With the past 21st anniversary Graduate Fashion Week, a greater success than ever before, attracting key industry figures, such as Matthew Williamson ng key industry figures, such as Matthew Williamson and Christopher Bailey
With the past 21st anniversary Graduate Fashion Week, a greater success than ever before, attracting key industry figures, such as Matthew Williamson and Christopher Bailey to the proceedings, and more media coverage and exposure for students than previously, FashionUnited caught up with Nicola Francis. Fashion Course programme leader at Nottingham Trent School of Art & Design, Francis whose overseen the selection of students to GFW over 9 years gave us insight of the progression of the event and resonating memories.How long have you been teaching the fashion knitwear programme at Nottingham? And what are the main developments you have noticed in students over the years?
I have been teaching on the programme for 9 years. I feel that students still have the same level of commitment and ambition that they had back then, however sometimes they can be afraid to take risks which I am sure can be attributed to the school educational system and the fact that they are paying fees. We are lucky to get to know all our students personally, including their own aspirations and dreams, as it is a relatively small programme with around 35 – 40 in final year.What are some of the memories to most resonate over the years of Graduate Fashion Week? How did the run up to this year's event(the celebatory 21st event) differ from before?
A different team have managed GFW – George are excellent sponsors and have been really proactive in coming onto stands and discussing graduate jobs and potential student projects.
My personal memories are of the NTU fashion shows, filling goody bags and waiting to find out which students have been nominated for awards but the highlight for me had to be last year when 2 student form the Fashion Knitwear Programme won awards – Rory Longdon worn the £20,000 George Gold award and Wonjee Chung won the Stuart Peters Visionary Knit Award – it was amazing!How many students do you teach each year in knitwear? As a form of fashion design, is knitwear an area that has developed/changed a lot since you began? What with designers such as Mark Fast putting knitwear back on the map, why do you think theres been a resurgence of interest in it?
About 35-40, and then at level 2, we have additional students, from an International Exchange, who come to us because of our excellent resources and longstanding reputation for fashion knitwear. This course has been established for nearly 35 years…I graduated from it in 1986 myself. Knit has always featured within collections at most market levels, but the current resurgence of it through exposure of designers like Mark Fast, allows it to be seen in ‘stand alone’ garments rather than an addition to other tailored pieces perhaps. Our students have always developed collections where knit is the starting point and fashion knitwear designers generally enjoy having the control of being able to develop the fabric and 3D form at the same time. I think there is interest in it as there are endless possibilities to create unique 3D shapes using a wealth of types of yarn and differing technologies ranging from hand-knit to machines that produce a total garment without seams.Can you tell me how the Nottingham course is broken down over the years and some of the areas you specifically cover?
Anything and everything as students are not required to be able to knit before they join the course so it’s a steep learning curve! Within the 1st week we teach them how to knit on our Industrial hand-flat machines – we have around 45 of those. Within workshops we cover garment manufacturing skills and pattern cutting, research, colour theory, drawing and design exploration, CAD and portfolio presentation. Students produce knitted fabric, garment designs, technical files and portfolio pages for every project. They produce garments at every level that they present in a fashion show that they organise themselves.
Students are able to focus on mens, womens or childrenswear if they choose. We also include live projects and competitions as they are key to giving students an opportunity to work within specific briefs for particular target consumers and markets. Our course has a year-long industrial placement between levels 2 and 3 which give them a really valuable experience and prepares them for the world of work.How many students go onto to feature at GFW - and how is the selection process organised?
We usually have around 8 – 9 knitwear students selected to go on the catwalk alongside students from the Fashion Design course. We have an external panel to select and this process is overseen by our Academic Team Leader.What are some of the main success stories out of your knitwear design course over the years? And how has GFW been integral as a platform to them?
The GFW catwalk show does give students who show on it great press exposure and it also promotes the university well. Every student on the course has the option to have their portfolio there so we can show these to visitors from the industry over the course of the week in London and we get a lot of interest with student getting offers of graduate roles, but because of our placement year, many of our graduates get jobs whether they show on the catwalk at GFW or not. We have graduates working all over the world and they keep in touch with us, often returning to us looking for other graduates.
We have had a number of Visionary Knitwear winners – Romany Taylor who works for Hugo Boss, Ria Thomas who went to Julien Macdonald and is now at Burberry and last year’s winners: Rory Longdon who is at Max Mara and Wonjee Chung who starts her MA at the RC. We have distinguished alumni - Gemma Metheringham the Creative MD at Karen Millen is one of ours and several graduate from over the years are at Karen Millen with her.
Images: Rory Longdon winning knitwear designs 2011