Florence and the Graduates

...fresh talent from days three and four of Graduate Fashion Week

by Florence Massey
In the last of my London recaps of the graduate shows, Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester, LCF, Liverpool, Bournemouth and Salisbury stepped up to the catwalk for the final slots at GFW preceding the gala show. In general, LCF and Nottingham Trent were particularly impressive with seamless presentations as well as both stand-out conceptual and wearable designs. Wednesday marked decision day for the judges who awarded a selection of prizes to the best graduates from the week, after each participating school had presented its best designers. The two Gala shows had the added pressure of bringing together major fashion press, brand executives and some of the most familiar faces in the industry. Among the winners were Ledina Zhang, who was awarded the knitwear prize, Nathalie Murray, who won the textiles award and Rebecca Thompson, who was the River Island Gold designer.

At two opposite ends of the spectrum, the rather vague, hard to pin down term of ‘minimalism’ is even harder to compare with the more detailed, ornate and colourful pieces. Where the latter is comprised of definable features in a collection—be it fringing, textures or embellishments, minimalism is more about what is not there. In the absence of clutter, shape and line are all that is left. All of Tuesday’s shows offered us the opportunity to explore further the merits of both, with the International Gala, LCF, Nottingham and Liverpool presenting various adoptions of the dual styles in their shows.

Slick style came at us from all angles and the overall standard was high. I loved Annie Morgan’s (Nottingham Trent) collection, with clean, short, sixties shapes in white. Clear plastic raincoats worn over dresses added an element of fun, yet retained an air of sophistication throughout. Impressing us at the International shows in the morning, the Instituto Marangoni showed looks of minimal black menswear with clear Japanese influences and extremely strong tailoring skills.

Breaking through the sea of monochrome collections, summery pale tones of mint, peach and cream were all over the catwalks in floaty, light, ethereal renditions. Adele Parker at Nottingham Trent played with sheer and opaque white panels, exposing mint green hues, which produced a very beautiful, clean and elegant look. The colour palette was planned to perfection and it was a refreshing collection in both tone and simplicity. Toni Stott at Manchester added to the spectrum when she experimented with the slightly warmer hues of blush pink, and ivory for her pleated and sheer silk ultra-feminine collection.

Flipping this sartorial coin over, the second batch of talent on Tuesday featured bright, in-your-face, Indian inspired and full of life fashion that was light years away from the subtle and the delicate. LCF, a phenomenal show, presented 25 graduates, who sent tightly edited collections down the runway that were diverse, vivid and as creative as they were professional. Particularly noteworthy was Wun Wun Nova Chiu (who won the Collection of the Year award) – with new rave, opulent tapestry prints, bright furs, and excessive but not overloaded amounts of detailing inspired by Chinese architecture. The exotically inspired stunners didn’t stop there: Charlotte Barry’s award winning collection (for trimming) featured ochre tones, see through skirts and heavy embellishments and detailing.
Collections screaming bright, bold colour included LCF's Lien Bui, who offered texture-clashing dresses with a shimmering, brashy gold theme running though each look with confidence and sass. As one of the graduates who proved that risk taking can pay off—Ash Kabir (Liverpool), successfully showed an Indian pop collection including sequins, pearls and long, clashing unisex pieces. Risk also paid off for Esther Phillipson (Manchester), whose knits were trimmed with faux fur, adding an American Indian theme to jumpers, clashes of print and bright woven knits over harem pants.

On the more casual side of wools, knits and sportswear – a tough category, had some very strong designers. Yasmin Kheradmanda, from Liverpool had a playful take on womenswear featuring multi-coloured fluffy tassels, knitted balaclavas, cute knitted underwear in shades of orange and green and best of all, pom poms topping off each outfit. Chelsea Gosling’s Wunderkammer collection at Bournemouth consisted of men’s knitwear at its finest in shades of blue and brown.

Again, mixing knitwear and casual style, Kristabel Plummer from Nottingham, had a strong colour palette with slightly tribal stripes and wooden camera-esque accessories around the neck. Rory Longdon, also from Nottingham gave us a slightly smarter knitwear collection with silver and metallic details with exposed zips. My favourite detail was the very small handmade black glasses that only just covered the eyes worn by each model.

Ending the week in style, the last day was exceptional; the number of students with well thought-out, strong collections stood as testament to a universal need for young designers to up their games. Today, graduates are all too aware that as well as producing individual, statement clothing, they also need to develop marketing strategies, business plans and really push themselves further than ever before in order to take control of their careers. Small details and finishes make all the difference in this aim, and so many of the designers showing over the last two days did so with admirable aplomb.