Ten’s To Do: Read ‘Fashion Central Saint Martins’, the New Publication Digging Deep Into The Past and Present of London’s Creative Hub
From Lee McQueen’s iconic Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims touted by the infamous Louise Wilson as sending “a shiver up my spine – and that does not happen very often,” to Stella McCartney collecting leaves at 2am off the strees with Naomi Campbell before pressing them into into plastic jackets for her BA collection… Some tales of the Fashion department of Central Saint Martins are urban legends, while others have laid hidden in the halls they were made. A new book curated by Cally Blackman and Hywel Davies is published by Thames & Hudson and hopes to open up these secrets of the school’s historical success, and what exactly its almighty accolade of alumni remember (or hope to forget) from their times on the CSM fashion campus. Launching tomorrow at Dover Street Market London as part of the LFW happenings, the publication will have 100 exclusive covers customised by 10 designers that attended the fashion school – Simone Rocha, Rottingdean Bazaar, Giles and Matty Bovan included. There will also be a special installation in DSML’s Golden Room on the ground floor which will feature graduate collections from McQueen, Galliano and others.
But before you dig deep into the past and present of CSM, we round up ten lessons learnt from some of the school’s most prolific and inspiring students, teachers and tutors, as seen on the pages of Fashion Central Saint Martins. As you embark on this trip, make sure to listen to the CSM Fashion Dept manifesto, created in 2015 by Scott King: “Destroy the cult of the future; Carry a pencil.”
Courtesy of Gareth Pugh, BA Show, 2003
1. Location is key.
The centrality of Central Saint Martins at its conception left students on the doorstep to Soho, environmental riches that inspired through sub-cultural rumblings. When asked what set CSM apart from other fashion schools, designer Gareth Pugh states “To be honest, when I went to Saint Martins, it was all about the location. Being set right in the middle of Soho, surrounded by theatres, gay bars and sex shops, made it feel almost dangerous.” Editor Katie Grand simply asserts: “We were in the middle of everything.”
2. Looking back to look forward.
There is no mincing about in nostalgia: the focus of CSM is always heartily put on looking ahead. Professor Andrew Groves says: “Every year the students seemed intent on countering and obliterating what went before, and reinventing what the future of fashion meant to them on their terms.”
Phoebe English, MA 2001
3. “Nightclubs are an extension of the catwalk.”
According to Ian R. Webb’s mini essay which plays an ode to the club homeland of the CSM fashion students, nightclubs shaped a lot of the freedom to experiment which then gave structure to decades of fashion students’ experience of the university. Stephen Jones surmised “college and music and nightclubbing; it all merged together” to the former CSM Director annotating: “With the teaching there was a healthy disregard for the subject of fashion, so we always looked outside. It was about popular culture, it was about music, it was about film, it was about going to clubs.”
4. The dedication of staff lies at the foundation of CSM.
With the book layout broken into decades, the connecting fibres of student to student is their recounts of unflinching dedication, inspirational interchange, hard-hitting criticism but with constructive reasoning running behind it. Matthew Williamson aligns one tutor as inspiring “mee to do what I wanted; she allowed and encouraged self-expression.” Stephen Jones remembers the keen interest one of his teachers always showed in the students. The synergy between teacher and student was and remains key to the CSM educational method.
Neil Gilks in Phoebe Philo’s designs (1996); Courtesy of Central Saint Martins Fashion Archive
5. An attitude of subversion and disruption is vital for creative liberation.
As Joe Casey Hayford previously shared: “Where other art schools define a style that they formalise and replicate, Saint Martins seeks out the disrupters who will challenge the status quo, going on to break new ground and set new standards”
6. Louise Wilson’s mentorship and teachings, no matter how unconventional, will live on forever.
The book is peppered with Louise Wilson anecdotes ranging from the late Richard Nicoll having previously noted “I once saw her drop kick a mannequin across the studio” to Jonathon Saunders remembering a student getting thrown out of her office and getting his coat slammed in the door: “He sat in the corridor all day, till she came out, too frightened to knock.” Craig Green’s advice garnered from the woman herself instilled the belief in him that “just because something took you ages doesn’t mean its great, and because you did something quickly doesn’t make it’s no good. You can rip it up and start all over again.” Wilson herself once said “I know what I don’t want, but I don’t know what I do want… Because I hope I haven’t seen it yet.”
Riccardo Tisci BA 1999; Courtesy of Central Saint Martins Museum and Archive
7. It’s not that serious.
The shared memories of the school range from the inspirational to the brutally honest, namely Phoebe Philo’s exasperation that “I just wanted to make a pair of trousers that made my arse look good, rather than a pair that represented the Holocaust or something.”
8. Explore yourself.
Molly Goddard remembers her tutor Sarah Gresty encouraging to “go bigger, explore… I remember thinking there was no kind of limit to what I could actually do.” Less conventional was the advice handed to Charles Jeffrey: “you can have a tutor tell you to fill a trolley full of bananas and do a photo-shoot in your room for three days (true story!) to help you be individual in your approach to primary research.”
9. Seek inspiration in everything.
Andrew Groves fondly remembers smoking in Louise Wilson’s office as she asked him about all the weird things people bought at the sex shop he worked at part-time. Multiple excepts remember the grilling of their application interview as their portfolios were side-lined in favour of scrupulously questioning their footwear decisions, what clubs they went to or the kind of music they listened to: “What somebody liked in terms of their taste in music was one of Louise Wilson’s questions during the interview process.”
Alexander McQueen, video still of MA show (1992); Courtesy of Central Saint Martins Library
10. Break down your lessons into three bold points.
Many of the profiles in the book have quick-fire advice from some of the leading lights in the fashion industry. They keep their points short, succinct, bold and direct – a CSM signature if ever there where was one. Sometimes the biggest lessons in life can come in threes. Gareth Pugh’s include “work harder,” Simone Rocha’s remind one to “not to be too sensitive,” while Marques’Almeida assert: “say what you have to say: if it’s authentic, it’s relevant.”
And to conclude with the words of Matty Bovan: “Have fun.”
‘Fashion Central Saint Martins’ by Cally Blackman and Hywel Davies is available to buy online and in selected stores. Cover photograph courtesy of Thames & Hudson.
Courtesy of Matty Bovan (2015)
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