The Central Saint Martins Graduate show is always flocked by the fashion press, excited to see what the next generation of fashion design has to offer. The likes of John Galliano, Christopher Kane, Ashish and Stella McCartney have famously passed through the BA Fashion programme, and that legacy continues today, with graduate designers like Sinead O’Dwyer, Mowalola Ogunlesi and Conner Ives, capturing our imaginations at London Fashion Week. So all eyes are on the 2023 graduates as they will surely break through the establishment as new talents to watch and root for.

Backstage at a fashion show is equally exciting and nail-bitingly full of nervous energy. Designers are hidden away backstage, perfecting the minute details of each look – in this Instagram age, any loose threads or wonky seams will spell disaster at any angle. The hair, the makeup, the lineup, the fine-tuning before each model steps out onto the runway, and the suspense triggers a burst of adrenaline in the final sprint towards the finish line. A lot is riding on these collections, months of preparation and years of anticipation have led to this moment in time; and last night, at the Central Saint Martins BA graduate, you could sense the anticipation tenfold.

With over 100 students presenting their work to a room full of press, alumni and supporters in the atrium of their college, the atmosphere was electric. For most, this was the first time the world outside of the CSM bubble would see their designs, and this accumulation of everything they’ve worked on throughout their degrees, manipulated and evolved over the years, defines their point of view.

Having rehearsed the runway in the week leading up, backstage things were running surprisingly smoothly. The cogs of the CSM machine were clicking into place, practised and professional – the fashion department is pretty familiar with the chaos now, they host the BA show annually and a high-profile version for the esteemed MA course once a year in line with London Fashion Week.

Some designers were laser-focused on their models, adjusting a tuck here and a drape there until the last second with a discerning eye. Others seemed more carefree and exuberant; the end in sight. All were ready to breathe a sigh of relief and move on to the next step in their careers.

Here we capture 5 designers and ask them about their collections in those final key moments before the runway…

Gina Grunwald, BA Fashion Knitwear

What are the key inspirations behind your collection?
Waste. There is so much of it in the world. Just look around. Our surroundings are full of it. It piles up on every corner of the street, and our carelessness makes the Arctic melt away, in the midst of us doing retail therapy. Everything is being swept up in consumption. There is an oddness to it – the young generations are trying to save the world, whilst people in power are destroying it. The collection tries to find beauty and freedom through limitation.

Sustainability is a key element of your practice. How did you make your collection as sustainable as possible?
At the heart of this collection stands extensive material research, with materials from excess climbing gear, fabric scraps from Swiss printing companies, and hand-made knits. Reexploring female craftswomanship through the lens of repurposing industrial waste is my motto.

How would you describe the visual aesthetic of your collection?
Elegant and sporty with a glitch.

Catherine Meyong, BA Fashion Womenswear

What are the key inspirations behind your collection?
The collection – to put it briefly – is a visual analysis of the post-colonial concept of "blackness" and the creation of a racialized hierarchy that positioned black people at the bottom, closer to animals. As the conception of "African culture" being primitive pre-exists in the Western world, I wanted to express this through my clothes by using thrifted horns, upcycled leathers and furs and wings sourced from ethical taxidermists to communicate this in an exaggerated form. This collection is mirroring Western culture and its relationship (past and current) to its own conception of blackness that is dictated by fear, miseducation and ignorance.

Who do you see wearing your collection?
Rihanna at her second baby shower, Tems headed to a fancy dinner in Paris, Dominique R Jackson headed to the local bodega to pick up some oat milk.

What was the hardest part of the process of creating it?
The hardest part was to upcycle heavy upholstery leather remnants and cowhide carpets that are very hard to work without the right machinery. It delays your process but it was a very insightful experience. You also get a lot of damages, undesired smells, and colours vary. So the key to my upcycling process was to start the design process with sourcing the materials. After that is done you design from what you have, and let the colour palettes and silhouettes be dictated by the natural composition of your materials. Also being a vegetarian, it took me a while to get used to working with taxidermy. The smell of dead animals is not the nicest but you learn how to appreciate the natural anatomy of their remains. The ethical taxidermists' community online was extremely helpful in this process and a lot of people helped me and offered me advice throughout the process!

Carson Lovett, BA Fashion Womenswear

What was the inspiration for your collection?
I’m inspired by the work of Illustrator Edmund Dulac, whose portraits transport me to another world. It is inspired by Proust and the Bright Young Things (a raucous crowd of Pre-war London elite, hedonistic, and expressive.)

Is there an overarching theme or narrative?
My collection is my search for a modern bohemianism, which I believe is heavily connected to the vintage and thrift movement of today. We assign meaning to the things we collect, for example, we can feel affectionate toward a pebble given to us by our first love. It's about Meissen-era porcelain, religious fanart, and Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s portraits of Jane Morris. The things I collect, the things I love.

In what ways has your design style changed since you first started your degree, and which elements have stayed the same?
At the beginning of my degree, I didn’t concern myself with confining myself to any sort of limiting identity or aesthetic sensibility. I wanted to learn. Each project was an experiment in something I hadn’t done before, bringing something new to the table. I now have all of these lessons and principles I’ve learned about colour, silhouette, textile and vibe that I can refine my inspiration with. In a sense what is left, is beautiful, it's true, it's not trying to be anything in particular, but many things at once.

Juliette Cottu, BA Fashion Womenswear

What are the key inspirations behind your collection?
The key inspirations behind are, in a nutshell, watersports (working with nature and its elements, being a superhero, having a second self), and fairies (spirituality, the divine feminine, and the power of colour - iridescence): In other words, how coastal culture helps us reconnect to our inner self and magic.
I made the parallel of this after years of watching my mother, father and brother doing windsurfing and kitesurfing on the Mediterranean Sea, flying and floating through the sea. I realised that magic still exists in our world, even amidst hyper-capitalism.

I wish the garments to be fluid and mobile, like water, and mix elegance with comfort and playfulness. I also wanted to enhance the subtle subversion of everyday culture, especially city culture, where fashion is at its height and the freedom and playfulness that naturally occurs and is more 'allowed' on the sea side: playing with nature and its elements, a multitude of rainbow colours, crazy gears and clothes, inflatable toys and sports equipment, embracing your body, getting a tan, fake tattoos, tan lines, tribal-like marks (blue stick suncream) and having a sandy bum while building sand castles, etc. This freedom and subtle subversion is also enhanced by artists such as Coco Chanel with her beach pyjamas or as depicted by Martin Parr.

Who do you see wearing your clothing?
Humans that have fairy, mermaid and magical descent, beach-goers. I also love the singer Raveena and I think she has some magic in her and her music.

How did you go about creating the blow-up pieces, what was that process like?
The idea for the blow-up pieces came about when I started looking at coastal culture, and coastal sceneries. As mentioned, my family has been visiting the coast to do windsurfing since I was a child. My mother, especially, grew up doing this sport and is very good at it (35 years). I was always a little scared of the deep ends and the strong winds, so I started observing closely and noticed, amongst many other beautiful things, all the inflatables present on these beach shores: the inflatable balloons, safety jackets, and the air valves, inside of the kite surf, made of Thermoplastic polyyethureane (which is a biodegradable plastic that disappears in 3 years), that kitesurfers pumped before going to brave the sea.

I got interested in this structure, and how they gave shape to the beautiful and colourful kites, and allowed people to become real-life fairies. So I contacted @kitebarn (Instagram): Richie, from Cornwall, who was kind enough to send me a box of used kite surf valves, that I started experimenting with. I started creating structures. and shapes, that I wanted to be playful with(like the hat, for instance). I made my first hat prototype and then started designing more and more. I wanted to mix the fairy iridescence, so I found a way to print on the plastic to give it these gradients.

The process was very difficult and long, I was on my own and welding the plastic with my iron! It was so difficult that I called Jodoc E, from Digital Inflatables (@digitalinflatables) to get some tips. Later on, when I realised I could never do all these pieces on my own, I sent him my exact designs dimensions, my gradient prints. and technique (translucent colours printed TPU) and he very kindly agreed to make these come true. He normally only does giant inflatable pieces for contemporary artists, concerts, set design etc. He liked the project so agreed to make these little pieces for me. I toiled all the shapes first with papers found in the studio's bins, made the shapes, and then calculated all the dimensions. I then sent him the drawings which he made perfectly.

Yaoyao Huang, BA Fashion Knitwear

What was the inspiration for your collection?
My collection is inspired by my childhood memories of my father who is a chef. I would sit and watch him as he descaled and deboned fish early in the morning, and the colours would shimmer across the room as they were reflected by the metallic surfaces. I was always fascinated by his chef's apron made from metal chips and to me he seemed like one of the anime warriors that we would watch together on television. I decided to create my own version of these chips as the central material for this collection, as I created my own anime warriors. For me, the collection had to be full of colour and full of magic because that is how I remember my father. As I crocheted the chips together one by one, I thought of his ritual and I felt closer to him.

How did you create the metal and knit fabrics?
I designed a metal chip shape and built a mould from which thousands of chips could be made. I then experimented with many different ways of linking these chips with yarns and came up with a crochet technique that allowed the material to behave fluidly. Then I could start experimenting with draping to try and create sculptural garments. Working with metal was such a challenging experience. The prototypes were so heavy and the early laser cut chips were so sharp that my hands were covered in cuts and I wore out dozens of crochet hooks. In the normal making process, a designer would create mockups with simpler materials such as calico and wire, but since no other material really behaves in the same way as mine, every sample and mock-up had to be made with the chips, only to be broken up and reused - a very time-consuming process. Many of the pieces were created and recreated many times, with me only changing a tiny technical detail.

What world does your collection live in?
For me, I was creating cyber metallic angel warriors from the future.

Text and photographs by By Héloïse Shadbolt