Photography: Giovanni Corabi
“Respect Our Existence or Expect Our Resistance.” The message was clear, as it stomped down the runway on the back of student designer Camilla Holmes’ garment. However, only a portion of the audience at the Central Saint Martins BA fashion show last week was privy to the event which Holmes’ garment unintentionally foreshadowed.
#EncoreCSM, as it has been named, took place outside the annual BA fashion show at 1 Granary. The event was a peaceful protest, addressing the school’s selection process that reduces a class of more than 150 students to a slim 40. Only the work of these selected students is shown to the press during the year’s final fashion show. Those who had not been chosen for the press show, however, showed their work in unison just outside the venue doors.
“Not every designer was involved, but I would estimate about 40 to 50 out of 100 who weren’t chosen for the press show did participate,” said Hannah Rosenburg (CSM BA Textiles 2015), who modeled her friend Junebook Boggie Rhee’s design during the protest. “It was mostly a scramble to find models to participate, as there were hundreds of designs to be shown. Some designers who couldn’t find enough models either only showed partial collections or simply wore one design themselves.”
The students’ manifesto was printed on flyers to make their intention clear: “Congratulating our 40 friends on the Press Show, we have come together to organize a student-run showcase of our work to represent the other 100+ students who were unable to show their work to the press. Our aim is for equal representation in support of current and future students on the BA Fashion Pathway. This is a positive message for students not to be discouraged with the university selection process, and a way for the public to see the diversity, hard work and talent of the whole year group together.”
This was a powerful sight, but what is perhaps the most impressive part of this protest was that these students chose to assert their collective respect for their peers, rather than simply dissent their collective frustration with the school. The focus was solidarity.
Looking at photos, it’s not exactly clear why the students who participated in the press show were selected over those who weren’t. Each student’s collection was utterly unique, and to pin one against another is a major misfortune. There is no better in fashion—there is no worse. In today’s world of too many choices, there is only style and taste: two entirely subjective concepts. No institution should have the power to limit an audience’s access to choice, or to determine which collections are valuable when every student has met the standards set by the school to receive a BA in fashion design.
It is the job of an undergraduate program to prepare its students for either a graduate program or the workforce. How though, can you prepare someone for an industry on the brink of massive overhaul? Anyone who is paying attention knows that change has been in the air for quite some time. The era of the singular fashion superstar is behind us. Collaboration and cooperation are on trend for the next generation. Schools need to stop preparing their students for the industry as it has been and start preparing them for the industry that will be.
“That’s another issue which I find very unfair,” Rosenburg said. “Only fashion students are chosen for the press show, even though many textile design students make garments or even entire collections.” Rosenberg’s thought on the subject highlights how fashion-minded students across all disciplines share this frustration. “Fashion education is a difficult topic because it sits right at the border of artistic and business sensibilities. The mistake many schools make is placing all the focus on one of these aspects, so either too much technical detail without the creative element of vice versa. It’s hard to find a balance that caters to both types of design students: the ones bound for couture houses and the mass-market high street breed.”
While St. Martins’ students are certainly bold and deserving of praise, they’re not the only ones calling for change. “Le Salon de Refuses” was a similar event organized by Parsons BFA student Leila Jinnah on the same night as the Parsons Fashion Benefit. A group of 31 BFA fashion grads showcased their work on a repurposed stripper platform at The Westway, While the intention of this event was not as clearly spelled out as that of #encorecsm, the fact that it was meant as a departure from Parsons’ usual fashion show was overwhelmingly clear.
“Honestly, the environment in school is very competitive and at times cold,” said Jinnah. “That is to be expected in any large university. We decided to dissociate [‘La Salon de Refuses’] with Parsons as much as possible. This show was not about competition; it was about 30 hard working, intelligent people celebrating nine months of incredibly hard work. What better place to do that than in a nightclub with all of your friends and family?”
There is a trend happening here: a group of USC grad students made headlines when they decided to collectively drop out of their MFA program in unison last month. At the School of the Art Institute of Chicago a group of juniors carefully drafted a proposal that called for an overhaul of the senior curriculum that they are facing next year. Change has been lingering in the air for quite some time in the world of fashion and art education, and as the inhabitants of that world, students want and deserve change now.