Graduate Fashion Week at Earl’s Court

This wasn’t just another year for Graduate Fashion Week (GFW). This was GFW’s 21st year, and (however fuzzy the memories may be) we all know a 21st Birthday is like no other. The shining star of all fashion graduates’ calendars celebrated its coming of age in style by doing what it does best – showcasing ‘the most innovative fashion in the world’, as hostess Caryn Franklin put it.

Excited anticipation for the Gala Awards Ceremony, which closed a week of stunning Fashion BA Degree collections from around the country, echoed through Earl’s Court before guests were seated for the finale. Once the champagne glasses had been drained, the awards kicked off with catwalk shows by the International Knitwear and Textile award nominees.

Amsterdam’s Yvonne Kwok playfully merged a pastel palette with Meadham-Kirchhoff-esque mischief in her frivolous yet surprisingly structured pieces. It was flirty dolly mini-skirts all the way with Edwardian ruffle detail that made you long for our absent summer sun. But it was Karen Jessen of Esmod Berlin who took the crown for the International award with her creations that dripped with saturated, bright fireworks of colour. The designs had a shaggy, textured appeal which made you want to bury your hands in the tassels.

Next up, the Knitwear Award saw the judges stumped, leading to a tie as Jousianne Propp (Manchester University) and Caitlin Charles Jones (Kingston University) split the prize with their polar opposite collections: the first featured an armour of three dimensions and the latter showcased a new interpretation of sportsluxe, with a winning palette of neons on grey which shone with diamante detailing.

The Zandra Rhodes Award nominees knocked the room out with colourful print designs and the most intricate of patterns. Northumbria’s Amelia Smith sent out monochrome Russian Dolls in sculpted dresses which echoed the rigid forms of Mary Katrantzou, with a masterful placement of symmetrical prints which brought the words ‘Aztec on acid’ to mind. With Regina Spector singing the models down the runway, I couldn’t help but bookmark this as a personal highlight of the evening.

With the fashion elite congratulating and praising the graduates in turn, you could feel that you were sharing the packed room with the new generation of industry geniuses, who were all on the edges of their seats waiting for the ultimate prize – the £20,000 Gold Award which marked the overall winner of GFW 2012.

As the Gold Award catwalk show began, we saw the sense of humour of this year’s graduates, such as Claire Acton’s ode to the clippy hair grip, featuring entire dresses made out of colourful hair clips which disco-balled in the flashing lights. James Walker of UCA also had fun with his collection, turning accessories into outfits by allowing the luxe handbag to literally consume his models. As walking metaphors for a handbag obsession, this was the kind of adventurous pushing of clothing boundaries you hope to find at GFW.

There is no doubt about which graduate partied the hardest last night, as Bath University’s Chloe Jones did the double, winning not only the womenswear accolade but also taking home the Gold award. Her name is sure to resonate in the crème de le fash-pack’s heads for some time after her long draped floating creations were praised by Daphne Guinness for their ethereal beauty. The designs, which glinted with heavy embellished flashes, gave a never before seen twist to the humble hoody, wowing the crowd with garments we couldn’t help adore and desperately wanted to own.

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