Graduate Fashion Week: Showing A Womenswear Fashion Collection
Graduate Fashion Week
The dream us students have when we’re still studying for our fashion degree is to show our final collections at Graduate Fashion Week. Nobody tells you about the cost involved. Both time and monetary.
When I decided to go and study fashion design as a mature student, it was to have the ‘bit of paper’ that said I could do it. I had grown up sewing, knitting and crocheting. Taught from a young age by both my Ma and my Gran, it was ‘normal’ for me to see sewing taking place in the home on a daily basis.
We would sew dresses, skirts and aprons. Hats, gloves, and jumpers were knitted. My Ma was prone to crocheting incredibly large and heavy blankets – I even have the monochrome one she made for me wrapped around me as I write this!
So you can see that I was used to being around others who worked with the creation of different textiles.
Maybe this is why at the after show party during Graduate Fashion Week, my tutor Babs told me yet again that I was a textile designer more than a fashion designer? It is an accusation that has stayed with my ever since, only now I make sure to use my interest and excitement in different textiles to create new and interesting ideas within my fashion collections.
My Own Work
I have been asked why there is very little of my own work up here on The Creative Curator. And in all honesty, it is because I feel uncomfortable blowing my own trumpet. I’ve never been very good at stepping forward, waving my hands about and shouting ‘Yoohoo, look at ME!’… It just doesn’t come naturally.
What I have come to realise in the four months since The Creative Curator focused on fashion creation only, is that you need to see my work to know that I am able to teach you. After all, you wouldn’t hire an architect to design a house based on him writing that he knew how right? Why should I expect you to trust what I am saying here on these pages, just because I can write about it?
Graduate Fashion Week Textiles
So to start off, I thought I’d go back to my Graduate Fashion Week collection. The collection at the start of my third year was the one where my tutor said I was starting to think like a designer. I had worked with both leather and furry fabrics and then incorporated weaving as the main fabric manipulation technique for that collection.
Being that it had worked out well for me, I decided that for my final year major project I would incorporate the same weaving technique, only using different raw materials.
Final Project Research
I had started the project research while in Mustique for work over the Christmas break. I was still nannying part time to pay my way through school, and 10 days in Mustique over christmas and the New Year would be a great cash injection into a course that had already cost me thousands.
The island of Mustique is very quiet, and beautiful. There were a lot of traditionally woven items; basket weaving and the like. There were also a lot of lace curtains, and lace table clothes which I thought were terribly feminine and could somehow be incorporated into my visual research.
For a few months previously I had been binge watching The Wire, an HBO television series. I loved the masculine silhouettes and the way the clothing worn in the show, and by gangsters in general, was used as a sort of uniform. More utilitarian in order to hide their ‘tools of the trade’. If you are going to sell drugs and have possible need for a sawn off shotgun, you are going to need an oversized silhouette in order to try and hide the evidence right?
I wondered if maybe marrying the masculine oversized shapes from the tv show with the hyper feminine lace and weaving techniques might work well?
The thought had me reaching for my sketchbook, and fabric supplies. I started to brain storm some ideas on paper, and then experimented with different fabric manipulation techniques. Small samples, to pop into a folder. I would need to hold them, work them between my fingers when designing, pin them to my dress stand.
I bonded lace between layers of latex/PVC to get that plasticised table cloth effect.
I found different sized spacer fabrics – usually seen as padding on cycle helmets, and rucksack straps! – and wove leather strips through for hours on end, trying to achieve a similar look to the woven pieces I had seen in Mustique.
I scanned different lace samples into my computer and played around with them in Illustrator until it was no longer recognisable, before sending it to the laser cutter. This experimentation in laser cutting both denim and leather was great fun!
With the research from The Wire complete, and many many images printed off to be used for reference, I was now in a position to really start developing my design ideas in two dimensional format.
I created about 100 design sketches, using only the visual images for inspiration. This is a really monotonous period. The project brief tells you to attend your next tutorial with 100 rough designs, and you have to have 100 ROUGH DESIGNS. If you have design block? Too bad. No exceptions! So, I would look at one reference photo and sketch out five crappy ideas on the layout paper. Then the next photo? Same thing. After 20 pages of doing this, you have 100 designs. Rough designs, but hey… this is a process! 🙂
These would be laid out on my desk and focused down to about 20 that had potential. I would then take those twenty ideas and expand upon them, this time thinking about the fabrics I had sampled, and how they could influence the design process.
Initial Line Up
Once I had another fifty designs completed, it was time to focus down again and decide on an initial line up. A lineup is a collection of outfits – not just separate pieces – that work together cohesively.
Pulling up to twelve ‘looks’ from fifty is a tricky proposition, but it is essential for Graduate Fashion Week. There are only so many students that can show their work for their university, and competition is high. Being able to really edit the collection is important, but fortunately we had out tutors to hand to help with this aspect.
Throughout the 2D research process, ideas and shapes are being developed on the stand. One of my looks included a trench coat. This meant I needed to know how a trench coat was constructed. I went off and researched the history of the trench coat, and added the reference photos to my sketchbook. I then bought a second hand trench and deconstructed it. I even invested in a vintage burberry trench coast, what with them being so iconic, and made detailed notes on the construction used to make it.
I photographed the process of everything, and then made notes. What if the storm flap at the back did this? What if I didn’t have pockets after all? What if I opted for set in sleeves instead of raglan sleeves?
There are so many possible variations when it comes to design than you really do need to incorporate 3D research too, in order to better understand what is possible, and what is not.
With the line up ready, it is time to start pattern making. This is another favourite aspect for me. As my overall silhouette was oversized and masculine, I used a men’s shirt block as a starting point. I needed to create quite a few oversized outerwear garments and there would be consistency if I used the same block for these.
Once the initial patterns are ready, it was a case of toiling them ready for the first fitting. This is done in basic calico, and in ‘shell’ form too, so that there isn’t wasted effort in adding in details at this point. After all, the design could change drastically once on the model.
Marking Up The Toile
During the fitting, both myself and the tutors who were present would make marks on the toile. It would be pinned in by the course pattern cutter Annette when I had something ‘wrong’. The 3rd year tutor Barbara would make suggestions, and use a heavy marker to draw onto the toile.
Modifying The Pattern
I would then step away after the fitting, bash my head against a wall for a bit, before making the changes to the pattern I had created before. This is why we NEVER cut up a working pattern, only the development pattern. I was a thorough student – and so passionate about pattern making – that I would write the pattern changes to be made on the one pattern, date the changes, and then make a new pattern based on those changes.
I needed to know I could refer back to them later on when I had more time to understand why I had been told to make the changes.
Once the patterns and been modified, and the new toiles made, it would be time for fitting number two. This fitting would be even more intense. Garments at this point would be a fully finished toile. Everything from top stitching, to pocket placement would need to be perfectly sewn in the calico form.
Again, there could still be modifications made at this point, but usually it would be minor things.
With the overall collection now consisting of 6 outfits, it is time to create the different looks in the final fabrics. We would need to have three fully finished outfits, and two finished in calico in order to go forward for the Graduate Fashion Week selection process. I was low on funds, low on time, and thought I didn’t stand a chance, so I worked at a steady pace and went to the ‘presentation’ with three half finished looks and three calico shells.
The hand weaving techniques I had decided to use were taking FOREVER and I realised that it was unlikely I would finish my collection for the marking of the project, let alone for the Graduate Fashion Week show.
The problem was, they LOVED it. We waited for a few days to find out, but there it was. My name, Eve Tokens, on the list of students selected to show their final collections at Graduate Fashion Week.
Funding The Collection
Clearly this hadn’t been on my plan. I hadn’t considered that I might get selected. I didn’t have the budget to finish my collection. And now I had to find the money to buy more fabrics and leathers.
I decided to set up a GoFund me page, and emailed everyone in my address book. That evening, when the page went live, I made my target of £2500. I was astounded. I kept running into my flatmate’s room every time my phone ‘pinged’ and I had a new pledge. It was incredible that I had so many people believing in me, and helping me to achieve what I thought would be impossible.
Finishing The Collection
With the money now available I was able to buy the remaining fabrics I would need. The main one being the latex/PVC mic I was using to bond the lace. At £24 per meter, and needing two metres to make just one metre of fabric, it was an expensive choice. But nothing else has been able to bond as perfectly. The different lace fabrics I had chosen to use – at the insistence of my tutors – were £52 per meter for the cream trousers, £26 per metre for the pink trench, and £36 and £16 per meter for the doubled up parka.
Then there was the laser cutting costs too. And the cost of the lamb nappa which was soft enough to weave with, but silly expensive for a fashion student on a budget!
I also decided to get help finishing the collection. Not by going out and having it manufactured elsewhere – I was a strong believer in a design student making their collection themselves in order to leave university with a full skill-set. What I did do, was engage three first-year students as interns, so that they could see first hand what would be required of them two years later. And those three students? All graduated with their own amazing collections under their belt!
Styling The Collection
The final thing nobody tells you about when it comes to showing a collection at Graduate Fashion Week is the cost of styling. Not only do we as students have to buy all the fabrics for our collection, but we also need to consider what the models will wear on their feet, what jewellery or accessories they might be using. You see, this is how it is done in the fashion world.
Marc Jacobs doesn’t just knock up 40 different designs, put them on one model wearing one pair of shoes and take 40 different photos. Nope. Each of those models will need shoes for her foot size. There will be a stylist as part of the design team who looks at the collection as a whole, but also the individual looks, and decides what would ‘add something’ to that look. Make it special. Make it desirable. Give it a finished wow factor, to make the buyers want to buy into the brand.
That is what we had to do for Graduate Fashion Week, but on a much smaller scale.
Why? Because at every year at Graduate Fashion Week, there are awards, lots of awards… The big ones are:
- The gold award (now renamed the Christopher Bailey Gold Award) for the best collection
- The M&S Womenswear award for the best womenswear collection
- The Debenhams Menswear Award for the best menswear collection.
Then there are the smaller awards, which cover EVERYTHING from design, to new media and even new business. The entire list can be seen on the Graduate Fashion Week website, but I’ll just focus on the design / textile ones for now!
- Matalan Visionary Knitwear Award
- N Brown Textile Award
- David Band Textiles Award
- Vivienne Westwood Ethical Award
I was nominated by my university for the David Band Textiles award, but unfortunately I was backstage getting ready for the show when my work on the university stand was visited, and one of the requirements was to be present with your work. To say I was gutted at not being there was an understatement!
Life After Graduate Fashion Week
It was such an incredible experience to take part in such a big event, representing my university on this national stage. I know that there were many from my year who didn’t make it through, and were devastated, so it was imperative that I made the most of showing my collection there.
After graduating I continued my education by interning. I spent time in the studios of Peter Pilotto, Hardy Amies, Roland Mouret and several freelance designers and pattern makers too.
Finally, I decided to set up my own sustainable fashion brand, GWEN&SYD, as a way to continue on my fashion design path.
Til next time…
RECOMMENDED READ: If you loved this post on creating a fashion collection for Graduate Fashion Week, why not check out my Create Your Own Fashion series? Part One is Here. Or there is my Learn Sewing post here. Finally, why not check out my Pattern Making Basics Series here?
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