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CSM’s 2021 fashion grads delivered a sharp jolt of catwalk joy

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This year’s bunch may have had faced a rough ride, but the wild creativity and ingenuity on show at their final presentation proved they’d more than weathered the storm

Wind the clock back to this time last year, and fashion, just like everything else, was in a state of flux. With the coronavirus curtailing real life shows, the SS21 menswear season shifted online for the first time, ever as designers scrambled to find innovative new ways to get their clothes out to the masses. As the calendar skipped ahead into womenswear, and then the AW21 shows, what followed was more of the same – an endless cycle of URL activations designed with ‘the new normal’ in mind. 

With fashion season as we once knew it historically offering up a month of chaos – in which sleep deprivation was the norm and anything resembling a social life went violently out of the window – that first digital shift was a welcome reprieve and actually, a bit of a novelty. Instead of dashing about town from show to show, presentations were watched from under the duvet or otherwise slouched on the sofa in sweatpants, snacks in hand. But as time rolled on, the thrill of being at an IRL event, buzzing with energy and anticipation, just couldn’t be matched. There’s a lot to be said, particularly environmentally, for a fashion week rehaul, but reader, we’ll be honest: after more than a year glued to our screens, we were ready for a show.

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Cut to last Tuesday evening, and we got just that. Emerging from Central Saint Martins’ BA fashion course and getting ready to take their first, tentative steps into the industry was the Class of 2021. In a vast, airy atrium inside the revered school’s halls, 106 designers took to a catwalk crafted from fabric scraps wearing their own collections – and while they might have weathered the year from hell, the clothes were as wildly creative as ever. Watching them stomp, strut, dance, and, in some cases, contort themselves down the runway – as their classmates cheered them on from the sidelines – delivered a sharp jolt of joy straight to the heart of those sitting in the socially-distanced audience. I’m not crying, you’re crying etc. 

Tackling a wide range of issues and themes spanning race, cultural heritage, politics, tech, and the climate crisis, this year’s graduates channelled the hardships of the last year – and beyond – into hopeful manifestos for the future of fashion. Here, we meet just a small handful of the huge number of talented designers that stepped out on the catwalk on Tuesday – head to the Dazed Fashion account where we’ll be spotlighting more in the coming weeks. 

CLAUDIA GUSELLA

Could you share your first fashion memory, or the moment you became interested in it? 

Claudia Gusella: My first memory of being fascinated by clothes is my dressing up box as a preschooler, and particularly two oversized dresses. One was floral light blue and green that I used to wear when I was feeling pensive and bucolic, matched with a pink straw hat or a pink bandana. The second one was a red dress with a heart neckline, quite sexy for a four-year-old, usually matched with a tiara and an attitude. I think I really loved how different I felt wearing these two looks, and how intriguing it was to be someone else for a while. 

Who or what inspires you? 

Claudia Gusella: My grandmother had a very eclectic taste. Even though she wasn’t rich, she was very ingenious – she would buy or have a dress made in the 60s and in the 80s she would still be wearing the same dress, but having added more fashionable buttons, or shortened the hem, or changed the collar. 

Her jewellery was inexpensive but massive, and she had some beautiful shoes that matched her evening dresses that she hid in secret corridors in the house. She died at 97 with the longest red glossy nails and her violent teal eyeshadow on. Iconic.

What was the idea behind your graduate collection? 

Claudia Gusella: The root idea behind my final collection is overcoming trauma and finding acceptance. Sounds terrible, but it was a therapeutic collection for me! Every look allowed me to explore the different stages of this process and conclude with the egg dress, which is a testament to finding hope.

I wanted to create a collection that talked about the last 15 months – the hardship, the fears, and finally the hope of a new start. I also wanted to reduce the environmental impact of my collection to a bare minimum using different kinds of waste materials. Egg shells are usually thrown away, but in my final piece they are the protagonist, and almost look like 3D printed sculptures. They support my strong belief that you can make masterpieces out of the most humble materials. 

Why did you choose the ‘egg dress’ as your runway look?

Claudia Gusella: This garment is emblematic of this moment in history. It’s extremely fragile but all the eggs together hold the weight, they are strong. I think the egg dress is quite eye-catching and good for a show, but I hope not to have it walking ever again! We had five shows on Tuesday and at every break I was changing the broken eggs backstage, it was quite stressful!

How did you navigate this last year both personally and when it came to your work? 

Claudia Gusella: With incredible support from my friends and boyfriend, and my therapist was extremely important to me keeping my shit together, too! 

How are you going to celebrate graduating from CSM? 

Claudia Gusella: I will clean my room. 

AMON KALE 

Tell me your first memory of fashion, or the first moment you realised its power? 

Amon Kale: Watching In the Mood for Love for the first time.

What was the idea or inspiration behind your collection? 

Amon Kale: Speaking to your internal family – who do you speak to when you are alone? Giving voice and substance to your inner mother, father, brother and sister, and then blending them back together. 

What was your jumping off point? 

Amon Kale: My collection research came from a trove of photographs found at an estate sale, all taken in the late 1950s. In terms of finding stereotypical archetypes of men, women, and children, it was a great baseline. But my primary aim was to rid the clothing of nostalgia and the gender norms of the era. I am not interested in making period-appropriate 1950s clothing. 

Why did you choose the piece from your collection that you wore on the catwalk? 

Amon Kale: My catwalk look was a blending of my inner father and sister. Oversized denim printed boot-trousers, all one piece, integrated with a sneaky high heel to further exaggerate the already large shape, combined with a gingham mesh as an ode to the sister. My whole collection is centred around archetypes, and the imperfect nature of blending back together, so when you combine the clothing pieces back into one look, they distort and mesh, making the various waves, swirls and zig-zags of my collection. 

What did you find hardest about creating in lockdown? 

Amon Kale: Pattern cutting in a small London bedroom was certainly a challenging experience, but for me the hardest thing was not being surrounded by my classmates and their incredible energy. 

Where are you going from here? 

Amon Kale: Working! I am not the kind of person who can sit still. Give me a weekend, and I am already antsy to start something new. Thankfully I have a few projects on the horizon. 

KARINA BONDAREVA 

Tell me your first memory of fashion, or the first moment you realised its power? 

Karina Bondareva: When I was four or five, I would use tablecloths, old curtains, and my mum’s clothes to play dress up. If anything remotely looking like fabric went missing in our flat, it would be found in my room. 

Who or what inspires you the most? 

Karina Bondareva: Aestheticism, Oscar Wilde, Charles Bukowski, Philip Glass, David Lynch, Davide Taub (the best head cutter on Savile Row!) and many, many others. 

What was the idea or inspiration behind your collection? 

Karina Bondareva: I have always been in love with craftsmanship and I want to dedicate my collection to the working hands which in my opinion, no technology can ever replicate. I even hold the belief that the mood of the creator can be seen in a garment as it is being produced. 

The idea behind my collection began after my internship at Gieves and Hawkes on Savile Row. I learnt very traditional techniques and even made my own bespoke jacket there. 

During lockdown, I’ve had to readjust and adapt to the new norm, and with this, my collection has developed beyond traditional tailoring techniques. It began with winning a Vogue couch couture challenge, where I recreated an iconic McQueen dress out of felt, insulation tape, paperclips, and hot glue. This process showed me that I don’t need expensive and technical materials. Instead, I am incorporating materials like matchsticks, to make 3D prints that pop out of the felt, to whole garments made from hot glue that mimic delicate embroidery. I want to challenge the notion of couture.

Why did you choose the piece from your collection that you wore on the catwalk? 

Karina Bondareva: The look I picked is made from 5,000 glue sticks and 32,000 matchsticks. It has been my most ambitious look made to date, so it would have been a crime not to choose it! The process took two weeks of 10-12 hour work days and my parents helped me make hundreds of matchstick flowers the weekend before the show. I made the textile by drawing each strand of glue on parchment paper into panels which I then peeled off and glued together to construct the dress. I then glued each flower individually, and made a matching giant headpiece forming 6 heads staring into different directions. 

What did you find hardest about creating in lockdown? 

Karina Bondareva: I actually would have never strayed off the fabric path and discovered matchsticks and hot glue as possible materials if it hadn’t been for lockdown, and the Vogue fashion challenges that happened because of it. I like challenges, they excite me. 

Where are you going from here? 

Karina Bondareva: Once I have a fuller graduate collection, I want to start showing at London Fashion Week. I am aiming to launch my demi-couture/ready-to-wear line for February, whilst also working on bespoke looks for the red carpet and stage wear. 

Our perception of fashion has shifted across the course of the last 18 months particularly. What does its future look like to you? 

Karina Bondareva: Hopefully a revival of craftsmanship and uniqueness will come through with everyone having picked up new skills and hobbies throughout lockdown! No more trends. Please, I beg you.    

JAMIE HOWES

Tell me your first memory of fashion, or the first moment you realised its power? 

Jamie Howes: I was working in a stables training horses, when my boss took me to Paris to watch his daughter’s final collection. I was in love with the extravagance of it all. They bought me my first sewing machine ten years ago, and it was there I returned to make my final collection.

Who or what inspires you the most? 

Jamie Howes: I really feed off the energies of people I surround myself with. I feel I work best when sharing and talking with the people closest to me.

What was the idea or inspiration behind your collection? 

Jamie Howes: The idea behind my collection was to create an interactive art installation in which the colours and crystals that adorn the sculpture help to heal the chakras. Each sculpture represents my interpretation of a specific chakra, and its specific crystal that’s healing properties are accentuated by the copper frames and knits.

Why did you choose the piece from your collection that you wore on the catwalk? 

Jamie Howes: I picked this look as the show was a celebration of all the graduates, I wanted an uplifting and joyous look to bounce down the runway.

What did you find hardest about creating in lockdown? 

Jamie Howes: Working remotely was difficult as sometimes it was easy to be filled with doubt. But FaceTime kept us all together.

Where are you going from here? 

Jamie Howes: I plan on finishing my installation and dragging my knitting machine and my teepee to the beach. 

STEVIE BOY

Tell me your first memory of fashion, or the first moment you realised its power? 

Stevie Boy: My first memory of fashion is of Barbie. I loved to play Barbie when I was kid, and begged my mum to get me one. I used to play by just taking the dress off the Barbie and destroying it. That’s how I became interested in fashion. 

Who or what inspires you the most? 

Stevie Boy: Roger Ballen, Nan Goldin, and anything happening around me. 

What was the idea or inspiration behind your collection? 

Stevie Boy: My collection is called ‘My voice, My home, My penis’, and it’s inspired by the protests in Hong Kong between 2019 and 2020. I’m never able to express my feelings about what happened in Hong Kong because it always ends up in an argument with friends and family. I was completely shut down from it. When COVID-19 hit the world, it looked like the world was ending. I was thinking this is my last chance to use my voice and my power to do something for my home: Hong Kong. 

Why did you choose the piece from your collection that you wore on the catwalk? 

Stevie Boy: The look I presented on the catwalk is called ‘Lennon Wall’. It’s inspired by the Lennon Wall in Hong Kong during the protest. People would write what they wanted to say to the people of Hong Kong and the government on yellow Post-Its and stick them to the wall.. I picked this look because it is the most powerful look in my collection and my main message. I wanted to tell the world not to forget what is happening in Hong Kong and 香港加油 (Fight for Hong Kong). 

What did you find hardest about creating in lockdown? 

Stevie Boy: Working in my tiny room and seeing the same four walls wasn’t enjoyable. I missed seeing my classmates and going out to explore different materials and inspiration. I think the hardest thing was keeping myself positive through the pandemic. Because I felt very down sometimes when I was thinking about what I was going to do next and how to make a collection without access to the university. The most difficult challenge was making a collection in my room. 

What got you through it? 

Stevie Boy: All my lovely tutors from CSM – especially Stephanie, Sarah, Harris, and Marcus – and my number one fan, my boyfriend Anthony.

Where are you going from here? 

Stevie Boy: I want to go back where I interned before to get some more work experience and go to the Lake District for a holiday. 

ELLEN POPPY HILL 

Tell me your first memory of fashion, or the first moment you realised its power? 

Ellen Poppy Hill: I wasn’t aware of ‘fashion’ and the industry much until I started working at Dover Street Market when I was 18 which was a pretty pivotal point for me – before that it was more about dressing up trunks and playing with clothes. Dressing up as a different person every day depending on how I was feeling was a device for me and I always found it incredibly important. We only had secondhand clothes and hand-me-downs and I remember trying to create outfits that other people had from the high street with what I could get from charity shops – it really shaped me as a person and my relationship with clothing. Working at Dover Street blew my mind, it was a complete culture shock from working in charity shops to a boutique. I was pretty out of my depth, but in a good way. 

What was the idea or inspiration behind your collection? 

Ellen Poppy Hill: My drawings – each piece tells its own story. Alongside exploring my own emotions and studies of mythology and elements, making sustainable clothing has also been a key factor in my collection. I drew a map inspired by the drawings I had done throughout the year, so each look has a place in the map which is governed by each element and directed round by its own mascot. The donated garments were then split into each look based on colour and texture, which then directed the outcome of the clothes as well. I cut each piece based on the symbol of the element, starting with patchworking the symbol then building on top of that with the remainders of the garments, which I would normally spend three to eight days concentrating on – no toiles or tests, I just did what felt right. 

What did you find hardest about creating in lockdown? 

Ellen Poppy Hill: I feel incredibly grateful for my situation through the pandemic – I had my own space in a safe place and got to throw myself into my own research, drawing, and making and it was pretty transformative. I got so used to being alone and enjoying that, so the hardest part was actually integrating back into social spaces and uni because it had been a while. 

What got you through it? 

Ellen Poppy Hill: My one-year-old half brother. I was chilling with him throughout the most part of the pandemic and he kept me feeling grounded and hopeful. Watching his first steps and words at a time like that was pretty mad, and he’s stupidly cute.

Where are you going from here? 

Ellen Poppy Hill: I’m going to cool off by the sea for a while!

TAMARA DJANDASH

Tell me your first memory of fashion, or the first moment you realised its power? 

Tamara Djandash: My first memory of fashion really stemmed from the one and only BRATZ dolls, they were a huge eye opener as a young child. The confidence! The sass! Everything about these dolls is who I wanted to be when I was older. 

Who or what inspires you? 

Tamara Djandash: I’m inspired by people around me. I’m so fascinated by people’s characters, how they present themselves, and why – what’s their story? Who are they? Politics are also a huge factor, alongside the cultural shifts of today. 

What was the inspiration behind your collection? 

Tamara Djandash: My collection is based on girls’ nights out, Inspired by my amazing friends and our own nights out in the streets of London. The girls from The Only Way Is Essex showcasing the fake tan, fake hair, and nails! We have glitzy, tacky, and messy all merged together. I wanted to express the culture that surrounds us girls getting dolled up for the clubs to then being totally wasted in the chicken shop at 4am. Us women are not perfect and can still be sexy and trashy. 

What statement did you want to make with your look? 

Tamara Djandash: I wanted to show the reality of mass production and capitalism! ‘Tamara’s Sale’ is a gimmick on young women striving to buy a new dress for every weekend – most of these girls get the dresses cheap and have no idea where the clothes really come from. We must change our attitude to fast fashion and stop this mass production of dirt cheap clothing. 

How did it feel modelling your own look? 

Tamara Djandash: I was nervous and scared at first, but after a while I just picked up the courage and went with it. I just thought, this is my last time at CSM, so let’s make it fun and make the audience laugh. I thought it was a lot easier acting as a drunk woman rather than being myself.

What did you find hardest about creating in lockdown? 

Tamara Djandash: The hardest thing was not having equipment. Working from home is really difficult when you haven’t got many tools. And not being with my peers in a studio. 

How did you celebrate school being out?  

Tamara Djandash: We got really drunk in the field. Had speakers and danced away until the police came and we ran home. It was fun to spend the night with the whole of fashion for one last time.

Where are you going from here? 

Tamara Djandash: Sleeping, partying, and working further on my collection – or possibly something brand new! I want to work in the industry as a designer, and hopefully do my MA in the next two years. 

LIZ MARINE SHIN

Tell me your first memory of fashion, or the first moment you realised its power? 

Liz Marine Shin: My first memory was actually from my interest in collecting lingerie wear. I loved collecting lingerie and just having a closet full of different shapes and comfortability. 

Who or what inspires you? 

Liz Marine Shin: My surroundings, the people around me, my mother especially. 

What was the inspiration behind your collection? 

Liz Marine Shin: Childhood clothes coming into adult life. How we are all perceived as adults yet still we are childlike inside – hence the extreme oversize of the garments. 

What statement did you want to make with your look? 

Liz Marine Shin: BIG!

How did it feel modelling your own look? 

Liz Marine Shin: At first it was stressful even just the thought of it – it is every short person’s nightmare! But as I got on stage it became quite fun and there was a rush of adrenaline. 

What did you find hardest about creating in lockdown? 

Liz Marine Shin: Definitely the restrictions of my working space and access to equipment and machines. I was pushed to try new technologies during the process. But thanks to the pandemic, I know more about computer technologies and technological applications.

How did you celebrate school being out?  

Liz Marine Shin: With drinks and great people! Family and friends, and tutors all around. 

TZU-YANG (ALEX) HUANG

Who or what inspires you? 

Tzu-Yang Huang: I enjoy observing others’ daily lives and events. When I walk down the street, I scan and see how others live through their days. I take photos of that unique stuff and construct them into a story. Every day, I do this to update my vision, combining all these elements into my workpiece.

What was the inspiration behind your collection? 

Tzu-Yang Huang: My final collection originated from my military experience since I was born in Taiwan, where military service is mandatory for every boy to grow into a man. It was a unique experience because I believe not everyone would have the chance to participate in the military. It was one of the most peaceful moments I had in my life, which triggered my idea to transform this memory into tangible clothing.

How did it feel modelling your own look? 

Tzu-Yang Huang: I was pretty nervous. It’s like I’m showing and exposing my child to the public after I raised him for years. 

What did you find hardest about creating in lockdown? 

Tzu-Yang Huang: Definitely the restrictions of my working space and access to equipment and machines. I was pushed to try new technologies during the process. But thanks to the pandemic, I know more about computer technologies and technological applications.

How are you going to celebrate school being out?  

Tzu-Yang Huang: I will go to Waitrose directly, buy a cart of beer, and lay down on the grass for the entire afternoon.

JAD GREISATY

Tell me about your first fashion memory…

Jad Greisaty: Lady Gaga’s 2009 VMAs performance. This is where I really fell down the rabbit hole. It was through Lady Gaga I observed the Plato’s Atlantis collection by Lee McQueen and I was taken to a world I had exclusively experienced through my mother’s glamour.

Who or what inspires you? 

Jad Greisaty: I’m inspired by our collective consciousness. We are more connected than we give ourselves credit for. I’m inspired by the experiences I share with those who came before me and those who will follow.

What was the inspiration behind your collection? 

Jad Greisaty: My collection is inspired by the life and legacy of pioneering dancehall queen Anita Mahfood. Born to Lebanese migrant parents in Kingston, Jamaica, Anita used her privileges to deescalate the discrimination that the Rastafarian community had experienced during the 1960s. I am humbled by Anita’s story and legacy, which is still relevant half a century on. In my collection I see Anita in my mother, in myself, in those raised in a new environment whether it be a diaspora, displacement, migration, refuge. My collection interprets what it means to have that ability to walk into a room and have a presence, especially when society makes you feel invisible, ostracised and un-belonging. 

Talk me through the look you work on the catwalk…

Jad Greisaty: My look is a Nazar eye crochet knit top. The Nazar or ‘evil eye’ is a talisman of protection, especially against negative thought. It is a nod at my British-Arab identity and symbol of unity. In a way, covering myself in this symbol really helped me cope with having to walk the runway myself.

The trousers were actually traced and adapted from an incredibly comfy pair of pyjama bottoms I wore when working from home, embellished with Nazar granny squares with hand beaded belly-dance tassels to add some shine and movement to my walk. I chose this look because it was mostly made without a sewing machine or specialist equipment. The yarn was also sourced from a charity shop next to my mum’s home so there’s an element of nostalgia and continuation. Showing this look felt appropriate considering how the last year went working through lockdowns.

How did it feel modelling your own look? 

Jad Greisaty: I was pretty nervous. It’s like I’m showing and exposing my child to the public after I raised him for years. 

How will you celebrate school being out?  

Jad Greisaty: Sunscreen, shades, shorts *fingers crossed*. I really want to get a dinghy.

Where are you going from here? 

Jad Greisaty: I plan on savouring this moment, and enjoying what has happened. Embrace that I can do it and move one foot in front of the other. My options are open and the way I think today impacts what I choose to do tomorrow. 

NORA ELVIRA EIDINTA

Who or what inspires you? 

Nora Elvira Eidinta: Strange and unique personalities, as well as different cultures and environments that surround me.

What was the inspiration behind your collection? 

Nora Elvira Eidinta: My collection is a family affair based on my creative and weirdly compelling grandmother who embodied many different qualities and characters. It all began with a dive into her journals – where she put all her life and creativity in writing, images, collages – and expanding my research to things and environment that surrounded her. A very big role in my collection plays to her feminine and masculine aspects as well as her collages that I bring out in my pieces as prints or inspiration for shapes and cuts. 

What statement were you trying to make through the collection? 

Nora Elvira Eidinta: As my grandmother embodied both, femininity and masculinity within herself, my project also carries an important social message about women’s empowerment, blurring the lines between feminine and masculine. A big part of Latvian society still lives by more conservative tendencies when it comes to gender roles, I feel like it is important to participate in breaking them. 

What challenges did you face while working on your collection? 

Nora Elvira Eidinta: I guess the fact that I was all by myself back in my home country and sometimes it felt a bit overwhelming to manage everything – but of course within this situation there were also some positive aspects, as getting very close and intimate with my work turned out perfectly for me as my collection is based on personal story. For any situation there are always the positive and negative.

What got you through lockdown? 

Nora Elvira Eidinta: I would say my cat, who was always next to me while I was working and provided a lot of mental support.

Where are you going from here? 

Nora Elvira Eidinta: I don’t like to plan too far ahead because there is always a chance to get an amazing opportunity that you could have never maybe imagined before. The only thing I know for sure is that, at some point, I want to create something together with like-minded people.