What makes a Winning Collection?
One of the first awards announced at the GFW 2013 Gala show celebrations was for ‘Lifetime achievement’ to Suzy Menkes OBE. A world-renowned fashion commentator, she is Style Editor for the International Herald Tribune where she has worked since 1988. Not only has Menkes significantly contributed to the fashion education of the general public, she is also a major supporter and promoter of young fashion talent.
As a charitable organisation, the purpose of Graduate Fashion Week is to provide a promotional platform for the UK fashion graduates, helping to bridge the gap between education and the working world. Thousands of visitors gather for the event every year with a large proportion being students.
In order to meet their needs the organisers have introduced career workshops hosted by major companies such as Drapers and Barclays. For those students whose designs make it to the catwalk however, the official GFW awards recognise the most talented amongst them. Receiving such an accolade can give a serious boost to graduates about to start their career. The top prize, the George Gold Award also comes with a £20,000 cash prize to help make a young designer aspiration a reality. So, winning an award at Graduate Fashion Week is a big deal, let’s try to figure out what makes a winning collection.
The Stuart Peters Visionary Knitwear Award went to Thea Sanders from Nottingham Trent University. Her uplifting and colourful collection was decorated with varying scales of elaborate arabesque, inspired by patterns found on Islamic tiling. At times exaggerated in fuzzy knits over the shoulders and torso, they were mostly miniaturised and adorning demurely casual separates. Sanders’ influences were clearly expressed through recurring swirling motifs and a warm palette of royal blues, lemon yellows and rustic oranges. If an outfit didn’t supply its own printed leggings, they would otherwise be matched with bright, block coloured tights of these hues. Every look was distinguished from the other and could stand strong on its own. With each piece bearing its own individual pattern the collection could have easily been a strain on the eyes. Instead, a co-ordinated colour palette meant that the separates clashed serenely against each other creating head-turning outfits.
Acclaimed knitwear designer and judge panellist Adam Jones, who has formerly designed for Kenzo and Dior, regards Sanders’s collection as clever and innovative, further comparing it to “Chloe meets Marni”. In addition to Stuart Peters, the award was decided by his wife and business partner, Erica Peters and My Wardrobe’s Fashion Director, Carmen Borgonovo.
The Zandra Rhodes Catwalk Textile Award was presented by the namesake designer herself to Kirandeep Bassan from the University of Northampton. Bassan’s opening look, a wide sleeved cropped poncho with a heavily draped, cowl neckline, was the first of many dramatic silhouettes. As each outfit of the exotic collection in tropical oranges, blues and yellows sashayed down the catwalk their flowing oversized proportions caught the air. Bassan’s hand-printed patterns rebelled against structure and appeared totally free. Circles, rectangles and broad, scratchy brush strokes all contributed to a carnival of colour. Draped shawls and skirts gathered and tied, distorted these graphics even further, resulting in an eclectic visual feast. Form-fitting maxi skirts and leggings with matching heeled boots ensured the models were colourful from head to toe. Celebrated fashion designer Holly Fulton and Kate Bostock, Head of Product and Trading at ASOS, both supported Rhodes’s choice.
If by now you start to think that colour is the key to success in the GFW stakes, you will be proved wrong by the recipients of the Menswear Award. Shauni Douglas and jewellery designer Olivia Creber, both from Edinburgh College of Art, took the prize with a worldly heritage collection distinguishable by its bearded mouthpieces. Reminiscent of folk styles, Douglas’ heavily layered outfits in dark, rustic colours consisted of Kaftans, tailcoats and tartan prints that combined global influences from the Highlands through to the Balkan regions and Central Asia. A heady mix of simple prints and proportions, adorned with Creber’s beards and whips crafted of horse hair, made for a memorably innovative collection. Judge and international model, David Gandy, stated that the “strong visual concept and superb craftsmanship”, resulted in a unanimous vote amongst the panel – which included menswear designer James Long; Adam Cameron who is Head of Design at Dunhill; and Stephen Ayres, the Head of Fashion at Liberty London.
Hannah Williams from UCA Epsom scooped two awards: Womenswear and Fashion Innovation. Her latex dresses displayed the imprints of casted moulds from conventional garments and accessories. The lapels of a trench coat, pearl necklaces and a decorative clutch bag became rubberised with the garments resulting in a contemporary trompe l’oeil. Her simple long-sleeved dresses and separates, slightly oversized in proportion, allowed ample space to exhibit her meticulous ornate detailing. Jewellery-like floral beads congregated on the décolletés of a few dresses, and also appeared on sleeves, waistbands, as well as a handbag.
The award was decided by respected designer Todd Lynn and Net-a-Porter’s Fashion Director, Holli Rogers. Dazed and Confused Fashion Editor Cathy Edwards, also a panellist, said of the collection: “Hannah’s collection was extremely original – very photogenic”, adding that it was, “modern and innovative using great new techniques in fabric innovation”.
The most prestigious award that evening, the George Gold Award, was presented by Fiona Lambert, Brand Director of George – the main sponsor of the event – to Lauren Smith from Edinburgh College of Art. The award comes along with a welcome £20,000 cash prize. The deciding panel included this year, Roland Mouret, the acclaimed designer famous for creating figure-flattering gowns and David Walker-Smith, Managing Director for the heritage premium department store Fenwick of Bond Street.
Smith won with a whimsical collection, translating her sketchbook developments with applique on leather. Her doodles were scatteredly printed and sewn on, the garments’ edges stitched to mimic the seams on a book. Paperclips were used as literal embellishments, an oversized version acting as a coat fastener. Walker-Smith was a particular fan of the print, stating that it demonstrated the designer’s “mind connection” and “clear thought process”. Asymmetric A-line dresses and a coat with broad shouldered sleeves, skirts and baggy chinos were oversized. Hints of azure and lemon tulle poked out beneath skirts reminiscent of prom dresses, adding to the playfulness of the outfits. A simple colour palette in sky blue and ivory, with hints of sunny yellow, made for a dreamily uplifting collection.
Referencing her own sketchbook, Smith promoted a unique point of view thus resulting in an original aesthetic. Lambert underlined the characteristic, explaining: “We chose Lauren as the George Gold Award winner because her designs reflected her character and showed real vision and craftsmanship. I’m looking forward to working with her and producing her range for George and George.com.” Smith’s collection was not only individual, it was also meticulously crafted through the utilisation of warm colours and frolicsome motifs.
There is no textbook formula to creating a winning GFW collection. This year’s award winners all displayed thorough craftsmanship and idiosyncratic points of view. Bright colours are uplifting but collections conveying dark and moody aesthetics also win awards. Attention to details certainly results in memorable collections. All in all I believe that the biggest achievers are also the biggest risk-takers. Students who dare to experiment, and push aesthetical and technical boundaries to create innovation will be commended if only for trying. Fashion is a serious business but wearing it should be fun and I like to think that the design-process should be a little bit too. Lauren Smith’s winning collection should be an example of this as it was enlightening and cheerful; and I can imagine her designs in the future will also be a joy to wear.
All images taken by Sayuri Standing and Cinsy Tam.