White, netting, cotton, leather, blue, yellow, knit, embroidery, applique: these-with the addition of ‘Alt J’ which was playing overhead-are the very basic notes Clash made about Lauren Smith’s collection during the Best of Graduate Fashion Week show on Wednesday afternoon. Later that day the Edinburgh College of Art graduate would go on to win the coveted GFW George Gold Award and a prize of £20,000.
Graduate Fashion Week is the annual exhibition of students work from over 30 universities across the country. Somewhere in-between Clothes Shows Live and London Fashion Week, it has the carpeted floors and unnerving bright lights of the former but also the bloggers bearing DSLR’s and high profile names of the latter. Entry does not require a Jonathan Saunders printed lanyard but a small stamp from a lipstick like cylinder, and the host is not the scenic Somerset House but Earls Court Two.
The large venue boasts numerous stands plus The Space, where Colin McDowell hosts a daily chat show (ok, Q&A session) with industry insiders. Guests such as Henry Holland and Mary Katrantzou pass through the doors, while Victoria Beckham made a surprise visit on the final day. The stands see ironing boards, taxidermy and neon leather portfolios all decorate specific spaces in a bid to beckon to visitors. University of Salford’s Fashion Image Making and Styling course have their A3 portfolio’s open wide, smothering three tables. It makes for a strong introduction, and is supported by the work inside; Amy Lidgett, Fia Yaqub and Georgia Bryan all get our vote.
On the catwalk, Hannah Williams is the designer that really catches our eye. Her pastel coloured latex creations use both sides of the fabric and wobble like jelly as the models pass by. There’s a violet two-piece and a camel trompe l'oeil dress resembling a coat, plus a few pieces in simple white. Frayed hems and loose shapes offer a sense of ease while the detail that covers the chest suggests something harder went into the production. The UCA Epsom graduate later wins both the womenswear award and the award for innovation.
From the international show, Angus Chiang from Shih Chien University of Taiwan presents amazing Mexican inspired spacesuits. The brightest colours, fantastic appliqued textures and a mirrored space helmet are really something else. Lauren Dutton of UCA Rochester sends models out in Birkenstocks, paired with her pleated skirts and loose tops in blue, grey and white cotton; a tennis theme surrounds the collection but doesn’t suffocate it.
Some of those who showed work in 2012 have returned on the other side, one of which is Claire Acton. Alongside Jess Piper and Chloe Jones, Claire’s BA collection was reinterpreted via the G21 collection by George at Asda, and this year Claire is stationed at the G21 stand. “This year I got to experience it as a whole, be involved in a different way, “ she says. “Last year was such a blur.” Claire continues, “The gala show was amazing this year, I thought there was a variety of styles and techniques to suit all tastes!” Her favourite of the week? “I saw the most amazing jacket from Rose Bair from Ravensbourne, it was covered in see through pockets and each had a My Little Pony inside, that was a fun collection!” Obviously excited to be back at the place that kick started her career, Claire displays an encouraging attitude that is shared in the surrounding atmosphere. It’s hard not to be impressed, or perhaps a little jealous.
Words and photography: Zoe Whitfield