Fashion schools are renowned for producing some of the most creative minds behind the game-changing designs we know and love today. Marc Jacobs is one of the most well-known graduates from New York’s Parsons School of Design; Alexander McQueen honed his skills at London’s Central Saint Martins; Franco Moschino walked the halls of Milan’s Istituto Marangoni, and Yohji Yamamoto’s avant garde designs were formed at Tokyo’s Bunka College of Fashion.
Over the past 12 months, however, the pandemic has forced many fashion students to move their learning online and in some cases, press pause on their final collections altogether. Tutorials are now virtual experiences, fabric sourcing has become a shrewd task as COVID-19 slows production, and graduate showcases are being streamed on YouTube. Established designers have also had to change their ways of working: fashion shows, if at all physical, are downsized affairs, while brands are unveiling collections via virtual reality (Balenciaga’s dystopian AW21 show comes to mind).
So, what is the future of fashion? We invited five students from internationally renowned fashion schools to interview London’s buzziest designers—Priya Ahluwalia, Marques’Almeida, Bianca Saunders, Bethany Williams and Art School’s Eden Loweth—about the future of fashion post COVID-19, how the pandemic has shifted the industry’s perspective and how they’ve sparked creativity during lockdown.
1. Bianca Saunders, 27, is interviewed by Aminat Damilola Seriki, 21, BA fashion design with marketing at Central Saint Martins, London
Bianca Saunders recently unveiled her menswear AW21 collection, Superimposed, via a film, which incorporated her traditional crisp tailoring and drew inspiration from multi-talented artist Jean Cocteau. The GucciFest 2020 participant is transforming how we see masculinity.
Aminat: Your previous collections have been performative, using movement and interviews. Is this going to continue? How would you describe your approach to movement direction?
Bianca: The idea of performance in my work will never change. It creates more of an explanation in terms of how my mind thinks when I’m researching or developing my practice—it’s almost like creating a new journey every six months with a collection.
I want people to be able to feel that and understand my creativity as a whole because it is quite multidisciplinary. In my new AW21 film, which I worked on with Daniel Sannwald, you see the development and there’s a more artistic approach. My clothing is inspired by movement—the last three collections I’ve created have been about body language and I try to keep that as a thread.
A: Besides tailoring, what other techniques and silhouettes did you decide on this season?
I collaborated with Wrangler and we started with 14 ounces of raw denim. Using all of our resources, we dyed the denim and introduced print. In a bid to make my pieces sustainable, I used the offcuts from excess fabric in the production process and incorporated a lot of my old archive to develop new silhouettes.
2. Bethany Williams, 31, is interviewed Marie Sara Rondeau, 23, MA contemporary fashion buying, Istituto Marangoni, Milan
A philanthropist and advocate for climate change and sustainability in the industry, menswear designer Bethany Williams is using her platform to instigate important conversations. The London College of Fashion graduate recently partnered with Selfridges to create bespoke upcycled coats, in addition to an AW21 collection expected to drop this spring.
Marie: Your capsule coat collection for Selfridges combines authentic British heritage and ethical craftsmanship. What was your process?
Bethany: All the blankets are carefully sourced from vintage sellers, whether that’s antique markets or car boot sales. Steeped in history, each blanket tells a story from the textile and weaving techniques to the county, town or village it was made in.
M: How do you find the inspiration to make your garments both environmentally and socially sustainable?
B: Fashion encompasses all industries, from agriculture to communications, so it has a huge impact on the planet, producing 80bn new garments each year and employing one in six people on the planet. The combination of people and planet is really important when considering how to move our industry forward in regards to sustainability. By exploring social and environmental issues, we may find innovative design solutions for sustainability.
3. Priya Ahluwalia (aka Ahluwalia), 28, is interviewed by Yashana Malhotra, 25, BA womenswear, Central Saint Martins, London
Priya Ahluwalia is the latest designer to win the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design. With a DIY mentality, she creates her beguiling items inside her south London studio, mixing together the worlds of sustainability and her Nigerian-Indian lineage.
Yashana: How have the events of the last year shifted your creative outlook?
Priya: The lack of physical interaction and events forced me to think of how to present my ideas digitally, something I’ve never had to do before. In June, I released my book Jalebi with a virtual reality exhibition in place of a physical event with Matches Fashion. I’ve also created two films, Joy and Traces, something I don’t know if I would have done without the need to communicate digitally. I’ve learned so much and it made me reconsider how I communicate with people globally.
Y: How have your research methods and sourcing of materials been affected?
It hasn’t been easy to support local markets or shops in lockdown, but we have formed great relationships with lots of our suppliers, so we have been able to source materials throughout.
4. Marta Marques, 34, and Paulo Almeida, 35, (aka Marques’Almeida) are interviewed by Shirley Tang, 20, BFA womenswear, Parsons School of Design, New York
Since the inception of Marques’Almeida a decade ago, Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida have never played by the rules. Veterans of the London scene, the Portuguese husband-and-wife duo have created sustainable sub-label reM’Ade, transforming waste into new fashion, made exclusively with deadstock and recycled fabrics.
Shirley: Your designs prominently feature the use of multiple materials and prints, which highlights upcycling and the fine line between impulse and consideration. How do you balance it with original design ideas?
Marta: If anything, the upcycling of materials is the most considered, rational choice for us. The sustainability aspect of our collections has turned into the real driver for creativity during the past year, meaning the biggest thing on our minds is how we become part of a solution to this problem. For example, when considering colours, we would opt for natural dye — it’s all very instinctive.
S: What are the challenges in maintaining a hands-on selective process of upcycling?
M’A: When starting, consider how to scale up a brand from surplus, from deadstock, from upcycled materials—there’s so much of it. Big brands have to be inventive to scale down the operation process while making the same level of income. Being near suppliers is good for creating a new way of working in fashion.
5. Eden Loweth (aka Art School), 27, is interviewed by Melda Auditia, 22, BA creative design, Bunka Fashion College, Tokyo
Formerly under the Fashion East umbrella, Eden Loweth has been creative director of Art School since 2020. A melting pot of diversity and inclusion, Loweth’s collections are famed for tapping into queer culture while using a diverse and inclusive roster of models draped in voluminous smock dresses, waist-cinching outerwear and corseted bustier tops.
Melda: In the past year, we’ve seen brands and designers exploring different ways to showcase their collections digitally. Do you see your label continuing this?
Eden: Embracing digital ways of presenting collections has been a really exciting way of developing the Art School world. We have created a kind of hybrid where we still create catwalk showcases, but they are filmed and edited without a physical audience to create almost feature-film style productions. I want to continue and evolve this hybridisation of real life and digital as we grow, and when time allows, combine it with a real-life audience.
M: Can you talk about what goes into the process of celebrating individuality in the fashion industry with your designs?
E: Representation, diversity and inclusion are at the very heart of everything I believe in and this is infused within the DNA of Art School. Over the past four-and-a-half years, we have worked to create a platform for marginalised and underrepresented communities in our work. Our castings form the basis of each collection with the models informing, educating and encapsulating the collection’s themes and content.