It’s no secret that the universities of London have been churning out exceptionally talented fashion designers for years, from Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan in the nineties to the more recent crop of ascending stars like Holly Fulton and Gareth Pugh. So it’s no wonder all eyes were trained on the graduate collections on show this week in search of tomorrow’s stars. I went down to Graduate Fashion Week at the Earl’s Court Exhibition centre last weekend and discovered three names hotly tipped by insiders as definite ones to watch.

While a sizeable proportion of graduates made the mistake of going to extremes in an attempt to garner the attention of potential employers – the embarrassment was palpable on the faces of every model clad in huge furry trousers – Northumbria University’s Ellen Barnes‘s appealingly restrained collection leant her a whole lot more employability. Her grey double-breasted jumpsuit with tied bow belt wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Gucci catwalk, while her thick black cloak-like funnel neck coat oozed femme fatale cool. Barnes was one of a handful of names whom senior lecturer Chris Hodge mentioned when I asked for his pick of promising students after the show. With her consummate grasp of tailoring and strong, clean aesthetic, Barnes’s commercial potential is obvious.

ellen barnes graduate fashion week
An outfit by Ellen Barnes

Leading with their strongest suit, first up at the University of Salford’s BA (Hons) fashion design show was Vietnamese-born Anh Hoang‘s ‘Ingenious mind’ collection – a riot of turquoise sequinned swimsuits, hot pink puffball dresses and masses of tassels. This sassy, feminine offering was a lot less ‘Copacabana’ than it sounds, and was infused with the kind of joie de vivre at which the likes of Ashish and Sonia Rykiel excel. Speaking after the show, lecturer Sally Donaldson sang Hoang’s praises and also dropped a hint regarding another favourite student, James Pilcher. Pilcher is one of only 23 graduates in the whole of the UK to have been accepted on to the Royal College of Art’s menswear Masters course, widely regarding as the most prestigious in the country.

anh hoang graduation fashion week
An Anh Hoang dress on the runway

My final name to remember is an alumni of that very same course: a tip-off from a Paul Smith menswear designer who I got chatting to at the Northumbria show lead me to RCA MA graduate Sol Ahn. Starting with a blueprint of classic American sportswear separates – cardigans; a baseball jacket; a trench; a duffel coat – Ahn’s outerwear pieces were all pitched on the slouchy and slightly too big side. A palette of navy, duck egg and powder blue combined with rope belts, gold cord and horizontal stripes to create a vibe that was more yachtsman than out-and-out sailor. Korean-born Sol intends to return to her home country after graduation. Is it selfish to hope that a UK menswear brand snaps her up before that happens? Then London can add the name Sol Ahn to that ever-growing list of successful fashion alumni.

sol ahn graduate fashion week
From Sol Ahn

Images via RCA and Arts Thread.

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