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Marine life and hoarding among inspirations behind sustainable fashion designs at the Kingston School of Art MA Fashion Show

Posted Wednesday 10 October 2018

Marine life and hoarding among inspirations behind sustainable fashion designs at the Kingston School of Art MA Fashion Show

The beauty of coral reefs and the reality of life as an extreme hoarder were among the inspirations behind the collections at this year's Kingston School of Art MA Fashion Show. A group of 12 designers shared their work with an invited audience of industry and press within the exclusive environs of St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London.

Junsen Zhao has created a womenswear collection inspired by the colours, shapes and patterns created by coral reefs and marine life. Each of his eight looks captures a particular time and place, memories of his childhood growing up in Macau on the south coast of China. "I spent a lot of my youth travelling around the islands with my parents," he explained. "I felt my final collection should be something close to my heart and that led me to examine coral reefs."

He explained that his long yellow and black knitted gown represents sand as seen from a distance, with blue sea slugs climbing up from the fish tail at the bottom of the garment. Another of his pieces represents the waves at night, with small crops of undulating coral revealing themselves. "Each garment is linked to my love of the coast," he said. "My aim is to show how beautiful and inspirational coral reefs can be. Environmental pollution is affecting them and it will only get worse unless we do something about it. I wanted to find my way of raising awareness of their plight."

As a young boy, Junsen spent a lot of time with his grandmother, who worked as a tailor, observing the way she would dress her customers' different bodies, matching them with designs that suited them. This experience instilled a love of the female form with one person in particular as his muse. "Grace Jones is my fashion inspiration - I like to design for a strong, sexy and elegant women," he said. "She exudes power, combining a masculine look with a female elegance, I imagine her wearing my clothes with each of my collections. My designs should be worn by confident women - leaders ready to take on the world."

Sophie Bailey's collection highlights the need for sustainability within the fashion industry. Sophie Bailey's collection highlights the need for sustainability within the fashion industry.Another woman ready to take on the world is Sophie Bailey. The 23 year old designer from Cambridge was spotted at Graduate Fashion Week by senior lecturer Neil Adams who suggested she put herself forward to study the Kingston School of Art MA course. Her collection features pieces that can be customised, with industrial zips and clips enabling the wearer to demonstrate their individuality. "It's shaped by the idea that you can change the garment in different ways, customising it," she said. "The wearer collects add-ons to the piece giving a variety of different ways to wear it. You can hook all of the eyelets at the front of the jacket or use the zips to remove the front panels.

The collection as a whole is informed by extreme hoarders, those who fill their houses to the extent that they are unable to navigate through their own homes. "I was inspired by photographer Corinna Kern‘s work on a hoarder called George she followed over the course of a year," she explained. "One of the series was based around his bath which was the only space he had left in his house. He used it for washing the dishes, doing laundry and even fixing his bike. It's inspired my piece in that some parts are always there and some pieces you can change. "

The young designer herself confesses to owning a vast collection of tiny scraps of fabric, kept in case she needs them in the future. She now believes hoarding has entered the digital age. "I think everyone is a hoarder in a way," she confessed. "We all have a lot of pictures on our phone, kept safe in a digital cloud archive. It isn't as evident because there is no physical manifestation, but it's all there on our phones."

Sophie's clothes are emblazoned with slogans such as ‘throwaway society' and ‘this is all a waste' - comment on the era of fast fashion and the prevalence of brands offering cheap clothes, promoting a quick retail turnaround. Sophie's designs certainly have the wow factor with one garment created from more than 20 bin bags alongside hand cut vinyl signs and a jumper featuring 2,500 individually interwoven cable ties. "I want my clothes to be special, something people keep for a long time. I hope people wear them in different ways, it's much more sustainable. It all comes back to the initial inspiration of hoarding and the contrasts between hoarding and throwing things away."

Both Junsen and Sophie's collections address issues of sustainability in different ways but both follow one of the principle attributes of the course - to value clothing and produce beautiful items to be treasured for a long time. "I encourage our students to think about clothes as beautiful objects," MA Fashion course leader Richard Sorger said. "If you produce beautifully crafted clothes that aren't part of a fad or gimmick you are producing sustainable pieces because people will buy them and keep them for a generation."

"Whether our graduates go on to work for a couture designer or a high street brand, by inspiring and giving them the knowledge about good quality clothing they might be able to change the industry from within. There could be small ways in which they are able to affect change - maybe we can start a quiet revolution in terms of how the industry reacts to the huge waste created by fashion and consumerism."

  • The Kingston School of Art catwalk show is being held at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel on 11 October.
  • Find out more about studying MA Fashion at Kingston University.
Junsen Zhao's collection was inspired by his love of marine life and the beauty of coral reefs.Junsen Zhao's collection was inspired by his love of marine life and the beauty of coral reefs.

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