Is there any way of reading the future of fashion by looking at the work of its newborns—the first cohort of talent that has the misfortune to be graduating into the hideous job market of 2009? Hard to say, but if there are clues, they're going to be found at Central Saint Martins' M.A. show, where Professor Louise Wilson famously drags the originality out of the international students who come, begging to join a course that's regarded as one of fashion's toughest and best finishing schools.
What's certain is there's no sign of either despondency or fake optimism here—or of clutching onto the safety of worn-out references. Instead, what was on display looked like different facets of a clean-cut, colorful futurism that managed to ignore any association with eighties Starship Enterprise or sixties space-age cliché. Collectively, a lot of it involved planes of suede, panne velvet, and jersey, and bright color-blocking in bizarrely enjoyable combinations that shouldn't go together but somehow did.
Dutch student Michael Van der Haam patchworked elements of fifties, sixties, and seventies dresses into new configurations (brocade against mohair against jersey), splashed metallic paint on mismatched tights, and demonstrated great command of elegant asymmetry. Laura Mackness played a rigorous but witty game with double-knit jersey shifts over leggings in pink, grass green, and bright yellow, accented with funny placements of dots, knee patches, glove cutouts, and eyes. Abigail Briggs, a print student, dribbled minimal splashes of glitter paint across long satin dresses cut to catch the air and billow behind the wearer in motion.
It was all polished, accomplished, and considered down to the detail of every shoe—a level of finish that suggests these students are striving for more than top marks in their graduation parade. As official participants in London fashion week, they know this is their privileged opportunity to advertise themselves to the world. In more normal times, a good few of them would be thinking of starting out on their own, as Christopher Kane did three years ago. But what awaits them now? It takes more than a recession to shake their professor's faith in what they have to offer. After the show, she shook her head and said, "With the research skills and portfolios these kids have, there will always be people who want them. In fact, I know there are already. I just can't say who."