On Tuesday evening, Central Saint Martins (CSM) staged a REAL LIFE FASHION SHOW! IRL. In the flesh, clothes within touching distance. Many editors round the room wiped a tear or two as the 100 graduating Fashion Design BA students took their final turn around the winding runway - which was covered in a patchwork of the year's collective surplus fabrics - to the beat of 'Build Me Up Buttercup'. Ah, together again at last.
The pandemic has taken teachers and tutorials online, students away from studios to camp out at their cramped kitchen tables, and the ultimate holy grail, graduate shows, have gone virtual - CSM's MA fashion course held a corker of an interactive exhibition earlier this year. In response to the cancellation of physical graduate shows, SHOWstudio launched the Class of 2020 as an online showcase for U.K fashion design graduates, (submissions for this year are now open). So, after over a year of digital fashion shows, we couldn't quite believe our eyes when faced with a physical runway complete with models - who in this case, were the designers themselves. In a crazed state of alarm, not knowing quite where to put myself or how to actually look at fashion IRL anymore, I almost missed a pair of customised platform Nike Air Max being taken for a spin. Rubber-like sole replaced with a curved, wooden block and varnished with a shadow of where the iconic air bubble once sat, these weren't like any of the trainers I'd worn - or seen - before.
The uniform to my youth stomping round South London, (a good decade before they became the Depop influencer's shoe of choice, might I add), the humble trainer has a place in many peoples' hearts. If, like me, you thought Lily Allen in a puff ball dress and a pair of Air Max 90s was the best us Brits could do, then think again. To see the trainer given the couture treatment swiftly move my eyes upwards to a look by womenswear designer Charlie McCosker. I had to know more! After some professional DM sliding, McCosker told me all about her graduate collection RTRN, how waste can be couture, and giving her beloved Air Max the high fashion treatment.
Hetty Mahlich: I need to know, where did the idea for the platform Nike Air Max come from!?
Charlie McCosker: The idea for wooden air Max was a combination of my love for Nike trainers and sculptural heels and also having a woodworking genius for a girlfriend, Ellie Hillier. She works full time as a boat builder so used the waste wood from the yard to construct the Nikes of my dreams. Just you wait and see what we have got coming next.
The initial idea actually began whilst I was researching in South Africa. I met Gwen Munroe who, for many years, has run her second-hand store in Observatory, Cape Town, alongside her son Neil. Neil showed me all over the city’s best charity shops and markets and his own huge warehouse of pieces he has collected. It was there that I fell upon this overgrown curling cow's hoof and thought - those are the shoes for my collection!
HM: What personal significance do Nike Air Max have for you?
CM: Nike Air Max hold a huge significance for me. I feel like they are the ultimate rave shoe and also [such a] respected shoe. In the village I’m from [in Dorset] its the Air Max 90s that we all grew up wearing and respecting. You clock when your mates have a fresh pair especially when it matches their tracksuit. They are total fire and have held their ground over time. What is more futuristic than the initial idea of injecting air into a running shoe? Literally running on air. Nike is innovation and relevance - I’m just looking for my collab with them now!
HM: Can Nike Air Max be couture in the Charlie McCosker design world?
CM: Wooden Air Max are total couture in Charlie McCosker’s world. What is more high fashion than a pair of hand-crafted wooden shoes? Attach the heels to a Nike trainer and, in my eyes, there is nothing more Charlie McCosker than that.
HM: How would you describe your aesthetic and ethos as a designer?
CM: My design aesthetic is...mania. I love using heavier more traditional fabrics like jersey and tweeds and cutting them in a fresher silhouette. My design ethos is sustainability as a total concept; physically, spiritually and emotionally. Sustainability is and always has been engrained in my design practice. The core message of RTRN, my final degree show collection, is that to halt climate change, we need to re-engage with ancient human knowledge and practices that reminds us to respect for natural world.
HM: How have you found your final year in BA during a pandemic?
CM: Wow this year has been a total ride. Due to the pandemic I moved house four times from London to my village in Dorset and back again. I was surrounded by so much nostalgia and alienated from creative people and spaces.
My creative process became incredibly personal in a way it never was before. I did a lot of dancing in my bedroom over the past 15 months, remembering how I would tie my jumper or jacket if I got hot in a rave, how my clothes changed with certain movements, straps falling on and off, and so on.
HM: What the meaning behind the title of your final collection, RTRN?
CM: The spelling references the album RTRN II JUNGLE put out by drum and bass duo Chase and Status in 2018, which pays homage to the 1990s Jungle music movement. It also reflects the central concept of re-engaging with the natural world as our only option for future survival. It references the idea of making the everyday rhythms of nature felt in our contemporary manufactured environments in order to arrive at a new paradise. Working on this collection in my bedroom during a year of pandemic solitude, Jungle music (which originated in the bedrooms of young people in the 1990s), has provided a soundtrack to the design process, to the point of becoming a metaphor for my own ‘paradise’ solution.
HM: Could you talk us through some more of the key ideas behind the collection?
CD: My own mixed heritage is the main source of my inspiration for this collection which was begun when I 'RTRND' to South Africa, the birthplace of my mother, and Ireland, the birthplace of my father. I was interested in capturing the material and visual content of both environments and their cultural beliefs and practices to understand my own individual identity.
A key aim of the collection was [also about] how to immerse the clothes in a rave. Conductive embroidery transforms the suit into a drum machine. A DJ uses the embroideries like a touchpad to mix a jungle dubplate via physical touch. The embroidery is then wired up inside the lining of the suit to a circuit board that connects to speakers via Bluetooth. The rave is thus woven into the fabric’s fibres. For the track that is coded into the suit I collaborated with young London-based producer Blacksmith UK who mixed a recording my Donegal Granny Bridget saying the 'Hail Mary' prayer over a liquid jungle breakbeat. The full rave is coming soon.
HM: How did you source the fabrics for the collection?
CM: I have been collecting fabrics since my second year of CSM, hunting through markets, car boots and charity shops from Uganda to South Africa and all over the UK. I received sponsorship via their waste fabric from Magee’s Tweed of Donegal, and Liberty London, both chosen by me for the importance they place on the heritage to their locations. I have also received donations of beach waste fabric from Casc8 in Sweden to support my commitment in this collection to the creation of waste couture.
HM: Why did you select this particular look for the show?
CM: I chose this look for the catwalk as being a literal walking speaker made me feel hella powerful and full of energy for the celebration of the day. I loved the swag that the weight the wooden Air Max gave me whilst walking and the bouncing of the hat. There is so much movement in this look even it is still, and I love the fluidity of the design, not feeling super feminine or super masculine I just felt hot in the sexy sense.
HM: Do you have a plan for what you'll do next?
CM: My next plan is to find sponsorship for a studio space in London so I can finish the collection to launch in January 2022 as a full performance. A full jungle set mixed within an entire collection made from waste - that’s where I’m heading.