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Fashion Show Rejects

  • November 5, 2019
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Did you, like me, watch
the small revolutions that happened in London and New York during May and
June’s graduate fashion shows and think, Aha! Something vital and
interesting is afoot? I’m referring to the simultaneous decisions by
students of both Parsons and Central St Martin’s who had not been selected
for their school’s official runway show to tear up the rulebook, and stage
their own catwalk event. The Parsons students chose to operate under the
name “Salon Des Refusés” (a name that originally referred to a group of
artists including Courbet, Pissaro and Manet, whose work was turned away
from the coveted Paris Salon of 1863) and held it in a deserted nightclub.
Brilliant! I thought, rubbing my hands together in admiration. Furthermore
they had the audacity to show on the same night as we were all gathered in
the Javits Center watching the chosen enjoy their moment of glory in front
of an audience that included Anna Wintour and Marc Jacobs. This town is
big enough for the both of us, they seemed to be declaring.

These grassroots eruptions of anarchy didn’t receive as much mass-media
coverage as I would have liked, with mostly blogs and niche publications
appreciating their significance. But there are rumblings of future
uprisings slated for other cities. It’s down with the old regime!

I take this position despite having contributed to their disappointment.
I was part of the jury panel at Parsons who whittled the 200-odd students
down to the lucky 26. That’s a lot of rejects. SCAD in
Atlanta––where, incidentally, there were also rumors of an alternative show
being organized by the rejects––presented the work of 37 students on their
official runway before luminaries such as André Leon Talley and Dame
Vivienne Westwood. That’s just about 30 percent of their graduating

It’s time to turn the word reject on its head

It’s time to turn the word reject on its head and explore its
slicked-back and pouting, nonchalant, multi-zippered and
ready-for-anything, rebel credentials. In banding together, these Fashion
Show Rejects showed solidarity for individuality; they snarled in the
corporate face of this so-called creative industry. They wouldn’t be

This is unusual in today’s fashion industry where status quo is
disrupted infrequently, or as tokenism. So let’s look at another highly
competitive industry: film. In 1995, a group of three filmmakers who were
not accepted for the Sundance Film Festival started their own film
festival, Slamdance: Anarchy in Utah. Twenty years on, still actively
supporting self-governance and the freedom of filmmakers to make the work
they want, it has produced multiple box office heavyweights and given us
unique thinkers like Lena Dunham. Platforms for alternative thinkers in
fashion are sorely lacking, but desperately needed.

The competition at top fashion schools is fierce, and the
disappointment––upon reaching the summit of a four-year arduous climb––of
being told you’re still just not good enough, is nothing less than a kick
in the guts.

As a Central St Martins Fashion Show Reject quoted on the school’s
blog, 1 Granary, puts it, “This disappointment motivated us to create a
positive event that would unite us and could give everyone a chance to
express their different aesthetics. Our aim was not to be confrontational
or offensive to our friends in the press show. We were looking at a display
of diversity and creativity that represents the spirit of an art

There are too many fashion students

It shouldn’t be any other way. There are too many fashion students. Up
until the mid-90s, all BA students could present their work in the St
Martins press show. This year 40 students showed, about one third of the
graduates. While the recession may have passed here in the US. and
unemployment is steadily declining, there aren’t enough jobs in the
industry for all the graduates we’re churning out. We’re breaking the
fundamental rule of commerce: Too much supply, not enough demand.
If schools suspended enrollment for the next five years, the industry as I
see it would not suffer.

Education can only provide skills and practices. In addition, design
professors can hope to influence and forearm students with tales of their
past experiences and challenges. But what sets one graduate apart from
another cannot be taught; it’s the very quality that drove these Fashion
Show Rejects to create an opportunity where there wasn’t one; it’s a
stubbornness to succeed that bulldozes through blockades and silences
naysayers. With all due respect to Marc Jacobs, the amount of paid
employment he can offer based on what he sees at student shows would be a
splinter-sized sliver of the pie chart. He has a business to run, not a
charity, and internships are not what students already 100, 000 dollar in
debt hope for as their next move.

There is something to be gained from not getting what you think you are

The St Martins Rejects, or as they referred to themselves, #Encorecsm,
planned their presentation a mere few days before the press show. With a
double shot of adrenaline and camaraderie, they collected donations, found
their own models, arranged hair and make-up, and displayed their wares
against a backdrop of the fountain outside the school. That kind of
resourcefulness will take them far, I want to believe. For there is
something to be gained from not getting what you think you are owed, from
having to work harder than others to achieve what looks like the same
result. I recall a fellow student on my St Martins MA course who was lauded
throughout her time there and whose collection, upon graduation, was given
a great push by faculty, media and industry. A year later, I found out she
had decided to leave fashion and go save the Great Barrier Reef. Why, I
asked. “Because it was easier,” was her reply.

When everything goes your way, and you rightfully get what you have
worked hard for, and you expect praise because you have always had it,
indeed earned it, you might be ill-prepared for this industry. It just
doesn’t care.

That’s why the Rejects have the edge. And sometimes this town just isn’t
big enough for the both of you.

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching
faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the
Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

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