Extended version taken from the new print issue of THE FACE. Get your copy here.
As the pandemic kicked in around two years ago, Central Saint Martins’ BA and MA Fashion graduates succumbed to digital presentations to show off their final collections – a cruel outcome after four years of serious studio time, student debt and hard graft. But last summer, the art school breathed new life into British fashion by presenting one of the first proper runway shows since the pandemic hit pause on audiences fashion industry-wide.
Among them was Seli Korsi, an unassuming womenswear designer from southeast London. A little shy, very polite and mega-talented, Korsi picked up the L’Oréal Professionnel Young Talent Award last year, which has previously been awarded to ex-students Grace Wales Bonner, Richard Quinn and Fashion East’s Goom Heo.
But CSM’s Big Return to runways was a little different. While students presenting at the CSM BA show – the only BA graduate show with a slot at London Fashion Week – in previous years were carefully selected by the art school’s tutors, narrowed down from around 100 to 25, the Class of ’21 presented their collections. Well, one piece from them, modelled by the student’s themselves. It was a bold show, with one student on stilts, a duo in some conjoined siamese position and a (sort of) wearable dress made out of 600 duck eggs – sans duckling. Not for sitting.
Korsi’s piece was a knockout, merging his fine art background with a costumed theatricality that really hit the sweet spot. Large in volume, it looked like a warrior suit complete with a cape, ballooned trousers and padded undergarments. Like a painting brought to life, the designer layered using whimsical fabrics with 3D-ish holograms printed on top to psychedelic effect. Prior to the BA show, the designer had been posting snippets to his Instagram account, with captions like “Who knows what’s irl or a dream anymore„ collection” [sic]. Like most of us, the designer was balancing the haziness of the post-lockdown state of the world, picking it apart and rearranging the pieces into something boldly conceptual yet wickedly wearable.
“Before final year, I never put art and fashion together. It was the year when it made sense for me to put my artwork into my fashion work because it’s part of me,” he says. Before that, Korsi was just trying to learn the basics of fashion and womenswear. “I wanted to focus on the design aspect of it. Then when I got more comfortable, I wanted to put my prints into it and make it more homogeneous.”
Growing up, it wasn’t all cut ’n’ sew; Korsi wanted to be a doctor. “My parents weren’t forcing it, but they were like, ‘go down a route that will get you a job.’” It’s a common push for most kids of immigrants. Born in Ghana, Korsi moved to London “at around two or three” and was “doing science and shit” up until age 17. “Then I started learning the cello, so that was my first creative thing that brought me into what I’m doing now.”
It wasn’t the most conventional pathway for a young designer. And since then, his practice hasn’t really been, either. At the start of his final year, Korsi was awarded an LVMH Scholarship, a fund given to select students supporting their costs over the making of their final collection. When it was time to present his portfolio to a panel over Zoom, Korsi forgot to put together a, er, presentation.
“I remember doing the interview sat in my, like, dungeon,” he says, nervously laughing, clarifying that the “dungeon” was a warehouse he used to live in with barely any windows. “I had to pretend it wasn’t coming up on my laptop!” Since his “dungeon” doubled up as a studio, Korsi got up and started presenting his artwork to the camera. “That was such a mess,” he says. But, as if by magic (and hard work and talent), it worked.
While the pandemic affected all students in some way, Korsi lost his mum to Covid-19 during his final year. His designs became a cathartic crutch and, when looking at them, the inner workings of a unique young mind become all the more clear. Korsi’s designs feel like an unfiltered diary entry, troubled by nightmarish figures and weeping faces, but standing tall in large, Cubist shapes, like a sense of armour.
“I want my wearers to feel a sense of self-assurance and that they’re wearing a piece of art… as cheesy as that sounds,” Korsi says. “That’s what it is.”