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August 23 2014

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Goodbye To All That: Designers Say Farewell To Central Saint Martins’ Digs On Charing Cross Road

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“There’s a phrase, ‘all fur coat and no knickers,’” says Louise Wilson, the feared and revered director of the MA fashion course at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. “Saint Martins has always concentrated on the knickers.” Home to one of the best fashion schools in the world, Central Saint Martins has quite the track record when it comes to producing superstar designers; its alumni include Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Riccardo Tisci, Hussein Chalayan, Phoebe Philo—to name only a few. However, judging by the primary fashion building which, erected on Charing Cross Road in the heart of Soho in 1938, is a drab stone structure crumbling around its colorful student body, Saint Martins is indeed missing its mink. “I suppose the decrepit-ness allows a certain freedom. It’s always been decaying, even when I was a student in 1984, so it’s never been about the building. It’s about what goes on inside the building,” Wilson says.

But the summer marks the end of an era for the school. This month, Saint Martins, whose fashion and art schools currently span 11 buildings, will consolidate under one roof in a new high-tech $320 million dollar complex. Based in North London’s King’s Cross, the new concrete building will provide students with studios and resources head-and-shoulders above what they’ve had in the past. It will also further integrate the fine arts and fashion departments, an asset that Hussein Chalayan marks as having been essential to his development. While the new building will have neither the dusty charm, graffitied walls, or history of its predecessor, the school’s unpretentious bare-bones approach to fashion will remain.

New location, same ethos, in other words—and, hopefully, same results. Even if she has concerns about the rising admission rates (“The increasing fees are cataclysmic to the diverse nature of applicants. When you haven’t got a grant and you’re paying for it yourself, then you can’t afford to take risks. And that kills creativity,” she says), Wilson remains CSM’s greatest advocate and supporter. “It’s been a privilege to go to college here and to work here. It’s been a privilege to see good student work,” she says. “And it’s good year after year.”

Style.com reporter Katharine Zarrella spoke with some of the school’s most distinguished alumni about their memories of the Soho space, running throughout the week. First up, Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci.

Riccardo Tisci: BA in Fashion & Technology, 1999

“I have to give my entire career to England and Central Saint Martins, who convinced me to apply for a scholarship. At the time, I was not financially stable. I could not support myself. CSM encouraged me and pushed me to do so. That is the reason why I am who I am today. I have amazing memories from my time there: respect, relax, coolness, a new way of teaching fashion; everything for respecting and developing yourself. [The school] completely changed me. It helped me develop the avant-garde part of myself and not to be scared to give out a message. At the beginning, some people could not understand why my style—as an Italian boy—could be so dark and aggressive. The building on Charing Cross meant a lot of stress, scariness, happiness, surprise, and freedom. What I mostly remember is fun and secret cigarette breaks. Central Saint Martins, thank you for the big belief and support!

Left: A look from Tisci’s graduate collection at Central Saint Martins.

Photos: David Rhys Jones (CSM exterior); Courtesy of CSM (Tisci graduate collection)

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