The Central Saint Martins MA show has become a barometer not only for the state of British fashion education, but of the strength of London as a fashion capital. I won’t bore you with a litany of the names currently showing on the schedule that benefited from Professor Louise Wilson’s tutelage - there was a whole page of the show programme dedicated to that, for one, but also there is far too much to say about the twenty-one designers showing to waste valuable space.
The class of 2011 was undoubtedly a strong lot, moving way from last year’s overriding focus on a Celinified reductionism into something more maximalist and overtly decorative. Generally that was achieved through colour, texture and pattern: Jenny Postle’s impressive opening knitwear had all three, fused together into tufted rag-monger dresses that occasionally swooped up to envelop the face and cloaked the body in an abstract pile-up of pattern and textile. That idea of excess was evident elsewhere too, not least in the general feel for tent-like volume cascading around the figure. Bethan Silverwood shaped hers with undulating bands of embroidery that leant structure to the shape, Helen Bullock scissored chunks out of wide, raw-edged tunic dresses to reveal wide, cropped trousers in blocks of colour, crystal and a sweet but intense chintz, and Shaun Samson’s menswear made a compelling case for the return of the medieval tabbard. His collection was technically astounding, fusing aran knit, felted wool and tartan seamlessly into a single fabric, then cut into confident, curved shapes and narrow trousers. As with so much of this year’s offerings, it felt like a precise idea, well thought-out and superbly executed.
The L’Oreal prizewinners are the official names marked out to watch in this offering, although the strength of this year’s class was underlined by the fact that most names had a prize or bursary listed beneath to reflect corporate acknowledgement of their burgeoning talent. The main prizewinners this time were Chloe English and Viktor Smedinge: the former showing all-black intricately wrought frocks of leather paillettes and very (very) real hair that looked a little like Azzedine Alaia meets The Addams Family; the latter a series of garments constructed of burlap, sliced out and rolled back into parchment-like scrolls around the extremities. When those scrolls fell onto the hips and still managed to look flattering and interesting, we knew we were on to a winner.
For me, special mention must also go to the all-out exuberance of Maarten Van Der Horst, who showed a selection of slouchy Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts in tropical frond prints which seemed genetically cross-bred with seventies bedjackets. Peachy ruffles popped up down the backs of trousers, nylon furbelows in a fetching shade of lilac puffed out at the collar and cascaded to the hip, backs were hunched with intricate milles feuilles in black and acid-pink. Basic Queen Mother meets Club Tropicana in Palm Beach. It was witty, superbly executed and just what we wanted to see - and was the collection minimalists and maximalists alike seemed not only to admire, but to actually want to put on their back post-show. Watch out for that name.