What a time to be a young designer graduating from Central Saint Martins! The coverage of A/W 16 has focused more on the ‘system’ than the clothes - critics can’t seem to bring themselves to write about shapes and silhouettes, they’re too busy lamenting the pressure on designers, the HR roulette wheel that sees creative directors leaving posts after a few seasons and, when feeling particularly pessimistic or agitated, a way of operating that is ‘broken.’ Bad times to be making your runway debut then. Indeed, there’s a certain irony to the fact that these new talents, most of them in their early to mid twenties, so not jaded by years of toil within the ‘system’, are made to present in the most conservative way possible - on a runway, on schedule, on skinny, mainly white models. But quibbles about how old the context and mode of presentation felt aside, the ethos of this year’s graduates was all about the new - about reworking, innovating, pushing and reconsidering. A sense of fashion disrupted and displaced came through right away in the opening collection, the work of womenswear student Harry Pontefract, a recipient of the Isabella Blow Foundation bursary. Slip dresses had slithered down model’s torsos and hung, wonky, off the waist. Trousers that looked like they’d been made from tights slipped down to reveal crumpled pants beneath. This was a complete subversion of the usually sensual and playful underwear as outerwear trend. It was beautiful, but it was dark. So far, so Margiela. That’s not to criticise Pontefract, more to observe that the Maison Margiela team, or the HR director at one of their disciple labels, such as Vetements, would do well to consider making him a job offer. If they don’t, Kanye West may well be seduced by his penchant for skin tight putty toned pieces.
Following on from Pontefract was Kiko Kostadinov, a designer who’s received so much press already that he could probably have showed alone and still pulled in a good crowd. Did he live up to the hype? Yes, but quietly and without fuss. This was a collection built off the back of an existing awareness of the commercial landscape - full of pieces to wear and covet. The face masks were unnecessary - the clothes were strong enough to not require catwalk gimmicks. As an addition, they felt derivative.
Next, Emma Bergamin Davys proved a knack for evening garb that walks the line between traditionally sensual and quirky. She’s a recipient of the Stella McCartney Scholarship. Off the back of this collection, McCartney should hire her. McCartney would also be smart to snap up knitter Amelie Beluze (9th to show), if Michael Kors or Celine don’t get there first. In the next few collections, it was the menswear that stood out - apt given that that’s where high fashion is thriving right now in terms of buzz and innovation. Ajmal Khan (6th to show) impressed with his sweeping, long line coats (the best idea in his collection), while John Alexander Skelton’s (14th to show) ability to make historical references feel modern and relevant deserves applause. That said, his headwear should have been cut - that aspect was dated.
In general, there was an earthy, minimal, even deliberately grungy sensibility to many of the collections - note the prevalence of browns, neutrals and nudes and humble garments such as tights and smocks. A touch of drama came in the sensual evening-wear of Austin St. Maur Snyder (13th to show). While those looking for a little light relief enjoyed the magpie approach of Alexander Krantz (15th to show), the Pucci-Bowie mashup by Joanna Wawrzynczak (10th to show) and the sparkles of Michael Halpern (8th to show). Presumably a Leigh Bowery fan, Halpern - like fellow CSM grads before him, from Gareth Pugh to, more recently, Charles Jeffrey - proved that in London the club is still fashion’s mecca. Richard Quinn, last out, hammered that point home in a collection that won the hearts of the fashion pack. Maybe it tapped into our nostalgia - that ‘weren’t things better in the old days’ mentality - thanks to the whiffs of Pugh and Bowery, or maybe it just felt exciting to see fashion rather than clothes.