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GFW19: A fashion editor's shortlist

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Graduate Fashion Week 2019 has come to a close, but the celebrations aren’t over yet - we’ve been catching up with the designers behind some of our favourite collections. Here, fashion editor Charlie interviews the designers behind her top three collections this year.

Image credit: Lottie Bea Spencer

To make it clear, if I interviewed someone then I loved their collection and I want them to dress me forever. If I included them in this piece, I not only want to wear their collection forever but also want to be the person that designed the collection in the first place. Heck, I’d happily be the collection myself.  

 

One of Cat O'Brien's looks // Video Credit: Charlie Torode, GIF created via GIPHY

I watched two of these three designers’ shows alone, and it was the hardest task in the world not turning to the strangers either side of me and proclaiming my love for the garments before my eyes. Anyway, without further ado, here are my top three collections from GFW19...

Cat O’Brien - UCA Epsom - @catroseobrien

I don’t mean to overreact, but when “Cat’s Coven” made their way down the runway on a weekday evening in London, the exhaustion I felt having been up and about for 13 hours disappeared and I suddenly felt like the most powerful woman in the world.

Details from Look 2 and Look 3 // Image Credit: Evan Peck and Nicholas Kristianseen

This isn’t surprising; Cat’s whole collection is a celebration of strong and sexy women:

“It began as a more serious look into women’s health and period-centric things, with a close relation to people always thinking women were witches for doing anything mildly unusual," Cat says. "It led me to amazing images of Victorian/Edwardian women dressed as witches and bats and I went from there!

"Dressing up in Halloween clothes every day is very my vibe - I love ironic clothes that make you look twice while always being a strong sexy woman, so all the designs are just my little Coven.”

Fishnet tights that so often find themselves the focus of slut-shaming, cats are frequently associated with crazy ladies who haven't been “fortunate” enough to find a man (*insert eye roll here*), and the black lace - so reminiscent of the alleged witchcraft through which women have been persecuted for centuries… all have been reinterpreted and imbued with a strength and assuredness that would make anyone proud to be labelled as slightly batty.

 

Backstage shot // Image Credit: Jade Berry

It’s been a long time coming for Cat, who’s spent most of her life pining after “weird” clothes and drawing designs, and her runway debut certainly wasn’t an anti-climax.

She says: “I’ve always liked weird clothes and used to draw ‘designs’ as a child, but I remember buying a Dazed (& Confused) magazine with amazing Viktor & Rolf tulle couture dresses on the cover when I was about 14 and I was so amazed at the architecture of it - I was like "wow, this is what I want to do." 

“It was surreal to work on something so hard for months and to be so stressed before the show that it all might go out wrong, to then only really see it through the eyes of everyone else’s phones afterwards!”

Bat tailored jacket // Image Credit: Willem Jaspert

Most impressive is her ability to take inspiration from her idols and draw upon her own knowledge and experience without becoming a copy of someone else.

“I did a placement with Dilara Findikoglu last summer," she says. "Her designs have been a huge inspiration to me, as it’s great to see people still focus heavily on historical references while keeping it fresh and with a political undertone. 

“Ideally I want to go into costume design! But who knows what the future holds, I think I’ll be selling bits from the collection on my website www.catobrien.co so watch this space for Cat’s cat bags and corset belts!”

Cat's witch and bat inspiration collage // Image Credit: Cat O'Brien

Perhaps what drew me most to Cat’s collection is the undoubtable authenticity that emanates from her designs: no one but her could’ve put these pieces on a runway.  Although there are many influences - be they aesthetic, political, or historical - at the end of the day Cat’s Coven is just that: Cat’s.

Lanxin Zhang - Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts - @l11n_official

Lanxin “Lexie” Zhang is no stranger to the world of high fashion, having interned at Preen in the run-up to the iconic label’s Fall 2019 show. This experience, she tells me, “was a great opportunity and experience. And of course, their way of combining different materials and spirit of females’ inner strength has always been inspiring me during my own design process.”

Image Credit: Lottie Bea Spencer

And while there are elements of Preen in Lexie’s designs - namely through their shared penchant for tulle, silk, and silhouettes of almost architectural standards - what she put onto the runway in the Truman Brewery was nothing but unique.  

Upon a foundation of alabaster and coconut lay small but striking bursts of candy red detailing, with the exception of one tulle and PVC number that was crimson from the neckline to the hemline. Her collection celebrates this union of vastly different but surprisingly complementary shades, and it doesn’t stop there with its sense of conciliation:

“My inspiration was the clash and integration of different culture, from the east and the west,” Lexie says.

Image Credit: Lottie Bea Spencer

Floral-embossed silk dresses are book-ended by cowboy-style hats and boots, making for an unconventional but harmonious collection. With such singularity comes pressure and nerves, especially for someone so new to the scene:

“I was so nervous at that time, but it was great to see the collection on the runway. [I couldn’t] stop my tears coming out, but everything was awesome and exciting apart from that… for the next step, I'm looking for an internship for design studios because I feel like there's still so much for me to learn in fashion… I would love to learn from working.”

Image Credit: Lottie Bea Spencer

So much to learn there may be, but for now let’s focus on what Lexie’s collection taught us: given the right push, even the most disparate of things can come together so beautifully that you wonder why they were ever separated in the first place.  

Brenda Kuoh Fang Xin - Ravensbourne - @brenda.kuoh

My final designer caught my eye immediately, and I would imagine her collection caught everyone else’s, too - metallic gold and golf-ball sized pearls tend to have that effect on people.  

Image Credit: Olivia Ferrera-Forbes

I’m all for minimalism: put some eucalyptus leaves in a white jar and I’ll probably stick them on my Instagram story. I wouldn’t say no to a quick peruse of the aisles in Arket. But sometimes your girl needs a bit of oomph, and that’s where Brenda Fang Kuoh comes in.  Fashion is in her blood, and she’s been given the freedom to create and innovate for as long as she can remember.

“I’ve always enjoyed sketching, ever since I was little," she says. "I find it to be therapeutic and a medium to express my true self. I also love dressing up and clothes, which ultimately led me to pursue fashion designing - it’s like the best of both worlds for me. 

I consider myself blessed to have parents who are in the fashion production business. The exposure to the industry at a young age sparked this passion in me. I recall fond memories of going to clothing factories with my father, being able to spend time with him while actually see the process of making a garment really caught my attention.

"I owe it all to my father, he always believed in me, wanting me to find my own success, allowing me to pursue fashion overseas. His devotion to his passion for designing and producing has inspired me to follow along his footsteps.”

Image Credit: Olivia Ferrera-Forbes

It’s no wonder Brenda’s collection has oomph, given the inspiration behind it:

My concept is inspired by the film Ocean 8 and the time I was working at Mary Katrantzou. It was right before London Fashion Week, and the studio was loaded with jewels of different sizes, shapes and colours, it almost seemed as though someone had just broken into the place… the movie was about a group of highly trained women of different expertise, plotting to steal a necklace that's worth more than $150 million."

Image Credit: Olivia Ferrera-Forbes

“I was deeply inspired not only by the exquisite pieces in the movie, but also the ideology behind it, which led to the concept of a jewellery heist. The story behind this collection is about these six women venturing on a heist, thoroughly disguised, dressed in an appropriate manner as they try to blend in and target the elite party. I hope to convey the plot throughout my designs, focusing on the use of detail touches and seam finishes to manifest the jewellery heist concept.”

As if this attention to detail wasn’t enough, Brenda has trained with some of the best and their influence is evident in her aesthetic:

“I have interned at Rejina Pyo and Mary Katrantzou, and I would say they both have greatly influenced me in different ways. Rejina Pyo explores dressing as a daily phenomenon. Hence, the silhouette of my pieces are more wearable. On the other hand, Mary Katrantzou inspires me to work with different materials, fabrics and beads.”

Image Credit: Olivia Ferrera-Forbes

One raincoat is transparent and laced with gems, another metallic gold from head-to-toe.  A black crochet number literally drips with pearls, while a high-neck black dress is like Holly Golightly on steroids: classy and figure-forming, but striped with caricature-esque pearls.  In her look book, even Brenda’s models’ hair is braided with these shiny snowy spheres.

The pièce de résistance has to be the glittering gold robber’s sack complete with pearl handle dragged down the runway by an equally as bedazzled model. It’s Santa meets Chanel meets St Trinians in the best way. The audience loved it, but how did the designer feel?

 

Brenda's pièce de résistance // Video credit: Charlie Torode, GIF made via GIPHY

“It was surreal and emotional seeing my collection on the runway at Graduate Fashion Week," Brenda says. "It is the best feeling I’ve ever felt; I'm ecstatic! It feels like all the hard work was worth it when it’s recognised, especially when the feedback was great… I can showcase my work to my family, friends and industry. It's the best way to finish off this chapter of my life.

Putting my design into production and establishing my own brand has always been a dream, but in the next five years, I would like to further perfect my skills in the industry…working possibly as a junior designer or a textile designer, which I believe will be very beneficial for me. I want to gain experience by interacting with designers from an extensive set of creative disciplines and develop design ideas and technical skills from different perspectives.”

Image Credit: Olivia Ferrera-Forbes

This collection may tell someone else’s story, but Brenda’s talent and drive speaks for itself.

So that’s my shortlist from GFW19. I love fashion, that’s no secret, but these collections made me physically ache for the day I can truly make a living from it. There is no feeling better than being utterly captivated by a masterpiece, and Cat, Lexie, and Brenda have created collections that I can’t stop thinking about now - and doubt I will do for years to come. 

For more GFW19 content from us, click here.




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