Famous for his tempting and experimental knitwear, this season Mark Fast presented a far more sophisticated and luxurious collection. His signature skin-tight short dresses were mixed with bulkier merino wool cardigan wraps and plaited scarves and even hats. In soft grey, nude pink and sand shades, the whole collection looked more wearable and had a warm, cosy and even slightly romantic feeling about it but at the same time had a distinct grunge note. It seemed the designer targeted a new type of client – older and more refined.
Among the celebrities present, we noticed Kanye West and Nicola Roberts, which obviously brought a lot of excitement and flashes before the opening of the curtain.
While we were browsing through the exhibition space at Sommerset House, luckily, we met Matthew Harding and Levi Palmer, the souls behind Palmer//Harding. Both are MA graduates from Central Saint Martins, and they are so much fun to be around.
Interviewing Matthew was great; he not only spoke about their focus on exclusively designed and exquisitely made shirts, for which Palmer//Harding is known for, but also about his personal experience of MA, Louise Wilson, internships and gave advice to soon to be CSM graduates.
A.: Tell us about Palmer/Harding.
M.:When we started our label, there were many designers coming out. Everyone offers a point of view, everyone offers an aesthetics. And we have our own aesthetic, but we felt that with all this noise going on, we wanted to offer something more than just an aesthetic. It’s a speciality. We are not doing prints, we are not doing knitwear, that is all covered. Shirt seemed like something that was lacking.
You go to a store and there are beautiful shirts hanging, but the detailing is not there; there is not much consideration. When we design a collection, we look through a good 300-400 different types of white cotton to find the one that we wanted: that had a nice hand, draped the way we wanted, not too crispy and not too light. Shirt has so many components with the collars and the cuffs that we can spend a lot of time designing just one element of it like shape of the collar. This season, we have acquired an archive of vintage arrow collars, which are from the 1920’s that are kind of dis patchable, and we found the shape that we liked, so we’ve developed that and made it our own.
We strive to add modernity to something that is so classic. When you understand the language of the shirt, you see that there can be some design details that you are not familiar with, but at the same time, it is a cotton shirt and a lot of them are white, so you have a language of how to wear a white cotton shirt.
There are a lot of designers offering challenging pieces and they are amazing, beautifully crafted, but we were challenged to put something in people’s wardrobe that is something casual and easier.
A.: Do you think that it was easier for you to create your own niche in the market because you have chosen to specialize on one thing – shirts?
M.: Exactly. And because we have chose to specialize on shirts, I think that is why the press has responded quite well to us. To have two page coverage in an American Vogue in our first season is just amazing, and most brands don’t have that until they do their sixth or seventh season. We had a really good response from press, the buyers and the consumers. We have picked up four stores in our first season, were featured in the American Vogue, British Vogue, other publications… So, it’s quite nice that they have responded to something that applies to real people’s lives and it does have the St. Martins sensibility to push things further. We had about 50 % sales through our online stockists and in one of our japanese stores we are sold out. So, it is nice to have these three boxes tick: the buyers, the press and the consumer.
A.: Do you have interns?
M.: Yes, this season we had three great interns. Usually, the working day starts from 10 – 10.30 am and we kick them out at 6.30 – 7 pm because we want to have dinner. There is this fuss about interns getting paid after two weeks, but these laws will only lead to people having no experience because companies can not afford that. From our point of view, we do not take advantage of interns, and as long as they feel that they are learning that’s what is important. Yes, there will be days when you are sewing buttons, but we will be there for you to ask us any kind of questions and share with our knowledge. There are companies like McQueen and Burberry that do take advantage of interns, they are the ones who need to change their attitude by laws. But it is not going to affect them, it is going to affect companies our level.
A.: Did you do any internships while studying?
M.: Yes, i have done four. The only one you are going to know is Mulberry. I have done it for three weeks, it was so boring that i quit. But one interesting part was I sat in a meeting with Katie Grant. When you do internships for big companies, you get to photocopy stuff, it is boring as hell. Sometimes you can learn if you are willing to stick around for a long time, then you will learn. Apart from that, i have worked for three small labels, all of which have folded. I’ve worked for one of the graduates from the MA at CSM, and he was a bit of a nut. Another one was a Norwegian designer. When I first joined him, it was much like McQueen; he did beautiful tailoring. Then when I’ve last seen him; he did corsets with feathers, really hideous italian kind of crap. I’ve learned a lot about what not to do from both of them, especially, in terms of a business. Those two designers were really interested in being in the magazines and that what has drove their businesses. When with us, we have got those things, but we focus on appealing to the real person, appealing to the buyers and consumers. It just happened that that concept was very appealing to the press, but it wasn’t something that we strived for. We had a saying in our studio – “You don’t get paid in I-D shoots”.
A.: How do you collaborate with Levi?
M.: Everything is 50/50. We both design collection together. Levi was trained in menswear and i was trained in womenswear. But then, Levi, in the States before coming to Central Saint Martins, had studied womenswear in Texas and did a pattern cutting course, so he comes from both backgrounds. In a way, he is more skilled. But the way we work is: we are both not very conceptual people, we research at the library or where ever, gather lots of imagery and edit it out between us, have a wall and design. It is very instinctive.
A.: Tell us about MA.
M.: It is an amazing experience. It is hard work and it is not for everyone. But it is worth doing it. It isn’t for sensitive people. I mean, i am sensitive and i’ve had my moments sitting in the bathroom and being nervous before going to see Louise. From day one, she completely strips you of your ego and tells you that you do not deserve that ego, but you need to earn it… it is an important thing. Louise Wilson is an absolutely amazing woman, she makes the MA.
A.: What was the most fun moment from your personal experience of MA?
M.: My first year on the MA was absolutely random; i was really trying to find myself, i didn’t know what i was doing. I remember doing the pre collection: my toils were crap, my sketchbook was crap, my research was crap, my presentation was crap and nothing wasn’t really slotting to place. Louise then said, “Something needs to work otherwise you are out.” I sorted that out somehow.
My favorite moment was when, I remember that was a week before my birthday in October, i had a first glimpse of what would become my MA collection. These jersey trousers which were attached to the feet, so you had that tension and i also had a version of a top. It was Friday when i’ve knocked on her door and said, “i want to show you something.” She was having a meeting with print tutors at her office, and she kind of barked at me something like, “It is fucking got to be something amazing. It is Friday, so do not piss me off. It has to be something completely fabulous.” I go, “ok” and she says, “are you sure? You sure you want to show me something?’’ So i walked in, and she was in complete silence. The print tutors were really impressed and came up saying, “oh my god, how did you do that?” And from that moment, i could tell that i’ve gained her respect. That was the moment where everything has changed on the MA. Since then, everything happened so naturally. It wasn’t an easy process, but i think with Louise, she picks people that she knows have the ability, and you have to prove yourself. That was the moment where i felt that i have proved why i deserved to be on the course. So, that was my highlight.
A.: Do you keep in touch with Louise Wilson?
M.: I go and see her every time i can. I don’t see her as much as i would like to. I saw her after the MA show the other night and gave her a kiss. She is an amazing woman, and she is so inspiring because she has so much knowledge. To be in her presence and listen to her knowledge is overwhelming. If you find something to impress her with, the feeling of satisfaction is like nothing else. It is like if Anna Wintour would say, “This is good enough to feature in Vogue,” the same with Loiuse Wilson saying, “This is good enough to be on the catwalk.”
A.: Who has influenced you on BA course?
M.: Howard is amazing. He wrote to me the other day via Facebook and congratulated us. Once i remember him saying, not to me directly, but to our year… “Why everyone is doing these clothes, why someone is not just doing a really nice shirt line?” And i think that when we’ve set up our business, it wasn’t necessarily in my mind, but last season i have remembered what he had said, and perhaps, it must have been embedded in me. He is a type of guy who has a really strong advice. Sometimes it takes a while to sink it in, but then i was younger and more ignorant maybe.
A.: What would be your advice for graduating students from BA or MA?
M.: The best advice i could give is that you should decide what you want to do; open your own label, go on to MA or work for a company. If you want to work for a company, you need to be as malleable as possible so that any company will be able to take what they want from it. Do lots of work, after you graduate, keep doing projects, develop your BA collection and work, work and work. When i graduated from MA, i kept on doing projects and didn’t stop.
And if you can stomach it, do the MA. It will give you more time, and hopefully, the recession will lie down.
We would like to Thank Matthew Harding and Levi Palmer for sharing with us of their experiences, stories and knowledge and just for being fun. We wish them great success with their Palmer//Harding label because they deserve it.
Interview and writing by Altynai Osmoeva
Raffaele Ascione, who had successfully graduated from the MA fashion course at Central Saint Martins in 2011, has presented his new collection at the Vauxhall Fashion Scout (check out the images of the previous post), was very kind to have invited us to his super tidy Stoke Newington studio past Sunday evening. He spoke about his new collection, being employed by one of the most successful Italian brand – Max Mara, his past as a professional dancer and personal journey to and experience of the MA at Central St. Martins.
When you first enter his studio at once you notice how tidy it is, there isn’t a single pin on the floor. The room’s walls are embellished with beautiful illustrations, fabric samples, images from magazines, a picture of a dancer, Marilyn Monroe and his pop idol – Britney Spears (he goes to her shows twice every time she visits and he has two tickets stuck to the wall to prove it), as well as of his favorite model – Mariacarla Boscono, precious green cardboard paper patterns neatly hang on one wall and a silver shoe sole. But clothes occupy most of the space, accurately hanging in the garment bags except the one creme silk with milky lace haute couture dress which was gently laying on the bed. ‘This is the dress which will close the show’, says Raffaele.
Raffaele is an example of a universal citizen; being born Italian, grown up in Germany, having studied in an artschool in Ireland and, at last, completing an MA course at Central Saint Martins in England.
A.: How did you get onto the MA course at Central Saint Martins?
R.: After secondary school, I decided to attend drama school, though I had also applied to an art school in Germany. I was a professional dancer for three years and went onto a tour for one year and a half. At the time, my ex-boyfriend was studying in an art school in Ireland and I went to visit him. There he showed me the fashion department and, at that moment, I decided to leave dance and study fashion. My heart totally belongs to fashion, but I will always be a dancer at heart.
While in Ireland, I started discovering designers like Alexander McQueen, Galliano, Stella McCartney and others, whom I now admire, so, after research, I had discovered that many great designers were trained in England and mostly at CSM. That is when I set a goal to study an MA fashion course at CSM.
Prior to MA, I finished my BA in Rochester at UCA and then got head hunted by Max Mara and got a job in Italy. Usually, we would finish around 7pm, so I also had time after work to work on my own designs. I had no life… (laughs).. no, I am joking. I had great time because I was working on a collection based on these american drama series back in the 90’s called Beverly Hills, 90210. I did that collection and included it in my portfolio and applied to CSM while still in Italy. It was a great experience at Max Mara, but my dream was always to do MA at CSM, so, after a year of employment, I left to study because I got accepted. I actually got myself a tatoo inspired by the collection as a prize.
I remember it was a hot summer day in Italy, and I got home on my bike after work when I saw an envelope in the letter box from UAL. My ex-boyfriend, who had studied on MA graphic design at CSM, told me ‘Raffaele, you will know… if you get a thin envelope then you didn’t get in, but if you receive a thick envelope, then, it means that you did get in.’ It was a big and thick envelope.
A.: Was it something you expected?
R.: No. When one has dreams, there are certain expectations and very often expectations turn out to be something else. It was so much more than I expected.
A.: What was MA course like?
R.: A lot of people think that MA at Central Saint Martins is very conceptual, but it is not. It is about making really beautiful and interesting clothes. It is about a raw talent and really great ideas. I suppose, every year there are students who set up a certain trend. For example, Maarten van der Horst who did Hawaiian thing, and it was everywhere. It really prepares you for the industry, you get a lot by being taught by Louise Wilson, you learn how to work with people and learn a lot about yourself. You start doing things that you were scared of doing before and start constantly question your work. Louise teaches in a very coherent way, sometimes even aggressive, if she is frustrated, but you start to learn to love that side of her because that’s who she is and that is the way she teaches. I was very nervous sometimes because I was scared of going into a meeting with her and not being able to understand her guidance ship… that was my fear. I didn’t learn about pattern making or sewing on the course, but you learn how to focus on your work and ways you can translate your ideas. When I started at the course, I was quite advanced in technical skills learnt back on BA, so it really helped. There are many talented designers on the course who do not have great technical skills, but they collaborate with people who do, and that way they can translate their ideas
A.: In few words, what was the most valuable lesson you learned from Louise Wilson?
R.: To constantly doubt my work. Always question and push yourself out of the comfort zone. Take risks.
A.: What happened after MA?
R.: After the show, you feel like in a bubble because all you worry about before the show is how the clothes will look on the catwalk. Only after few days, you realize that your clothes are out there, magazines start to contact you, shops want to see your look book, stylists want your clothing for editorials and a lot of opportunities and commissions arise. After four-five weeks I was featured in Vogue Turkey. I did commissions for Lady Gaga, Jessie J, POP Magazine and the Uniform Project. And we recently shot my collection for the Wallpaper magazine’s April issue.
After MA, graduates try to get a job and be employed by a company. I also needed to find work, so I visited many agencies, one being Smith and Pie in London, and dropped off CV’s. It was a bit of a frustrating time trying to find a job because when you attend interviews and people look at your portfolio, you get various responses like ‘you are over qualified for us’ or ‘your aesthetics are too strong for our brand’ and, funnily, during the interviews, I was being asked why don’t I start up my own label. So, I thought, ‘yes, why don’t I’?
A.: How was it to start from scratch and who supported you?
R.: First, you sort out organizational bits and paper work like studio, funding and sponsorships, then you just go for it.
What I did was post my project on http://www.sponsume.com, which is a website where you can post your project and raise money for it. A good 700 pounds came from there, Sophie Halette has provided with lace and I also got sponsored by an Italian zip company Lampo (works with such brands like Gucci and Fendi), which has provided me with zips that I have designed myself. So, when you learn how to raise some money and get sponsored, it already gets much easier. I have also applied to Fashion East, which didn’t work out because they decided to support designers from the previous year, but then Vauxhall Fashion Scout has contacted and gave the presentation space, for which I am really happy.
Support comes from everywhere, and I’ve been very blessed with friends. My best friend Claire Davies does shoes for me and I have known her since studying in Ireland. Actually, people that you work with are your classmates. And a lot of them are in the creative industries, so I can go and ask for an advice if I need to. And we collaborate, share information and help each other to lend jobs and commissions. It is all about sharing the knowledge. Also, it is important to have someone who’s advice and opinion you could trust. Sometimes, I would have loved to go and speak to Louise, but I stop myself because I think that my time on MA is finished and it is part of the learning and growing process.
A.: How was it to work for Max Mara?
R.: It was amazing. A great experience and a glance into the industry. I’ve learned a lot.
I was hired as a junior designer and there was a big team of us because Max Mara is such a huge brand. We were given a lot of responsibility because when senior designers worked on other projects than the main lines and were short of time, it was up to us – junior designers, who carried on the work. I am lucky that I speak Italian because from the beginning they have included me in many projects and meetings. I’ve learned a lot about fabrics, how to work with the production, pattern making, textile teams, and you get to meet the fabric suppliers… it was a lot to take in, but it was a great experience. Also, the accommodation and food was taken care of, so it was wonderful.
A.: What was the inspiration for your new collection?
After I’ve finished the MA, I thought that I want to do a collection based on things that I liked for a long time and things that I’ve been collecting. These are the two most important aspects. I have always liked studio 54, the 70’s disco era …that’s why I did long skirts and flairs on the trousers. The entire collection is based on a silhouette. A lot of things are based on a baseball sweatshirt that I’ve had for a long time, the raglan sleeve, the shape and fit are inspired by that sweatshirt. And obviously, I am inspired by my love for working with lace.
When leaving his studio, his friends Anisha and Oni arrive. Oni wearing a Whitney Houston shirt , his way of paying respect to the great singer. Raffaele hugs them and says, ‘that’s what I mean by saying that friends are a blessing and that we all help eachother in fashion’. Anisha works for PR and Oni for IMG models, and they came to help embroider all evening. In fashion, friendship is everything.
Interview and writing by Altynai Osmoeva
Dazzling! This is the precise word to describe Michael van der Ham new 2012 autumn/ winter collection, which he presented today in the Somerset House. Although his signature patchwork aesthetic was still quite obvious, this time it was mixed with luxurious crushed organza, silver and gold sequins and striking metallic lace. For the shoes, Michael collaborated with not more or less, but Christian Louboutin. As a result of this co-project, the later turned out to be airy, light and sparkling as a falling snow.
The guest list included such CSM ‘celebrities’ as Louise Wilson and Julia Verhoeven, who were both so delighted with the show that went to greet Michael backstage. Where we obviously have followed them to meet and congratulate Michael, to ask him a few questions about the show, but even more we were hungry to study the garments in further detail.
Did the MA course in CSM helped you a lot?
Yer, of course. I think it is mostly Louise Wilson, she really guided me in a right way and I think that’s very important to have someone who does that for you when you are studying.
Did you ever ask her for an advice after graduating?
No, but she was so involved in my graduating, I still use all that knowledge.
Is it important for you that she is coming to your shows? We know that she is not doing it for everyone
Of course it is! And she came backstage this time, which was never done before, which is great.
Do you keep in touch with other graduates?
Yer, Mary, Louise, Christopher Shannon, he is my boyfriend. Few people.
How did you start your own label?
It was Fashoin East. Lulu Kennedy offered me a show and of course I couldn’t turn it down. I graduated in 2009 when there were no jobs. Literally, there were so many students in my class and no one could get a job.
I was inspired because I got such a nice feedback from my MA collection , so I really wanted to do another one and then it kind of snowballed.
Who contributed the most to your career?
Definitely Louise, Lulu Kennedy and Sarah Moore.
How is it to be a fashion designer in London? Didn’t you consider to move to New York or Paris?
No, it is much harder there. You need big cash injections. London is definitely better.
Text by Galya Vlasenko
You can see the whole collection here.
Today Raffaele Ascione has presented his first collection after graduating from MA at Central Saint Martins during Vauxhall Fashion Scout. Here are lots of pictures, we couldn’t stop uploading them because they are ALL so beautiful. Enjoy!
P.S: Follow up on a full article with Raffaele and an interview in the morning.
Last night saw the hotly anticipated Central Saint Martins MA show take London fashion week by storm. Masses of people gathered in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the next big thing. Queues stretched around the BFC show space as a notable sense of excitement descended on Somerset House.
As the crowds were seated, a handful of alumni such as Christopher Kane and Roksanda Ilincic along with architect Zaha Hadid took to the front row to support their contemporaries. Tickets emblazoned with black and white photography of the old Charing Cross Road site paid tribute to the courses heritage, as the last MA designers to pass through those hallowed doors.
First onto the runway was Loreal Professionel award winner Luke Brooks, with impressive Olympian headpieces, which paid homage to London 2012, netted knitwear and tassled loafers. Microbial-like paint splashes and hundreds of small fabric prisms, which hung loosely as scarves and smock dresses, gave the collection an organic quality.
As the soundtrack merged, menswear designer John-Gabriel Harrison showed simple black and white silhouettes, which fused stiff cottons with flowing capes and trousers that saw turn-ups at both the knee and the ankle.
Further notable designs include Estefania Cortes Harker whose collection was made entirely of glittered fabrics of black, gold, pink and blue, with aquatic like silhouettes and geometric tunics that shimmered intesnsely under the runway lights. Charlotte Helyar took inspiration from a CMYK colour model, with rigid white three pieces with splashes of halftone images accented with simple crop mark pattern and text.
Yulia Kondranina’s ethereal and flowing monochrome garments moved beautifully as hundreds of tassles weaved and structured around the model’s body, swinging loosely with each movement.
Sabina Bryntesson’s collection caused a noticeable stir amongst the audience, with models faces completely covered in black and orange peaked and pointed headpieces, with over-exaggerated ruffled sleeves, which elongated the arms to absurd proportions.
Last to show was joint Loreal winner Craig Green whose black and cream collection was accented with splashes of orange, yellow and green tie dies and large architectural flat structures that were held in place by wooden struts over the model’s shoulders.
As the houselights were switched on the eclectic soundtrack came to an end, a sense of awe spread amongst the audience as they digested the sheer amount of innovation and creativity, which Central Saint Martins has now become synonymous for. Now we wait with bated breath to see the future for our MA graduates as they descend into a hotly competitive fashion industry. One thing is for sure, their future looks bright indeed.
Text by Greg French
Photos courtesy style.com
Check the whole show here
Interviewed by Hywel Davies