Central Saint Martins students are used to having a few challenges thrown at them here and there. Having produced some of the world's ingenious designers (like Alexander McQueen or John Galliano, to name the obvious), the students at the prestigious fashion school are often bombarded with requests from designers and fashion houses worldwide wanting to collaborate with them. The university's latest collaboration comes in the form of their MA Fashion Image students reinterpreting the S/S 21 REDValentino collections. From the design courses to textiles to communication, each opportunity presented to the university is a truly unique one, allowing the students insight into what it's like to collaborate with some of the world's most daring and successful brand's - all before they've even graduated from college.
Testing the creativity of Central Saint Martins' MA Fashion Image course, REDValentino has decided to task the students with 'bringing romance to reality,' devising unique material that speaks to this generation as well as the REDValentino customer. Referring to the final creations as 'dreams' harboured by the students themselves, REDValentino said in their press release, 'A dream you make alone is a dream. A dream you make in two or more becomes a reality. REDValentino fosters creativity and dreams to create an idea factory'.
Creativity is often misinterpreted as a trait that's 'liberating,' or it's presumed of you that, if you possess 'creativity' in all its wide and many variations, you have 'endless imaginative ideas.' This may be true to some extent, but the students of Central Saint Martins know oh-so-well, creativity doesn't usually come as 'naturally' as one may think. Of course, there are people who are more creative than others, but even those blessed with talent far beyond their years still have to think concisely about every diminutive stage of their design and artistic process. Not only is creativity about generating ideas, but it's about thinking, or as REDValentino puts it, 'Making critical judgments...elaborating, testing, refining and even rejecting a new concept. It's about the value of deep understanding.'
Constantly trying to push the boundaries of your imagination can be hard at the best of times, let alone when you're subjected to staying inside due to an aggressive global pandemic; this was one of the many challenges Central Saint Martins students Aparna Aji, Bluebell Ross, Eomji Sim, Isabella Soliman, Kallan Huges, Lowri Cooper, Martus Chai, Phoebe Wilkinson, Ruby Pluhar and Yao Peng were faced with when they went to work on the REDValentino collaboration. Not only was REDValentino testing their creativity through the task at hand, but with Central Saint Martins' doors slammed shut and many studios closed for the foreseeable future, imagination was a pivotal tool, harnessed to create an alternative outside world (considering our current reality feels very much on pause at the moment). Student Eomji Sim dubbed the process as a 'virtual mission' due to being shut off from the outside world yet understands that despite the more challenging ideals thrown at them, their work was better because of it. 'It gave an opportunity to think more about the relationship between space and image, challenging, but worth it'.
As a result of the students' hurdles, their self-expression and work came to pave the way for invention and innovation. Each individual had to make sacrifices due to the lockdown, which led to many ideas being cut short; friends were used instead of professional models and bedrooms instead of photography studios, homes were also rearranged to mimic workspaces. Student, Yao Peng, knows this too well, saying of her own process that she had 'just arrived in London at the time' and 'couldn't find any models who didn't have an agency.' Peng went on to admit, 'I had to ask my friends to be my models. On top of this, because of the lockdown, I had to shoot at home and on the rooftop.' Another student, Kallan Hughes, said of the aggravating process, 'I didn't have access to photo studios, so I decided to create a concept which could be shot in and around a house. We ended up shooting the project in my friend's bedroom, which was perfect for the story.' Being able to put more of a romantic and intimate spin on his work, Hughes concluded, 'I'm glad it wasn't captured in a studio, the setting we made up was more than perfect.'
Despite restricted access to studios, the work is awe-inspiring and impressive, to say the least. With the students facing many limitations, creativity wasn't one of them. Upon asking Peng what 'the most exciting thing about the REDValentino collaboration' was, she simply stated, 'There was no limit to the subject matter, for everyone.' So, maybe creativity is liberating above all else.
To understand what delving into their own fantasy was like to escape reality, we asked the MA Fashion Image students one question, 'How did you get inspired for this project?' Below, we've documented their answers from 'Japanese songs' to 'stationary stickers'; here are the things Central Saint Martins kids spend their day thinking about.
My inspiration comes from a Japanese song 好き好き⼤大好き - Juntogawaand and the movie Leon: The Professional. Juntogawaand is a song that expresses love and rebellion in all their forms, and the main character in Leon: The Professional feels audacious and romantic but cool. This somehow reminds me of myself, obedient on the surface but with a rebellious heart.
For this project, I found inspiration from artists such as Nadia Lee Cohen and Ari Versluis. Cohen captures images that evoke a feeling of nostalgia and have an old-time feel to them, and this is something which I delved into when shooting/creating the characters for this project. I was particularly inspired by Ari Versluis' book Exactitudes which documents social types and subcultures over the last 20 years. Exactitudes displays the defining visual characteristics that people associate with different subcultures, which I found incredibly interesting, so much so, I made sure I explored this narrative in my own project.
My references stem from those stickers you'd find in a stationary shop when you were a child. It's very y2k and has an innocent feeling towards it with multiple playground references. I wanted a sense of nostalgia to be present in my images, the ultimate celebration of worry-free youth, something that now seems part of a bygone era.
As it is a time when we have limits on our ability to move freely and commune with one another, I wanted to reimagine a world where we can do this once more, so I drew from my favourite personal experiences of adolescence that were immersed in nature. I wanted to create a feeling of immersion for my models through a vibrant free-moving installation and a vast, expansive open space to feel joy and amplify the feeling of opening back up to the world.
I looked to the impact of technology on social media and the fact that this impact has always been there ever since I was young. We've grown up under a lot of surveillance, and we've developed a passive tendency to control our desire to express, but we've created our own youth culture within this, offline and online. By reading Space of Space by architect Hyunjoon Yoo, I understood the influential relationship between human psychological, behavioural patterns and space, which led me to think about our current situation in lockdown. We are still communicating with each other, but online. Choosing to adopt a more accepting approach towards the digital world.
In the brief, REDValentino said they'd like us to share our stories. Having just moved to East London at the start of February, I was excited to explore and learn about the area and absorb all the new things around me. This inspired my project; how we become products of our environments, blending our identities with our settings, and how that process is constantly happening as we navigate through life.
I started in the same way as I do for most of my projects - by delving into my archive of key inspirations and references. This includes a range of works expanding fashion photography, namely by surrealist artist Dora Maar - from whom I gain a lot of inspiration from. I then began to look at 2010s Proenza Schouler Spring Ad Campaigns and was drawn to the posing, abstraction and inclusion of still life. However, I would say that the most prominent inspiration for the project came from the natural world itself and the longing for nature I felt while stuck indoors.
I started by looking back at instances that really defined my late adolescence. I began to think of the concept 'colour dress day'- just a more popular term for birthday because that was the one day you could escape the school uniform in your younger years in Britain. My project focused on the evening before this 'big day' every year; being indecisive - style, personality, all of it. It's about my interpretation of dressing up and the politics that come in between.
Isabella Saneya Soliman:
I drew on a lot of personal experience for this project. The brief set out to encourage us what it means to be a young person in today's society. I did a lot of self-reflection to see what this means to me. For me, this means the ability to live out and hone my experiences as a mixed-race individual, along with all the intricacies that make up me as a person.
I was inspired by the time I spent daydreaming as a teenager. I explored the state of semi-consciousness between reality and daydreaming and examined this transition as a space where your physical and dream self can meet and interact with each other. I have always been fascinated by dreams, so it seemed like a very appropriate starting point. I was heavily influenced by photographer Wanda Martin who creates gorgeous whimsical and dream-like images.