November 5th in London – Bonfire Night – commemorates a 1605 foiled plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. This year, rioting in the streets by the Anonymous group reminded us all of the serious origins of what is now a family party night. The rioters never made it into Parliament this time, but the corridors of power were infiltrated by an even more eclectic and interesting bunch as Parliament celebrated Graduate Fashion Week.
As police helicopters buzzed overhead, sirens wailed and chanting and shouting wafted on the river breeze, six talented graduates showed highlights from their collections as MPs, academics, retailers, media and assorted fashion luminaries applauded enthusiastically.
We saw cool menswear in hot colours and with a certain oriental look from Ella Nisbett. There was relaxed and highly wearable layering from Poppy Russell, one of her models dancing energetically down the catwalk as if to prove the point.
There was a gorgeous stripey knitted two-piece from Pippa Harries with the simple shapes of the 60s in a flattering cut – I’d wear this endlessly. Rachel Siggee gave us minimalist menswear, beautifully draped and printed with super-sized photographic prints. Hannah Wallace delivered a sport-themed collection of leggings, balaclavas and super-sized, super-cosy quilted jackets.
It was Melissa Villevieille’s womenswear that really got my heart fluttering though, in particular a stunning evening coat, encrusted with oxblood beading in stripes and falling neck to ankle in front but dramatically short in the back. It was love at first sight.
For twenty-five years Graduate Fashion Week has been doing sterling work helping students from forty UK universities move into the commercial world. It supports the whole fashion ‘food chain’ from the artisan (traditional needleworking, millinery), to the commercial offer (business support, sustainable and ethical manufacturing, PR, marketing, retailing) and the public presentation (editorial and catwalk photography, styling, art direction, illustration).
Their most eye-catching event is the annual Graduate Fashion Week, with a 900-seater catwalk show, awards and live events with some of the biggest names in the industry (Suzy Menkes, Hilary Alexander, Alber Ebaz, Daphne Guinness). The charity’s day-to-day work, however, lies in connecting students with mentors, sources of commercial advice and support and, crucially, helping graduates with the networking to get themselves into paid work.
At the Parliamentary catwalk last week, Christopher Bailey, CEO of Burberry gave a heartfelt speech about how GFF support had enabled him to study and move into work: “Our future talent is the future of our industry”.
As a charity, they rely on sponsorship and donations to continue. Chairman, Mark Newton-Smith called on retailers and other big brands present to donate £50,000 for bursaries to support talented youngsters that otherwise could not afford to study. Let’s hope they do and that they and the volunteers, mentors and other supporters all continue to keep this valuable part of the fashion industry supplying the talent the industry needs.
Graduate Fashion Week 2016 5th – 8th June 2016 Shoreditch, London