The ‘Best of’ GFW 2013 – Womenswear
Is fashion a matter of individual, subjective taste or reflective of broader cultural changes? There is little doubt that the students’ collections chosen to feature in the ‘Best of’ show at Graduate Fashion Week 2013 represented a wide range of aesthetics. The formal and the flamboyant, the minimalists and the wonderfully eccentric were all represented.
With a two steps selection process, a large number of people were involved in choosing the winning collections. An initial panel which included renowned fashion commentator Hilary Alexander and the remainder of the GFW committee, dedicated much time and energy attending every single university show for the first three days, cherry-picking each time two to five of the best collections. By Tuesday evening, roughly sixty collections had been short-listed but only twenty-five were to make the ‘Best of’ show the following day. To thin down this initial list further, the panel remained locked-in at the Earl’s Court venue late into the evening, thoroughly examining the collections presented on racks alongside images taken on the catwalk. No one was allowed home before unanimously agreeing on which student was to make it to the next day’s ‘Best of’ show.
Every year the final awards are selected amongst those students who made it the ‘Best of’ by an ‘expert’ judging panel representing each face of the fashion industry present only on GFW final day for the ‘Best of’ and ‘Gala’ shows. They gathered at Earls Court aware that they may affect the future of young creators that could one day succeed them in their roles.
In 2013 the GFW panel included amongst others, Fiona Lambert, Brand Director from GFW sponsor George and Stephen Ayres, Head of Fashion for luxury department store Liberty London; established Designers such as Holly Fulton and Roland Mouret, as well as Dazed and Confused magazine Fashion Director Cathy Edwards. It’s a tough job, but thankfully there were a lot of them to do it.
While the national population is almost equally divided between men and women, female apparel still constitutes the largest share of the fashion market. The ‘Best of Show’ ratio of collections designed for male and female was however pleasantly balanced this year. In addition the lines between gender-specific garments are increasingly blurred and several collections offered unisex appeal. Instead of addressing specificities of the male or female figures, many garments were sculptural, creating forms of their own. Abstract and gender unspecific silhouettes born straight from the imagination of the designer were prominent. A backlash against high heels was evident as flats and platform shoes were favoured.
UCLAN’s Georgia Burns’ first look featured an oversized baseball uniform in white and nautical blue. The modesty of the model was retained as the jacket was worn buttoned up to her neck; it was complemented with baggy trousers, in sympathy with the upper half of the outfit instead of the typically fitted baseball leggings. Unlike most sportswear though, these pieces were tailored and didn’t crease, creating strong rounded silhouettes. As they came down the catwalk, wide-sleeved shift dresses and jumpsuits came with anchor charms, military medals or water ring badges in pop colours for hints of playfulness. An embossed brocade pattern gave subtle femininity to a few dresses of otherwise broad silhouettes complemented by flat laced boots.
The sportswear theme was echoed in UCA Rochester’s Lauren Dutton’s collection of clinical separates in stone and sand shades, all topped with unifying white snapbacks. Collared shirts with sleeves finished at the elbow were paired with pleated shorts and skirts you could play tennis in. Gauze socks and sandals shouldn’t be as chic as they were! The overall result was an intriguing hybrid of formal leisure wear.
Skiing with a touch of motorbike racing were the sports of choice for Stephanie Kitchen of Bath Spa University. The models shared matching goggles, leggings and laced wedge boots which enabled us to focus on the utilitarian layering in between. Jackets were practical with multiple pockets, buckles and added quilting. Kitchen’s biker girls wore their outerwear with graphic printed gloves and sharp cable knit jumpers. In keeping with the functional promise, she further supplied us a transparent raincoat at the end, getting us ready in one collection, for the four seasons.
Kim Phillips from De Montfort tactfully utilised plastic transparency too, to distort and display the patterns and materials of the garments underneath. Her opening down coat moved from checks and florals to trapped yarns in a single seamless gradient. Thicker plastics created a frosted window into the repeated floral pattern. Comforting woollen trims, canine prints and a quilted bulldog riding the back of the closing bomber jacket would certainly keep us warm and fuzzy in the winter.
Distressed fabrics were the essence of Adam Jones’s collection from Manchester Metropolitan University. The peelings on her leather jackets which seemed to have been aggressively bleach dyed and were presented with a matching dress and several trousers formed patterns of their own. The collection was softened by striped soft knits and holographic trims that were worn with pastel brogues.
Knitwear was well represented at this year’s GFW; it certainly was so with Kingston University’s Lucinda Popp’s asymmetrically draped yarns and fuzzy two-piece suits. Complex garments that showed off an undefinable silhouette looked abstract and very comfortable too. Avant-garde loungewear should catch on!
Nolwenn Faligot, also from Kingston, channelled the highwayman to redefine feminine power dressing. Long ominous trench coats with wide lapels were layered over wide-legged trousers and skirts gathered, pleated and ruched all at the same time. The archaic tricornes were replaced with flat top fedoras to evoke a gangster feel. A relatively achromatic collection comprising mostly of separates was distinguished by a waxed coat dress gathered at the waist to exaggerate the curvaceous female form.
Outlaw style also influenced UCLAN’s Alexandra Wilbraham whose denim print on silks evoked a female sheriff. Real denim appeared in patches, mostly to pad out the shoulders and to create heavy fringing. An oversized button fly lined the edge of a maxi skirt. Sheriff badges and leather belts were enlarged, enforcing the authority of the wearer.
Patricia Williams from Ravensbourne looked straight to the future with clean white geometrical silhouettes juxtaposed with interceptions of yellow fur and soft pale mint quilting. This was carried onto the white panels, where a perfect grid had been quilted on and was framed by zips cross-sectioning the garments.
On a nostalgic note, Chen-Yu Wang graduating from Ravensbourne too, revisited childhood with her fuzzy felt collection. Illustrative houses were screen printed onto dresses whilst others in the collection were made three-dimensional, through felt bobbles and discs rising off the surface on A-line dresses and mature baby grows. Some outfits were complete with cuddly toys and pastel-rainbow scarves big enough to be an outfit in their own right.
Ravensbourne peer Josephine Pettman didn’t include any toys with her collection, but lunchboxes with graphics matching those of her psychedelic hand-painted garments featuring cats, dinosaurs and mermaids. One jacket heavily adorned with pin badges which showed upon closer inspection, carried more cute critters from rabbits to smiling love hearts painted upon them.
Istituto Marangoni graduate Nicolas Wirth, presented a collection gracious to traditional feminine dressing. Wirth crafted sweeping evening gowns with tree-prints emerged from a barren landscape which created a bewitchingly glamorous collection. The closing dress was in a burnt orange hue, richer and deeper than the previous in pale golds. The empire line gown was raised at the front, mimicking the bump acquired through pregnancy – and was possibly the most feminine silhouette of them all.
Womenswear is traditionally very versatile and the most willing to allow artistic expression in garment designs. A woman can easily wear garments that appear masculine, feminine or impartially eccentric. With many playful collections kitsch has been truly embraced reminding us that fashion should be, above all things, fun but this year’s selection also showed that women’s fashion can be both avant-garde and traditionally feminine.
Women’s apparel evolves quickly and frequently, sometimes changing drastically between decades. It was enthralling to see which themes the graduates choose to interpret and develop this year. Collectively, they have designed progressive womenswear. Future will tell if their themes are to catch on; I for one embrace their creative visions for the future and will certainly seek some of their designs.
All images taken by Sayuri Standing and Cinsy Tam.