The Class of 2011: London Graduates in Style

Central Saint Martins
Cutting your teeth at a world-class arts university may be half the battle, but let’s not forget the crushing pressure that comes with living up to your scintillating predecessors. When your alumni boasts a star-studded cast like Sarah Burton, Riccardo Tisci, and Hussein Chalayan, it could drive you to do strange and—in the case of many of these students—very brilliant things.

Take, for instance, Flamania Saccucci, who conjured a series of ladylike tea dresses awash with romantic English florals but printed entirely on latex. The move can potentially open up new avenues in everything from cutting to visual merchandising (remember Paco Rabanne’s infamous paper dress from the 1960s?). Before the guests could recover from all their rubbernecking, another specter emerged, papery shifts and conical head-dresses from Toma Stenko, with faces and hair all but obscured by slate-blue stockings. Ryohei Kawanishi, in the meantime, sent his models waddling down the runway (a first in modeling history), encased in towering cornucopias of ragged fabric, footwear, fishing nets, and other sundries in what amounted to a scathing critique of indiscriminate consumption in the Internet age.

These walking installations presented a gutsy and refreshing survey of anti-fashion, a rare return to the medium as a polytropic art form, as opposed to a commodity. But there were also those who seemed destined for a different mode of success; specifically, to follow in the footsteps of fellow CSM graduates Phoebe Philo and Sophia Kokosalaki. Holly Fowler won praise for her gracefully understated maxi-dresses, which were impressed with large-scale tracings of necklaces and stones. Ivan Curia Nunes’ collection brought to mind an Eton-schooled Huck Finn, thanks to a jaunty display of linen jackets and cuffed trousers in well-paired neutrals like oatmeal and navy. Another name to watch, Annabel Luton, transformed her thesis into a pitch-perfect amalgamation of all of this season’s best-loved looks, from summery Grecian dresses to graphic sportswear-inspired separates.

London College of Fashion
Located in the heart of Oxford Street, the London College of Fashion campus sits pretty on the border between the High Street and high fashion. Likewise, its graduate presentations exude a precise balance between commerciality and couture that’s challenging, eclectic, and quite frankly, a pleasure to behold. The menswear candidates were especially strong this year. In fact, did we not detect a spot of tongue-in-cheek politicking on the runway? Nadir Tejani’s collection conveyed the silent brutality of surveillance and mass control, with detailing that highlighted themes of restraint and oppression: moody knit turtlenecks, triple-wound belts, and Groucho Marx eyebrows. Jung Yeon Chae utilized a stark black-and-white palette that was cleverly offset by the irresistible androgyny of cutaway skorts and belly-baring waistcoats, a deliberate profile of ambivalence and terms left unfinished. And if that isn’t an accurate portrait of David Cameron’s term in office, we don’t know what is.

While we’re on the subject of speculative futures, is the death of the super-skinny pant finally imminent? It seems so. No longer shall we have to suffer bikini burns or grapple with split seams after ingesting so much as a peanut. We spied at least five notable instances of the drop-crotch at LCF’s show, beginning first with Bret de Jager, who explored the effects of rural-to-urban transmigration by combining hip-hop influences with traditional woven fabrics. Girl-friendly versions were proffered by Dylan Ho Lam Leung and Johanna Pihl, the former with bell-shaped culottes and dipped skirts that contrasted against rougher hiking jackets and leather fastenings. Pihl, on the other hand, executed a Park Avenue reworking of the casual sweatpant with luxurious touches of silk, cold-shoulder boleros, and frosted pastels.

While the event provided a meaty teaser for what may be in the cards next season, post-show ruminations still surfaced as to whether some of the students’ pieces were “wearable enough.” True, it’s been a week and we’re still having difficulty putting a handle on Nova Chiu’s final presentation, a frisky cacophony of tie-dye, corn-colored fur, brocade, and enough bells and beads to summon a month’s retreat to Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. The display drew mixed reactions from the crowd when it was crowned Collection of the Year. Controversial? Yes. Consumer-driven? Not so much. But such is the principle on which LCF’s biggest talents have been made. Nova embraced it. The judges loved it. And so did we.

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