Tears of joy filled the eyes of Soyoung Park as she was announced this year's winner of the top prize among students at Central Saint Martins in London: The L'Oréal Professionnel Young Talent Award.
Adnan Jalal Salman receiving his runner-up L’Oréal award from designer Molly Goddard (in red, far left)
From K-Fashion to UK triumph is quite a stretch for the South Korean student and her knitwear. But although she is original in the dense textures of her clothes, from knits that look like feathers to surface interest on slim skirts or culottes, this fledgling designer is not alone in her talents. The L'Oréal Award runners-up after her are Yuhan Wang for her womenswear and Adnan Jalal Salman for his knitwear.
Inditex scholarship winner Benjamin Waters
Also from Korea is Dohan Jung, whose ripped and shredded fabric, with its feathery effects, gives a third dimension to the surface of streamlined outfits and has attracted the attention of Inditex, one of the world's largest fashion retailers. The mighty Spanish company behind fast-fashion brand Zara has selected this designer for its Inditex scholarship, noting the graduate's skills in fashion, design and marketing.
Dohan Jung was awarded the prestigious Inditex scholarship
Fluid tailoring from Haya Shin
A sense of rage, or, at least, a recognition about the way of the tough world, ran through these Saint Martins offerings. That began with a group of downtrodden "cleaners", with a theme of domestic slavery, sweeping the runway while wearing intensely colourful clothes by Italian student Chiara Tommencioni-Pisapia.
There is a certain irony in students making social statements through their designs when their parents (or their bank loans) fund £17,230 a year in tuition fees if they're from outside the EU and £9,000 if not. But since high-end supermarket Waitrose has opened right beside the Saint Martins campus in Granary Square, I appreciated the irony of Korean student Jaeeun Shin re-cycling the store's plastic carrier bags into glamorous dresses. Shopping carts rolling along under skirts in semi-transparent fabrics created a fashion journey from hooped crinoline to consumer basket.
A recycled outfit from Jaeeun Shin
The "gender neutral" spirit that made such an impression on me when I went to Korean Fashion Week in Seoul was well-expressed at Saint Martins. There were soft, high-waist trousers and square-cut jackets (with throat tattoos and gold teeth as decoration) from menswear student Haya Shin. Another kind of clever cutting came on the menswear designs of Soyeon Chang.
Yuhan Wang receiving her runner-up L’Oréal award from designer Hussein Chalayan (second from right)
I would describe most of the students of Korean origin as exhibiting an imagination just this side of crazy. It would have been useful to have some technical information, for example, about Korean Jieun Myoung's geometric and sculptural clothing in black, white and pink metallic plastic materials. Was all this digitally designed?
Knowing how smart and advanced Millennials are, I feel that Saint Martins should make more effort to offer on-line profiles of each student, perhaps with a few words of their aims and intentions.
The class of 2016 is the last for Willie Walters, who has taught in the fashion department of Central St Martins for 24 years and is retiring this year
Samsung award-winner Su Sang Hwang
Korean techno giant Samsung is the sponsor of two Fashion Design Fund Awards, which this year were given to Spanish print student Paula Canovas del Vas and Korean menswear designer Su Sang Hwang.
Soyoung Park, winner of the L’Oréal Professionnel Young Talent Award 2016 at Central St Martins
But British fashion colleges have been built on man, rather than machine. Although in the case of Saint Martins, women have held key positions, from the late Professor Louise Wilson to Willie Walters, Programme Director of Fashion and the BA Fashion course. This was her final year as a teacher at the college, which she joined in 1992.
Over the last decade Willie has witnessed the enormous changes in the UK's funding of students via debt, which they are ultimately supposed to pay back, and the influx of foreign students (inevitably with parents who have deep pockets). There are now so many names on the graduate list that it is not possible to have all of them show their work at the (very long) official degree show in front of the press, so many have to display their looks outside in the courtyard.
A winning ensemble from Soyoung Park’s degree show collection
LVMH Grand Prix Scholar, Sergiy Grechyshkin
As director of the fashion programme whose students have included Hussein Chalayan, Craig Green, Christopher Kane, Gareth Pugh, Phoebe Philo of Céline, Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, Stella McCartney and Zac Posen, Willie Walters was cheered to the echo.
And if the show seemed to turn too much to fashion's wild side, it was perhaps intended as a bold statement of pushing boundaries of wearability and imagination to their outer limits.
Soyeon Chang’s sharp cutting
Samsung award-winner Paola Canovas del Vas
A sculpturesque look from Jieun Myoung