GFW 2013 From Both Ends of the Catwalk
On Wednesday morning, on the fourth and last day of Graduate Fashion Week (GFW), a rewarding sense of having survived so far hit us, graduating fashion students and humble crew members. During the previous 3 days, 21 UK Universities had presented an approximate total of 400 graduate collections out of which a 25 had been selected to go down the ‘Best Of’ catwalk to face the final jury which was to decide the prizes to be awarded during the evening Gala Show.
My name is Sayuri. I’m not a fashion design graduate; I did not compete at GFW for an Award. I’m a first year Fashion Communication and Promotion student at Nottingham Trent University. I attended GFW as a photography intern for the event itself, my role: to provide images to aid the selection process that finished on the previous night Tuesday. After three days on a platform, squished between a National Press tripod and the barrier marking the photographer’s pit at the end of the catwalk; I was surprised to still be standing. Thankfully I was once again, able to move freely, my camera skills no longer required, and I was invited to assist the dressing team backstage for the most important show of the whole event.
Prior to starting my course I had trained in studio photography. The skills gained had previously proved helpful to get placement opportunities. Yet, I was surprised, after applying for the volunteering role advertised on Twitter, not only to get a positive reply but to hear that Graduate Fashion Week had “the perfect role” for me. Yes, my experience at GFW is the latest and probably most prestigious addition to my CV!
I was a little anxious for my first day of work, to the point where I couldn’t eat. But I saved my appetite; I was about to be literally spoon fed the most innovative fashions by models walking one by one, the runway straight up to my camera, almost non-stop for three days. By Tuesday evening with the closing Kingston show, I felt bloated with inspiration. It seems I excessively indulged in nothing but avant-garde ideas for twelve hours each of those previous days. One would easily assume I did eventually glaze over and stop acknowledging the subjects in front of me. Even now though, I can clearly recall the acidic kitsch of the De Montfort show collections, the new-millennial disco soundtrack that lifted spirits at UCLAN and the theatrical production for the Instituto Marangoni show.
All in all, once I formed a routine, my days were surprisingly easy going to the point where I felt I could do this as a day job. I had covered a few catwalks in the past, including Hyper Japan last year and the Nottingham Trent Graduate show held at Uni, but GFW presented the biggest learning curve. So here is a tip for any newbie event photographers: don’t forget duct tape and a foldable stool – they are almost as important as your camera is.
Not all photographers had arrived for the Bournemouth show, the first of the event, misleading me into a false sense of comfort. Once GFW was in full swing the photographer’s pen became really hectic. I quickly realised I needed the duct tape to mark my territory and make the fight for space easier the following days. The foldable stool would have proved useful had I missed my front row slot – which thankfully did not happen! For health and safety reasons floor staff didn’t enjoy the press hounds sneaking outside of our restricted space to shoot.
On Wednesday morning, on the fourth and last day of Graduate Fashion Week (GFW), a rewarding sense of having survived so far hit us, graduating fashion students and humble crew members.
Constantly focused through my camera’s viewfinder, I did start noticing several themes recurring in the student collections. If I were to deduce a trend purely through quantitative research I can confidently say that clear plastic, Quality Street foils, pompoms and boxy silhouettes are upcoming trends. Once I switched posts round the other side of the stage for the final Gala show however, not many of these attributes appeared in the dressing racks. Designs such as Nottingham Trent’s Thea Sanders’s elaborate knits inspired by Islamic tiling won the Stuart Peters Knitwear Award. Epsom’s Hannah Williams’s jewellery detailing on smooth latex dresses won for Womenswear, whilst Lauren Smith of Edinburgh’s sketchbook transfers took it all with the £20,000 George Gold Award.
Personal favourites on the ‘Best Of’ Show that didn’t quite make it all the way to an Award, included French Revolution oil paintings printed onto Nottingham Trent’s Adnan Ebo’s menswear collection and slightly similar retro Chinese paintings framed amongst coloured foil created by UCLAN’s Emily Hughes. De Montfort’s Kelly Frost’s acidic backlash to a Lisa Frank childhood proved very photogenic. I found the colourful collections a joy to capture for that reason but on the last day when I swapped my job as photographer to become dresser, I came to appreciate more muted collections such as that of Rochester’s Lauren Dutton. Up close I was able to notice how structural the pleats were in her stone-coloured, tailored sportswear creations. Likewise with Adam Jones of Manchester, I really wanted his lilac-grey wool trousers when I saw them hanging on our model Ariane’s dressing rack.
My biggest challenge of the day however, was to assist with one of the more complex designs that made the ‘Best Of’ show – the silicone dresses created by Epsom’s Hannah Williams. These pastel pieces featured supremely intricate embroidery moulded onto the rest of the garments creating a trompe-l’oeil effect. Once again, because of the pale colouring, my camera didn’t justify the meticulous craftsmanship that went into her collection, but be thankful for the trained eyes of the GFW judges as she deservedly went on to pick up the prize for Fashion Innovation on top of her Womenswear Award.
I get told time and time again via lectures and through extra-curricular trend forecasting workshops, to prepare and embrace for the technological revolution. I can’t say many of this year’s collections corresponded to these 2014 reports and it just goes to show how pure whimsical imagination continue to inspire us even if counter zeitgeist. A few collections deservedly won a prize because of this but I am still questioning if I will next season, see anyone wearing carnation-covered spacesuits such as those in Angus Chiang’s winning International Show collection. In an age of fast disposable fashion, students who like him handcrafted entire collections made me appreciate fashion for the honourable craft it truly is.
I would like to thank Graduate Fashion Week for enabling me to capture the 80 GB of student innovation that currently consumes my hard drive; it will prove valuable inspiration for my studies in the new term. Backstage or pit, it has been a pleasure and I will happily do it all again next year with duct tape a foldable stool, if they let me.