Christopher Kane, MA show, 2006

Courtesy of Central Saint Martins Museum and Archive

Lights! Cam­era! Fash­ion! Cen­tral Saint Mar­tins in all its glory

‘Fashion Central Saint Martins’ details the rich history of the London school’s famed alumni, past and present. But what does it take to walk down the famous halls, and what does the future look like for CSM?

No one had done a book on CSM Fash­ion before,” says Hywel Davies, Pro­gramme Direc­tor for Fash­ion at Cen­tral Saint Mar­tins and co-edi­tor of Fash­ion Cen­tral Saint Mar­tins: the 270-page cel­e­bra­tion of arguably the most suc­cess­ful depart­ment in the Lon­don art-cum-fash­ion school. 

It’s hard to believe con­sid­er­ing the army of glit­ter­ing alum­ni hav­ing stomped down the cor­ri­dors and – unde­ni­ably – shaped British fash­ion. Alexan­der McQueen, Christo­pher Kane, John Gal­liano, Charles Jef­frey, Mol­ly God­dard, Grace Wales Bon­ner… Sounds like a Fash­ion Week sched­ule, doesn’t it? Per­haps there’s some­thing in the water.

Fairy dust!” says BA Fash­ion His­to­ry and The­o­ry course leader and co-edi­tor of the book Cal­ly Black­man. It’s the ethos of the teach­ing, the fact that so many of the staff are alum­ni. It’s a self-con­tin­u­ing phi­los­o­phy that we car­ry on, and it just seems to work.”

It does. And the self-con­tin­u­ing phi­los­o­phy” that drove count­less stu­dents to become house­hold names is detailed in the anec­dotes, sketch­book scans, inter­views and love-let­ters to the school print­ed in the book’s pages.

CSM has nev­er fol­lowed a zeit­geist. It’s always looked out, nev­er in, and the con­tri­bu­tions in the book are a tes­ta­ment to an atti­tude that has gained the col­lege a rep­u­ta­tion that bud­ding cre­atives will flock from all around the world for – trust­ing CSM will gain them an entry into the fierce­ly com­pet­i­tive world of fash-un.

But how exact­ly do tutors know a good stu­dent when they see one? It’s not just about tal­ent. It’s also about com­mit­ment, hard work, ambi­tion and net­work,” says Davies. It’s not always the most tal­ent­ed stu­dents that do well after­wards. It’s all those things that have to fit togeth­er at a cer­tain point.”

For Black­man, it’s more spe­cif­ic. For me, it’s real­ly impor­tant that stu­dents are curi­ous. Either you’re curi­ous or you’re not. Curios­i­ty is a fun­ny thing.”

In the dig­i­tal age, you have to won­der how stu­dents are keep­ing up with the pres­sures of mak­ing up to six col­lec­tions a year, along­side the very obvi­ous over-expo­sure grant­ed through social media. Stu­dents have so much pres­sure because every­thing can be seen and there’s that pres­sure to put every­thing you do on Insta­gram. People’s expec­ta­tions become much high­er. It’s tough,” says Davies.

Riccardo Tisci, BA 1999

Courtesy of Central Saint Martins Museum and Archive

But while the speed of pro­duc­tion might be tougher, and the pres­sures of social media drain­ing, the old school hor­ror sto­ries of teach­ers scream­ing at stu­dents dur­ing the dread­ed crit are, appar­ent­ly, a thing of the past. The men­tal well­be­ing of stu­dents has become an increas­ing­ly con­sid­ered fac­tor in the work of tutors there.

The days of scream­ing at stu­dents – you don’t do that any­more,” Davies says. You have to be much more mature and sen­si­tive. Some­times stu­dents have so many oth­er things going on in their lives that chal­lenge the way they can be here. It’s a very dif­fer­ent world now from when I was a stu­dent,” says Davies ( And that’s a good thing,” Black­man adds).

The future looks bright for CSM. Fash­ion Cen­tral Saint Mar­tins may be detail­ing pre­dom­i­nant­ly the past, but with every new year comes a new set of bud­ding stu­dents with bright ideas, ready to push the boat further.

So lap up the nos­tal­gia and rev­el in the his­to­ry. But in the grand tra­di­tion of CSM: look for­ward, nev­er back.


The book is pub­lished through Thames & Hud­son and can be pur­chased here. All pro­ceeds will go to the CSM Fash­ion Fund.


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