Celebrating in Style

As its 2013 fashion graduates prepare for their degree show, Manchester School of Art marks its 175th birthday with a series of anniversary events. The Skinny encounters a department of innovation and collaboration

Feature by Jessica Campbell | 09 May 2013

Though celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, Manchester School of Art is anything but 'old'. With its highly anticipated new building now in use, the school is looking bigger and better than ever. The new building itself is a modern masterpiece, with its clever open plan layout allowing students to mix with fellow art schoolers of different disciplines, creating exciting opportunities for collaboration.

This ethos of collaboration is something the school prides itself on, and has resulted in the introduction of the mysteriously titled Unit X. Now in its second year, Unit X is a school-wide project that aims to allow students to gain skills beyond their specialty while networking with each other and industry professionals. This year, as part of their Unit X, first year students from Fashion, Textiles in Practice, and Film and Media Studies have been invited to celebrate the school's milestone through the aptly titled ‘175’ project.

Working in cross-disciplinary groups, the students are encouraged to investigate one of four themes – Revolt, Play, Perform or Record – for an exhibition titled Dressing the City, which will take place in a variety of venues in Manchester and is just one of 175 accessible events and exhibitions occurring locally, nationally and internationally over the next couple of months to mark the school’s anniversary. The students are being encouraged to embrace the city and its inspiring surroundings, working not only in the new art school building but also in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

The School of Art's award-winning Fashion degree course is renowned for its use of textile processes such as print and knit to compliment design, giving students a creative edge over similar courses – and the influential Manchester School of Art Graduate Fashion Show will take place in the new art school building on 23 May. It will be the third year students’ first opportunity to show off their impressive work to family and friends, the fashion press, art school tutors and the general public, with collections being presented in a traditional catwalk show format in the elegant new space. 

Every year, selected exceptional students are invited to show their designs as part of the Manchester School of Art show at Graduate Fashion Week in London’s Earls Court. This event has long acted as a platform for many Manchester students, with past graduates Aitor Throup, Rebecca Thomson, Luis Lopez-Smith, Nabil El-Nayal and Toni Stott all being previous award winners. Last year, Jousianne Propp – already a winner of the Mulberry design prize – came away with two prestigious awards: the Karen Millen Portfolio Award and the Stuart Peters Visionary Knitwear Award, while Roz Lamkin was selected as a finalist for the Zandra Rhodes Catwalk Textiles Award.

With their innovative and exciting creations, this year's selected graduates are at the top of their game. In setting their own briefs, the students have taken inspiration from a range of themes including androgyny, childhood nostalgia, northern seaside towns and Sikh warrior turbans, to name but a few. Nina Burton has based her collection on the idea of a young man taking on the role of a soldier during World War One, and on his resulting mental and physical deterioration; Amy Davidson, meanwhile, uses laser cutting to create shapes based on Gothic churches, and uses them as design features in wood and plastic.

It is this diversity of ideas and processes that makes the Manchester School of Art Graduate Fashion Show stand out, and keeps its audience engaged – and the hard work, time and effort that the students have put into their pieces, from the initial research to the final details, is evident in each beautiful garment. 

Over the course of the last year, the School of Art students have been working on their final graduate collections while juggling competitions, portfolio projects and industry-led briefs. They have taken this pressure and hard work in their stride, however, and there have already been numerous success stories, including three students – Jessica Cooper, Ria Leape and Stephanie Wood – being offered jobs as part of the prestigious Abercrombie & Fitch design team in Ohio after entering a competition. Following a first interview held in the UK, the three were flown out to the company's design headquarters in Ohio for a second interview, and later told by phone that they had been selected. “I was so overwhelmed and excited when I found out that I’d got the job that I phoned my mum and cried!" Cooper says. "I feel like all my hard work has really paid off.”

Elsewhere, Robert Mills was shortlisted for the Fashion Awareness Direct (FAD) competition, and as a result had his designs displayed at the Vauxhall Fashion Scout venue at London Fashion Week in February, where he was announced as runner-up. The entrepreneurial student has also created his own T-shirt brand, Haus of Wire.

With many of its students already making statements in the fashion industry and with such a range of exciting new talent on offer, the Manchester School of Art Graduate Fashion Show is not to be missed.

Manchester School of Art Graduate Fashion Show, 23 May, check www.artdes.mmu.ac.uk for ticket prices and show details

@ManMetUni@ManMetUni http://www.artdes.mmu.ac.uk