One of the highlights from the University of Northampton graduation show was womenswear designer Ngoni Chikwenengere and her powerful all-black collection inspired by feminism, femininity and architectural shapes.
After her collection hit the catwalk at the Truman Brewery, FashionUnited chatted to the talented designer to find out more about the inspiration behind her collection, her plans for the future, and why she would recommend Northampton to study at.What attracted you to a career in fashion?
“Fashion was always a topic of fascination for me, growing up in Zimbabwe I remember how I used to devour the copies of Vogue and Harpers my mother would bring me back from her travels to and making collages and sketches of pieces I adored. When we moved to England, Fashion TV was always on whenever the remote was in my possession and almost every book I bought was about fashion.
“What pushed me to study design as opposed to pursuing anything else in fashion is that I felt there wasn't anything out there for a girl like me. I see fashion as the ultimate art form and fantasy and wanting to be a part of that is what drives me.”Tell us about your graduating collection – what was the inspiration behind it?
“My graduate collection was inspired by Femininity and Feminism. I wanted to create garments that echoed strength but also echoed femininity. There is a lot of talk now more than ever about Feminism and what it is and I wanted to show my thoughts on it - that feminism and femininity aren't mutually exclusive. My pieces and the fabrics I chose perfectly juxtaposed the two ideas but also made them cohesive.”What are the signature piece/pieces?
“My signature piece to me definitely has to be the second catwalk look My Warrior woman with a long double slit silk top, hand-stitched leather belt and cuff and stretch lamb leggings. I feel it showcases strength and femininity in a balanced way.Did you have a specific audience in mind when designing your final collection? Who is your target customer?
“I design with a strong woman in mind, the kind of woman who knows herself and isn't afraid of taking risks. Someone full of self confidence and self awareness. The NRC woman is all about quality statement wardrobe staples that are timeless for example my floor length cashmere coat.What made you choose to study at The University of Northampton?
“I decided to study at The University of Northampton as I'd been there for my Art foundation and knew there was plenty of space, one-on-one time with tutors and many different opportunities available. Whereas many other universities had large class sizes, no real space and tutor time was limited, also the facilities weren't as good.
“I was very lucky to win two awards while studying at the University of Northampton The Curriers Scholarship, which funded my leathers and suedes seen in my graduate collection, and also the Maggie Barwell Scholarship that gave me a 5,000 pound grand each year towards the cost of my studies.What do you plan to do now that you've graduated?
“Now that I am about to graduate I plan on taking some time to travel and then I plan on working in fashion at a label I love and learning and absorbing as much as I can because I feel the real learning especially when pursuing a creative career happens outside of the university walls.”Where do you hope to see yourself/your label in five years time? “In five years time I hope to be surrounded by a great team of people and perhaps in the position to start my own brand or climbing the ranks within a fantastic brand.” What impact do you want to make on fashion?
“That is a big question I would say the impact I want to make is to push the idea of timelessness. I am all about staples that cost more as they are made from amazing materials and tailored well and will last forever as opposed to throwaway pieces. I believe garments should be treasured, dressing for me isn't about the trend it is about how that garment makes you feel when you put it on, what memories it holds for you and of course how it fits.”What was your Graduate Fashion Week experience like?
“Three weeks before GFW we had to present our collections for selection to our tutors and member of the industry. Being one of the 15 picked was an amazing feeling but nothing beats seeing my collection on that catwalk and also the amazing reactions from friends and family. Being a creative showcasing your work is very revelatory because you are in essence you are putting yourself out there and it's definitely nerve wracking.”What designers/labels do you most admire? Who would you love to work or collaborate with?
“I have always immersed myself in fashion so I have a very diverse appreciation for many labels and designers, among them Gareth Pugh, The Row, Rick Owens, Giambattista Valli, Ann Demeulemeester, Ellery and Dice Kayek. This of course is just a short version of my list so many designers are owning their niche's and creating amazing work. I would love to work or collaborate with someone with a solid vision, appreciate for working with fantastic materials and an inspiring aesthetic.”What advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers?
“Know who you are, what you are and your brand. I think it's important to have a strong brand identity as that is how your core customers will relate to you.”
Images: Ngoni Rutendo Chikwenengere