Some 26 years ago, a 20-year-old lad from Halifax won the very first Graduate Fashion Week Gold Award. Now Christopher Bailey is chief creative officer of Burberry, and his style, vision and design acumen have transformed a stalwart British apparel company into one of the world’s most successful and sought-after luxury fashion brands.
Bailey is no doubt that it was his education that allowed him to develop and flourish as a fashion designer (he studied at Batley School of Art at 16, then Harrow College which became the University of Westminster for a BA, and then an MA at the Royal College of Art).
“The British fashion school system has created an environment that drives young designers to try new ideas without feeling like they have to fit into a pre-determined way of doing things. It’s a very exciting environment to learn in,” he says.
Fashion matters, and here’s why. The fashion industry supports 797,000 jobs and contributes £26bn to the UK economy (despite the media coverage it attracts, Premier League football contributes only about £3.5bn; 10 times more people visit the White Rose shopping centre each week than go to a match at nearby Elland Road).
British designers are sought after across the globe, but we depend greatly on them here too. Our fashion graduates, from design to marketing, help the UK earn and retain the respect of the world for our creativity and boldness.
Taking place at the Truman Brewery in London in the first week of June, Graduate Fashion Week provides the world’s largest platform from which aspiring designers can launch their careers. Yorkshire members include the University of Leeds, Leeds College of Art, the University of Huddersfield and Sheffield Hallam University.
Founded in 1991 by Jeff Banks, Vanessa Denza and John Walford, GFW patrons include Bailey, Victoria Beckham and Vivienne Westwood, while it can count Stella McCartney, Giles Deacon, Matthew Williamson and Julien Macdonald among its alumni.
The week is a key source of new talent from across the world, showcasing imagination and innovation as it influences the way the industry works.
During the four-day event, established designers, celebrities and industry experts host live talks and masterclasses, and each university has its own stand. This year there are 22 catwalks.
University of Leeds students taking part include Alice Elliott, Harry Peter, Jemima Taylor, Laurence Moreton Burt and Robin Brook.
“My collection is inspired by the fashion industry’s need to become less wasteful,” says Alice, whose innovative and colourful pieces incorporate screen-printed organza, silk satin and gold pleather with pattern pieces interlocking so the silhouette is dictated by fabric width.
“It tackles the issue in a creative manner by using zero waste pattern cutting as well as a starting influence of 1940s garments, resulting in the collection name: zero forty.”
Bom-Byx is the name of Harry Peter’s directional label, which seeks to bring new shapes and fluidity to menswear. “The concept revolved around taking a single fibre, silk, and exploring its capabilities to dictate silhouette, colour and fabrication,” he says.
Robin Brook’s final collection combines wearer interactivity with parachute-inspired design features.
“The green ripstop dress can be worn gathered in with the cords pulled tight, or loose and flowing,” says the Leeds University graduate.
“The various cords and straps on my printed trousers and tops also allow the wearer to personalise the clothes to suit them. Some edges have been left raw and unfinished so they fray with the wearer.
“To emphasise the adjustable nature of my womenswear collection, I styled and photographed it on both a woman and a man.”
As well as taking part in Graduate Fashion Week, Leeds College of Art will stage its own Graduate Fashion Show for its BA (Hons) Fashion students at The Corn Exchange in Leeds on June 20. I went along last year, and it’s an absolute must-see. The standard is astonishing.
So, it’s a busy and exciting time for fashion graduates as they prepare for the shows and hope to launch themselves, their skills and their imagination into the world.
“We are one entity, united by the opportunities we offer,” says Graduate Fashion Week. “We value our graduates above all else, their opinions matter greatly to us, with our ultimate goal being to provide them with support and fair employment.
“We will continue to make these young individuals relevant, providing them with the support they need in order to prevail.”
*Graduate Fashion Week takes place Sunday June 4 – Tuesday June 7 at the Truman Brewery, London. Tickets are open to everyone with a passion for fashion and design. Tickets can be bought on www.graduatefashionweek.com, £8 for exhibition only, £14.50 for exhibition and university catwalk show.
*Leeds College of Art Graduate Fashion Show takes place at The Corn Exchange, Leeds, from 6pm on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. There will also be a free exhibition at the Blenheim Walk and Vernon Street sites from June 10-15 featuring work from BA (Hons) degree, Extended Diploma in Art & Design, Access to Higher Education, and Level 2 Diploma in Visual Arts students. Information and tickets at [email protected] or www.leeds-art.ac.uk.