It’s that time of year when the budding young talents of the UK’s most revered fashion schools fledge the nest, showcasing their graduate collections to press, industry figureheads and future employers. Despite its abbreviated show schedule this season, London Fashion Week was propped up by alumni from the University of Westminster, with both Robyn Lynch and Priya Ahluwalia graduating from the MA Menswear programme in 2018.

The school’s fashion department is playing an increasingly significant role in shaping the city’s fashion landscape of tomorrow, demonstrated by the 2022 LVMH Prize winner, Steven Stokey-Daley, who graduated from the university’s BA programme on the eve of the pandemic.

Stokey-Daley, Lynch and a cohort of creatives who each once walked the uni’s hallowed halls, watched on as the class of 2022 closed out LFW on Monday. The mood felt even more celebratory than usual. This is the Covid class, the designers who’ve been forced to turn their bedrooms into studios, have had internships cancelled because of lockdowns and have been stripped of valuable uni and in-person teaching time throughout their four years of study. Despite a turbulent uni experience, this year’s graduates proved to be spectacular. Here, we chat to five designers about their standout collections.

Lily Willan, 23 (@lilymaewillan)

Now then…

“The collection is a nostalgic and highly personal tribute to my West Yorkshire roots, exploring assumptions around traditional northern masculinity whilst also paying homage to the important male influences from my formative years. Family trips to Bradford’s Valley Road football ground, and family photos of my grandad, dad, uncle, and brother, many taken ‘down the pub’ watching the Euros 2020, are key inspirations. For example, the knitwear, flocked smock, and shorts set, and one of the silk acid dyed football shirts all use photos I took of my brother and his mates when England won 4-nil in the quarter finals of the Euros.

“Yorkshire’s proud textile heritage is celebrated with all tailoring fabrics sourced from local mills. Playful use of these fabrics subvert tradition by splicing dogtooth wools with ripstop nylon; adding tonal embroidery and piping details. Pinstripes are reinvented as topstitched mohair on selvedge denim, whilst the double denim idea was a reference from my dad in the ‘80s when he was in Australia. Experimental techniques include deliberately cutting ‘off-grain’ to achieve a relaxed fit for many pieces, whilst other elements, like the leather tags on the accessories, were taken from bird tags my grandad would make by hand as he flew birds of prey.  The badges on the pieces were all added as a nod to my Harrington jacket that I would wear to school every day, that was covered in pin badges and embroidered patches of places I had been and bands I had seen.

“Additionally, my dad made all my jewellery pieces, like the belt buckle and brooch in sterling silver, and the charms on the off grain trousers, which was inspired by some gold cufflinks my granddad had. Because of this I wanted to do a sponsored football top in homage of my dad, hence the long-sleeve football shirt having my dad’s original shop logo emblazoned on the front and the year he opened as the number. My best friend that I moved to London with, Faye Simister, knitted the vest and the cardigan from mohair and deadstock yarns from Bradford Sock Company. The leather accessories were made by Howard at Leathermend, (who is my mum’s dog sitter and surprisingly went to the same college as me back in the day). 

“A key piece for me was the brooch and the belt buckle that I had made by my dad. My granddad, (my dad’s dad) passed away 7 years ago and was my biggest supporter, so that was very emotional seeing those pieces come together and celebrating my dad’s 36 years of craftsmanship together.”

Lucy Higgens, 23 (@_lucyhiggens)

Cocoon

“The whole idea for my collection really came from my living back at home during lockdown, and feeling like we were living in some kind of bubble of comfort and protection. So my family really provided that basis for me and I think it’s clear that it’s always been the people around me who have inspired me. I had an incredible art teacher when I was in high school who really believed in me, and then I went to college and did my foundation diploma in Manchester, so really it’s less about how my hometown inspires my work and more about how much I owe to the people there, because I wouldn’t be here with this collection without them.

“The phrase ‘wrapped in cotton wool’ sums up my collection quite well I think! It explores the emotional fallout following a global pandemic and notions of protection from fear. I channelled the apprehension of society venturing out into a familiar yet changed landscape post-Covid, and created my own cloud-like dystopia.

“Felting was really important to my collection. I hand-felted each textured piece individually, from yarns of raw wool. I also had a sponsorship from Levi’s who provided me with faulty/surplus denim to repurpose, and from these I created my own form camouflage through appliqué. One of my favourite pieces from the collection was a raw cut wool parka, which I created with lapped seams.

I wanted to create something that represented me as a designer and my interest in textures and fabrication, while staying true to the traditions and heritage of menswear. If I wanted people to see my collection and take away anything, it would be to believe in and work with female designers in menswear. In London we have some really amazing designers like Ahluwalia and Robyn Lynch, but I think there should be more space for women in menswear in the industry as a whole.”

Haemin, 27 (@singleservingfriends_)

The path less travelled 

“The collection is about ‘ourselves’ and ‘our society’. This could sound too vague, but what I explored was the elements or aspects of ourselves in the present day, mainly focusing on the concept of sustainability and some random joys we can find in our lives.”

“I really wanted this collection to be fully me. When I was browsing the concept for this collection, I tried to concentrate on myself only and some of my main interests. I mainly focused on textile techniques including ‘fabric slashing’ technique. I used this technique to show ‘surprise’ in between two main fabrics and cut the surface to show what’s inside the pieces.

“I hope my pieces spark curiosity, which could lead to the viewer asking questions. I don’t want the collection to give people any preconceived ideas or answers.”

Owen Edward Snaith, 22 (@owenedwardsnaith)

Incentive

“I am from a small fishing town, Dunbar on the East Coast of Scotland. The landscape and my experience of growing up as a gay boy there are the main inspirations of my practice. My main reference points are pulled from traditional Scottish dress and the local fishing industry which my family, most significantly my grandad, have been a massive part of for hundreds of years. With my grandad being a fisherman and having his own boat when I was growing up, I was used to seeing him hand-making fishing nets, seeing all these diamonds slowly being weaved together is something that has inspired me to go down a career path of creating with a large emphasis on handcraft. Being surrounded by surfaces from rusting boats, fishing ropes and materials has had a part to play in my interest of textiles and print. Over the last few years my papa’s health has declined and I wanted to be able to show him how much he has inspired me throughout my life.

Incentive explores my family heritage (Incentive being the name of the boat that accompanied my papa to the end of his fishing career) and growing up queer in a small fishing community. The flamboyant yet masculine silhouettes, contrasted and juxtaposed with humorous colour schemes and intelligently chaotic surfaces, allows the aesthetic to be personal, political, and poignant. It represents that little boy growing up gay/queer in a very small community where clothes were their only outlet for expression. Dressing in an outlandish and flamboyant way was me sticking my two fingers up to the people that doubted me and told me that I was ‘wrong’.

“Through the collection you can see a lot of techniques taken from traditional Scottish dress for example there are a lot of pleats that have been inspired by the kilt. Most significantly, the reinterpretation of the Great Kilt, which is sewn completely by hand, each pleat carefully steamed and stitched to ensure quality and craft. The collection features two main fabrics designed by me in collaboration with Alloa-based weaver Taffled Threads, the Incentive tartan is currently going through its registration on the Scottish Register of Tartans (A tartan dedicated to Edward Johnstone). The colours for the Incentive tartan are inspired by colours of Dunbar harbour and connect to colours in the pride flag. Orange represents the lobsters of Dunbar and healing, blue the sea and harmony, green the twine of a net and nature, and pink: sex.

“Additionally, the collection consists of knitwear hand knitted in Aberlady from 100 per cent British wools and jewellery handmade in Cockenzie and Port Seton, and hallmarked in Edinburgh. I have also recycled and used deadstock materials from local fisherman such as broken nets, creel pots and rope. This gathering of objects then inspired my own print design.  As well as using recycled materials, I gained first-hand knowledge of traditional techniques from local fisherman and craftspeople for example Louise and Gordon Nicolson of Nicolson Kiltmakers, based in Edinburgh.”

Jordan Ellison, 23 (@jordanellison)

Count Me In 

“I went to an all-boys state school in Bradford and I find this a massive inspiration to my work. I feel like I’ve got this bank of attitudes and personas there to tap in to and play with, as well as this huge photographic archive of the sports teams which I love.

“The collection looks at framing situational effects from playing football in the rain to ‘the morning after’ look. I looked a lot at the late 1990s films I watched growing up and the masculinities that these explore and blur. I was looking at a lot of work by photographer Henry Bond, particularly his series The Cult of the Street. I found a selection of images from my school’s sports archive which were all photos in the rain, pairing these with similar ‘wet’ photos of players such as Johan Cruyff. I then began thinking about this idolisation of this player in the eyes of this normal lad. This is was something I really wanted to hone in on.

“A lot of the collection is about the pattern cutting and these subtle flashes of skin from warped necklines and silhouettes. There’s also screen printed graphics of photos of my grandmas from the 1960s. I also used techniques like wet moulding leather to create exaggerated creasing and melting, and warping metal framed sunglasses like they would if you had fallen asleep in the sun.”

Top image: Owen Edward Snaith. Photography courtesy of each designer. 

westminster.ac.uk

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