted or woven whether with yarn, string, or leather are done by hand. Using methods of dying and weaving that I developed myself, through referencing traditional Caribbean methods such as, macramé – a form of knotting and weaving rope or leaves to create baskets and tapestries. Using those traditional Caribbean methods as a starting point to then develop further into my own hybrid way of working which allowed me seamlessly create pieces that were a perfect blend of both my Jamaican, Haitian, Caribbean heritage, and the notes of Americana that grew from my childhood.

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PRINT DESIGN

ISABELLA SMITH

Trippy and transcendental, Isabella Smith’s final collection uses shapes and forms to its advantage to create a unique look. From colours to materials, Isabella thought of everything to create a harmonious collection.

Looking back to first year, is your final collection anything like you expected it to be? How do you think you’ve evolved as a creator through your time at CSM?

When reflecting back on my approach to design in first year versus today, I can definitely see how it has matured. Through studying at CSM I feel that I have really been able to grow into myself, to be bolder and less afraid of making mistakes. I think one of the most important things has been identifying myself with my garments and exploring and questioning how they relate to the world around me. Due to the pandemic, and spending so much time outside of university, I don’t think many things this year have been expected, but from the very beginning of my degree I have always been in love with making structural shapes and exploring unexpected materials, such as the metal and resin I have used in my collection. In that sense I think I can see a clear line of progression from the very first making project we did, the ‘White Show’ to now, and through doing my portfolio and reflecting on what I imagined the collection would be through researching last year, I really feel that my collection conveys the emotion and atmosphere from my first abstract imaginings – which is a lot more difficult than it sounds! 

Your pieces are really, really beautiful, and feature both incredible print design as well as silhouettes. Being on CSM’s print course, would you rate that aspect of your collection any higher than elements such as a piece’s structure? Has your opinion changed since your first year?

That’s an extremely kind way to describe my collection, I would say that for me the two elements always have to work in harmony, but for me my main focus is silhouette. The transformational power of shape, and how it forms around the body is what drew me to fashion, and I’m never happier than when I’m draping or pattern cutting trying to figure out how to bring a vision of a silhouette into reality. Working with metal and resin has been really exciting for me this year as I have been able to explore structure in a new way, creating sharp and clean forms that project from and mould around the body that wouldn’t necessarily be possible in a woven fabric. For me, print is really about colour and material, and through my prints in the collection I wanted to have waves of colour drenching the garments, complementing and enhancing the forms. I would say that my approach has been a focus on structure from the very start of my degree, but through being on the print pathway I have been able to explore how print, colour and surface work within the body of a garment, and how you can express different elements of your concept through each aspect. 

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ARF WOLFRUFF BARKLEY

Did you ever think one of your childhood slinkies could become fashion? Because Arf did and we are so glad he did. The young designer has incorporated sling toys into his final collection, bringing never-seen-before movement and life to his garments.

Looking back to first year, is your final collection anything like you expected it to be? How do you think you’ve evolved as a creator through your time at CSM?

My final collection looks nothing like what I expected it to be when I was in first year at all. It was like a rollercoaster this year and I have taken a really brave step to make something that isn’t really ‘garment garment’. It is a very conceptual idea but I loved how it turned out. It is a very thrilling and exciting project. I would say the most challenging thing in the process is to deal with something that has motions of its own, and to work out how it moves with the body. How it affects the momentum of the spring has taken up most of my time. I truly feel like this was an engineering project! 

What was your thought process behind taking such an iconic childhood toy, and turning it into a wearable moment? Was there anything in particular you wanted to prove through your final collection?

After having done so many different projects in first and second year during my time at CSM, I’ve learned many different techniques and ways of approaching ‘fashion’, but that wasn’t the reason why I came here. So I decided to make something that really packs a punch for my final collection. I wanted people to remember it. I wanted a challenge. It is what people come to CSM for, isn’t it? 

I chose to use a childhood toy to be my focus for my final project because it’s therapeutic healing for my creative soul, especially during this very difficult time we are all facing. The visuals of the motions, the sounds it makes, and the development process really helps me to be at ease, and make me feel content. It was somewhat a meditating yet playful exercise, designing this project at home in lockdown. 

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Talent curated by: Boy Kloves & Pavel Dler
Interview questions curated by: Laura Copley

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