When, on the night of 2 February 2012 the crowds braved a freezing night, a horde of paparazzi, and a hectic registration desk at the Victoria & Albert Museum with the intention to see London College of Fashion's latest MA graduate cohort, they had no idea that they were in for a terrific treat. Amongst those anxious to see the new talent of one of the most prestigious fashion schools in the world were British Fashion Council Chairman Harold Tillman, Rt Hon Home Secretary Theresa May, artist Grayson Perry, TV presenter and radio DJ Lauren Laverne, blogger Susie Lau, DJ Jodie Harsh, and bevy of celebrities and fashion editors.
The runway show featured 23 graduates whose work confirmed that the London College of Fashion (LCF) is not resting on the laurels it has been garnering over the recent years. The garments paraded throughout the show confirmed that the majority of LCF's 2012 graduates have not only worked extremely hard but have learnt the lessons that they were supposed to master. The awareness and command of historical trends and techniques was evident in the manifold ways in which graduates treated them as solid bases to develop their unique touches. Everywhere, one could see the inspiration that personalities and brands such as Mugler, Celine, Stella McCartney, Jil Sander and Alexander McQueen had on the work of these promising graduates. Numerous features developed by past designers were investigated with gusto, including complex embroidery, column dresses, oversized overcoats with drooped shoulders, asymmetric constructions, fabric panelling, and, most of all, experimenting with textures and innovative fabrics.
In womenswear, Melanie Anayiotos, an American-Cypriot from New York and a graduate of Fashion Design from Parsons The New School for Design, produced an accomplished and elegant collection of minimalist garments dotted with details of embellishment and interest. Anayotos's collection featured neutral colours of black, ink blue, nude and cream, interspersed with gold, creative pattern cutting, hidden stitching and hand crafted printing and texture. The silhouettes were oversized with an attention to effortlessness and ease; some more emphasised and structured than (the softer) others, although all showed a rounded appearance with curved sloped shoulders.
All pieces were lined with silk, creating a feeling of luxury that, at times, contrasted with the draping 'wrinkles' of fabric developed by Anayotos as a literal translation of the human skin. In addition, the garments were constructed in a complex way by resorting to fewer seams than normal and the pattern pieces were larger than expected and folded around on each other. These techniques were purposefully used to create rounded edges that evoked the body's natural curves and suggested the notion that the garment is an elegant extension of the wearer's skin and flesh.
British Charlotte Simpson (who won the Zandra Rhodes Catwalk Textiles prize at Graduate Fashion Week when she completed her BA degree in 2009) showed a luxurious yet wearable and dramatic collection of seductive eveningwear and beaded gowns. Ivory, champagne and moments of blush pink formed the palette for a range of garments where the complex hand embroidery completed in India suggested simultaneously a Winter wonderland of intricate icicles and intestinal villi.
Mei Tang's collection, with elegant garments made of cut-out leather pieces and delicate lace, was also particularly strong. Details such as oversized pill box hats covered in large lace added to the charm of Tang's designs.
However, and justifying the reputation that LCF has developed over the years, it was in menswear that talent shone at its best.
Jianfeng Huang (from Beijing, China) developed a bold men's collection that featured a palette of black and white exclusively. This was a collection that owed its inspiration to Op Art and featured bobble hats, graphic patterns, patchwork fabrics, and digital printing. The complex relationships between the graphic angles in Huang's clothes were present in straight lines that became curved, digital prints that led to zigzags, and chessboard styles.
Tsz Fung Kwok, from Hong Kong, is not a stranger to having his talent recognised: he won the Hong Kong Design Talent Award upon graduating from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 2009, and was nominated for the Top 15 Asian Fashion Designers (in the student category) by WGSN. For his final collection at the LCF's MA Fashion Design Technology Menswear, Kwok displayed a range of garments featuring leather and neoprene textiles with bold choices of colour such as black, red, purple, orange and midnight blue hues.
espite claiming that his collection was inspired by Egyptian culture, it is clear that Kwok owes a great deal to the work that Thierry Mugler developed in the late 1980s. What separates Kwok from Mugler, however, was the way in which Kwok used digital printing to generate spray paint patterns with moments of bold starburst zigzags, colour grading, and tie dye effects. The collection also included solid black patent hats that brought to mind traditional raincoat caps. Created using 3D technology, the oversized hats contrasted with the sharp silhouettes of Kwok's suits and overcoats to create a playful effect.
Sum Yu Li showed a highly accomplished collection where a dominant pearly off-white colour and occasional touches of grey and beige were used in incredibly rich textured fabrics such as leather and wool. The shape and colours of Li's chunky knitwear pieces were extremely original and outstanding in the way that they pushed the boundaries of traditional menswear.
Like many of this year's graduates, Jie Liang also explored the complex structures and creative possibilities of wrinkled and pleated man-made fabrics. In a range of black and blues, Liang resorted to laser cutting to develop abstract cut-out shapes reminiscent of lace.
Wang Ying Lo, from Hong Kong, offered a relaxed silhouette with the use of neutral tones accentuated by black throughout. This was a collection replete of references to different world cultures: asymmetrical trousers of varying lengths, draping and long tunics worn with trousers evoked karate robes and traditional Korean dress, while each look was topped with a black leather fez.
Austrian Tina Elisabeth Reiter was responsible for an outstanding collection that won her this year's LCF's Menswear Collection of the Year Award. Reiter's clothes evoked traditional male and female Austrian folk dress with nineteenth century features such as puffed shirt and jacket sleeves. Culottes, which looked like flowing kilts, were presented in peat green, charcoal and a textured gold, creating a wallpaper effect. The entire collection looked worn and the way in which it evoked a past era made it perfect (in an ironic yet constructive way) to be shown at the V&A. Nevertheless, the faded and traditional undertones of Reiter's garments were made modern, fresh and innovative by resorting to clever texture layering and pattern cutting.
Byung Mun Seo showed a masterful collection where a palette of grey and black was used to create a nostalgic imagery of British gentry as interpreted by twentieth century urban subcultures such as punks and neo-romantics. Contrasting fabrics (from Price of Wales wool to vinyl, including rougher flannel and knitted wool) were draped and layered to create very elegant and sombre clothes to clad a twenty-first century gentleman.
At the end of the show, as the Raphael Gallery emptied and guests made their way to the after-party where a much-deserved celebration was provided for this year's LCF graduates, one could not help but feeling elated and considering that this was indeed a great night at the museum. Despite the formal elegance of tradition and heritage provided by the V&A, the 'Poemtry' show confirmed that the contemporary fashion world will most certainly not be devoid of competent fresh talent for years to come.