Kevin Kusisto, an admitted fashion virgin, freaks out and has a bit of a rant after being exposed to the dizzying atmosphere at Graduate Fashion Week.
Graduate Fashion Week. It’s like the junior version of London Fashion Week, which you might remember from that Buzzfeed article about your 14th favourite celebrity looking “fierce” at a catwalk. And like any junior event, GFW is a shining showcase of some of the world’s most second-best talent. In this case, that talent comes in the form of university student fashion designers. Because if there’s one thing university students are really good at, it’s…well, if I really only get to pick one, it’s probably drinking. But somewhere on the list is fashion, because if you can’t trust the young masses to know what looks good, you might as well hang up your ironic “Sriracha on everything” T-shirt and take a potato peeler to your infinity-symbol tattoo, you pathetic waste of moustache wax.
Anyway, the point is, I attended my first Graduate Fashion Week. I went in knowing very little about any of the components involved. Graduates? I haven’t graduated yet. Fashion? I wear black because it goes with black and that’s the only colour combination I’m comfortable enough to be seen in around other human beings. And, based on the fact that GFW lasts for four days, I’m not even up to speed on what a week is.
So when my GPS app leads me to a gate in East London, I’m ready for anything. I’m wearing a black tie and black jeans, armed with a press pass, and in possession of so little knowledge about what to expect from GFW, you could kidnap me and I’d spend six months in a Siberian re-education gulag before I began to question if the hatchet-faced guard’s blood-stained boots were, in fact, the hot new design from De Montfort University Leicester. So it’s a bit of a relief when I step through the door into an atmosphere that is, if not familiar, at least understandable.
It turns out GFW is a lot like a Comic Con. More specifically, it’s like an arthouse Comic Con that’s been popping diazepam at the rate its models hit the diet pills. The Comic Con checkboxes have been ticked (body-dysmorphic people wearing the insane remnants of their half-forgotten dreams in an admirably indifferent rejection of reality; booths), but the whole thing is more mellow than what I’m used to. Instead of the cacophonous din of braying virgins, the air is filled with the empty, airy chatter of art students channelling their neuroses inward, perhaps to fill the void normally occupied by food and employable skills. Instead of fluorescent lights shining off the non-breathable latex of Tom from Massachusetts’s homemade Red Tornado costume, they’re illuminating the dead, soulless eyes of a forest of armless mannequins in dresses that are presumably designed with the amputee market in mind. And instead of skipping around with the delirious joy that comes from being within a one-mile radius of Grant Morrison, I’m awkwardly shuffling about while playing with my press pass, secretly hoping it will tell me what to do in this alien landscape.
I know I’m supposed to attend the UCA Rochester show, but when I navigate the show floor until I reach the west catwalk (thanks to some pink arrows that do a good job making the floor look like a distinguished hub of fashion instead of a parking garage), I am confronted by the ancient evil that has stopped many a would-be reveller since the dawn of time: bouncers.
“Have your tickets out,” says one black-suited fascist in sunglasses. I have no ticket. Options flash through my mind. Could I overpower him and force my way in? Probably not, and getting my jaw broken at a fashion event would be, like, the least cool way to get brutally beaten into unconsciousness, so I take a seat nearby and try to will a passing attendee to give me a ticket. After five minutes, I give up and decide to actually ask someone.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” I say to the most normal-looking person I can find. “How might I get a ticket to this show?”
“You ask me,” she says, and hands me a ticket. Apparently she had an extra. I’m slightly taken aback by this good fortune; this kind of convenient coincidence usually only happens in romantic comedies and sting operations. Clearly, the universe wants me to attend this show, so I head inside and take a seat next to a guy with green and yellow hair who’s wearing oversized mesh sleeves.
The next hour of my life is one that will never be regained or understood. It’s lost in a flurry of absurdist art-school vomit being worn by humans. Astronaut suits from The Matrix: Miami Vice edition, stained-glass techno-confetti, and four-foot puritan hats are all on the menu. At one point I’m watching a model strut down the runway wearing a dress that simply says BACON ROLLS in huge letters while Kanye West music blasts from hidden speakers. I don’t know what happens after that, since I need to take a moment and review a few of the decisions I’ve made in my life. I do know that sometime later, I’m watching models try to wear designs that look like the result of trying to explain Amish fashion to a plaid-loving alien while tripping on acid in a bowtie factory.
I like to think of that hour as a learning experience, because my therapist says euphemisms can be a good way to talk about trauma without having to relive it.
On my way out of the show that evening, I pass a neon sign that says WE ARE FASHION, and feel a gut-churning horror. Dear God, they’re trying to include me in this! That night, I get violently ill, and no matter what anybody says, I’m convinced it is my body fighting off the concentrated overdose of graduate fashion that was injected into my eyes.
What are my takeaways from my first time at Graduate Fashion Week? Well, on the one hand, I’m sure I saw some designs from students who will become huge names in the fashion industry (by the way, if you can’t name any fashion designers, my answer to the last sentence’s question is ‘nothing’). On the other hand, I witnessed some brain-twisting, strange and ill-conceived ideas given form through liberal application of doubtlessly expensive fabrics (examples include beekeeper/kimono mash-ups, cloth diving helmets, and a dress made out of yarn and pipe cleaners).