If you’re an emerging designer looking to stamp a degree on your talent, getting a BA in fashion design from Central St. Martins in London is probably your dream. And they’ve got some serious alumni to back that status up. In fact, John Galliano, Christopher Kane, Stella McCartney, Mary Katrantzou and Riccardo Tisci once called CSM home, and you best believe they’ve got the next batch of greats coming.
Even standing outside the campus on the water near Kings Cross Station, it’s clear that there are some seriously visionary people learning inside those walls. (I mean, even these kids’ outfits are making me look bad.) The reality of the situation, though, is that out of the 500 + people who sign on for the CSM Foundations course, only a handful will have what it takes to enter the BA Fashion Design program.
If up-and-coming design power house Luma Guarconi isn’t one of those people, I’ve decided to give up on fashion all together.
I was lucky enough to meet Ms. Guarconi working at London Fashion Week in September, and she’s one of those people who after five minutes, you feel lucky to have come across. What’s striking is her humility. Sitting down after the Felder Felder show for a well deserved glass of champagne, we got to talking and if memory serves correctly, she was the last to tell her story.
A Brazilian girl hailing from Miami, Luma started receiving design accolades before she even turned eighteen. She applied to CSM knowing the virtual impossibility of getting in, but when she reluctantly showed us her most recent collection on her iPhone, the reason behind her acceptance was clear. I for one was blown away that someone so gracious could be so supremely talented. It’s a rare and refreshing combination. “I just want my work to be criticized,” she said. “I’m not here to be pandered to. I’m here to do better. As soon as you stop seeing room for improvement, you’re finished.”
A week or two back I was fortunate to check back in with Luma now that her CSM studies are officially underway.
So update me. Since I last saw you, what’s been happening with your work?
Well, I’m working on landing an internship with Marques Almeida. But of course I’m worried about coursework, since in Foundations they make sure that’s very hard. There’s a lot more work than I expected actually, but it’s good! That’s why I’m here. We just had our first review, which kind of went too well honestly. [laughs]
But let’s be real, we knew that would be the case.
I just wanted a harsher critique I guess but they were just sort of like, “Ok awesome, keep doing what you’re doing.” But it’s been great, really. I feel lucky just to be around these people, these students and advisers. And we’re specializing already, I can’t believe it! Which means we’re one step closer to going for the BA which is completely scary.
So how many people are in the Foundations course?
About 500 or 600. Yeah, it’s really kind of nuts. As far as specialization, only 124 move onto Fashion and Textiles. And then only 5 get taken on for BA Womenswear but that’s a whole other thing!
Do you see your aesthetic following the same trajectory since starting the course or do you see new developments?
What I’m learning quickly is that I do really have a solid style. Which is important. That’s something you hang onto as a designer even as you grow. And I’m learning that my style shines through in certain areas. Everything’s sort of changing in a way though and I’m being exposed to new things, new techniques. What I did up until now was whatever I wanted — everything was really clean and really white and really minimal. But now with our prompts, I have to use colors and I’m like, “Yo! What’s that? How do you do that?” [laughs] But at the same time, like, I get to keep my clean lines. And then sometimes you need to deconstruct so it’s not going to be clean, but you can still make it symmetrical and balanced.
What’s been your favorite bit about being on the course? Any particular instructors or projects?
I guess what’s been best for me is not always being told what I want to hear. I sort of mentioned to you when we met that, in Miami, I felt like I’d stopped getting critiqued as a designer. On a certain level I knew I worked hard and earned what I was getting, earned the respect, but then people started hesitating to critique me. Here, there’s none of that. Honestly in the first month, the instructors had zero respect for us. But obviously there comes a point where they know you to the point where you’ve garnered some respect with your work and they’re willing to be like, “Okay, I understand you and I understand why you made that decision. This is very you, this is what your work is about.” It takes time for them to learn that about you and your work. But all of that criticism helps you see where you went wrong, where you messed up, where you’re lacking.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about yourself as a designer thus far?
Well, the course really deconstructs you. It deconstructs you until you figure out what you’re really made of. What you’re all about. So yeah, that’s really been good for me. And so many people on the course are freaking out like, “I don’t know who I am as a designer anymore!” But I’m just over here thinking, “Well, yeah, but that’s the point isn’t it?” What you did before here means nothing now, and they make sure you know that. They make you confront who you really are as a designer outside of the pieces you’ve created in the past.
Okay now, I have to ask. What’s life really like for students at Central St Martins?
Okay well two people already quit the course. And there’s always one kid crying before critique and then ten more after. It’s intense. I mean, it’s great, but it’s intense. There’s really no better word for it. They’re serious, because they want to make sure that this is what you really want to do and more importantly, to make sure you can handle it. And the industry’s going to be even harder on you than this, I mean, no one’s going to teach you again. They’re just going to fire you, really. But scariness aside, it’s all about process which has been amazing. Honestly when it comes down to it, your final piece can be a mess construction-wise, but if they can look in your sketchbook and say, “You know what, this is a well-formed thought,” then that’s what you’re judged on. What’s important to Foundations instructors isn’t the most obvious thing. It’s like, “We don’t care about the garment, we don’t care about the construction. You’ll learn that with life.” As a designer, you need process. You need development. What it comes down to is this: You need ideas.
Be sure to check Luma out on Instagram @lumaguarconi and check this out to see more of her work.
Trust me, you don’t want to miss this.