Published on 1 Granary


Central Saint Martins MA graduate Nolwenn Faligot believes in creating pieces that are transient of seasons

When I meet Nolwenn Faligot, one of the few students on the MA womenswear course at Central Saint Martins, it’s inside the studios on a Friday afternoon during the end of the spring term. The studios, which are typically found with students sprawled over tables cutting papers and draping mannequins, are instead divided into sections featuring each student’s pieces from their graduate collections — their labour of love from the past 45 weeks. It is quiet, except for a few individuals wandering, having hushed conversations with fellow students and pointing at different pieces. One can only imagine the amount of hours spent in this room tirelessly working, yet Nolwenn looks anything but stressed as she greets me.

We begin by going through a photo book of her inspirations, and as she turns the pages, there are several photos of Buddhist monks clad in a Kasaya (traditional robes of Buddhist monks), in a temple in Tibet. “I looked a lot at Tibetan monks and how they dress in a particular way,” she says. “They don’t necessarily wear the sleeves, because it has to be more practical. And there are arches, otherwise they’re stuck in movement. So it becomes quite a new way of looking at clothes and how things would be worn. On the other hand, I wanted to look at more military aspects and place some strictness into my looks.” Even the parka Faligot is wearing during our interview is reminiscent of the dark olive green staple of military uniforms. “In my aesthetic, I see a woman who isn’t quite girly. She is active and has a slightly masculine side to her. That’s why I looked at menswear and the military,” she adds. The focus in her collection is on the individual pieces and the craftsmanship behind it, not the body. As an example Faligot holds out a dark dress that features gauging pleats all over the bodice. “All the details come from different places,” she remarks, indicative of her own background. “I really love to draw on the identity I have, because it’s quite specific. I’m actually French, Breton, but I’ve been living here in London for seven years. It’s kind of a mix of all cultures and I really hope to bring that into my work as well.”

Tibetan and Buddhist inspirations alongside Faligot's BA final year collection photographed by Tony Tran

Faligot moved to London when she decided to pursue fashion design as a career. “I was quite young when I knew I wanted to go into fashion, I think around 11 years old,” she explains. Through researching fashion education, she came to realize that London was where she needed to be. “It’s much more technical in France, but I wanted that creativity you find in London.” She completed her BA Womenswear in Kingston University, and interned for Meadham Kirchhoff for two seasons, as well as Hiroko Koshino in Japan. “That was great, because I’m interested in the Japanese philosophy and how they think about the body. Just to see the way they were doing pattern cutting was really interesting.”

Faligot then went on to study MA womenswear at Central Saint Martins. “I think there’s so much pressure at first. Because you think: ‘I need to really work hard’, but in the end, you need to realize that the fact you got on the MA means that there is something about you that works, and that it is good and creative enough,” Faligot admits. As for plans post-MA course? “Hopefully getting a job soon! I want to work somewhere, because there’s still so much to learn, and you need experience to build a company. Making this collection made me realize that when you have to do everything on your own, it’s almost impossible. If you work in a company, you have specific people to handle things. Here we have to focus on everything at the same time. So it would be great to work somewhere with less pressure.” Will then there be any possibility for Nolwenn Faligot to be seen stitched on a label? “Maybe in ten years or so! I’m not in too much of a hurry to start my own label. I want to get as much as I can from the industry first and work wherever I can. I really want to go to Paris for Hermès or Christophe Lemaire. Then, you never know, you just might find that you don’t need to start your own label!”

A Hong Kong funeral shop displaying paper Gucci bags to be burned not instagrammed. Photo: AFP

Last month, luxury favourite, Gucci, helmed by long locked “it” designer, Alessandro Michele, issued letters to stores in Hong Kong to cease all production of replicas of the Gucci logo as an “infringement of their trademark”. If this were a rickety stall in China financed by acrylic, faux fur replicas of their sold-out horsebit leather, kangaroo loafers, then the situation would be understandable. The greatest nemesis to any brand is someone else replicating their designs for less cost, especially when in China, intellectual property laws are murky waters, resulting in its reputation as an industry of fake goods.

The problem this time however is that these weren’t fake replicas of Gucci’s signature designs, but instead family run funeral shops selling miniature paper Gucci bags as offerings for the dead.

It is a customary Chinese ritual for families to buy paper versions of items that they would like the dead to use in the afterlife and send it to them via burning it on fire. This is a tradition that has been practiced for hundreds of years, and the sight of seeing these shops on the streets of Hong Kong, is not uncommon. Families would often burn these paper goods during the Ching Ming festival, or at funerals of their relatives. It’s a custom that is a fundamental part of Chinese heritage. In recent years, the items have grown from gold painted paper money, as to replicate real money, to more extravagant items such as miniature paper Lamborghinis and Hermès sought-after Birkin. The dead desire luxury.

Once receiving these letters, six stores responded by contacting local Hong Kong press. It is highly comical that a label with the brand value of $12.4 billion, and eleven stores in Hong Kong alone, pens a “warning” letter to stores that only maintain operation by family bloodline.

Due to the rightful criticism of the funeral shops for disrespecting a cultural heritage, Gucci issued a statement of apology. “We regret any misunderstandings that may have been caused and sincerely apologise to anyone we may have offended through our action,” Gucci said. “We trust that the funeral store owners did not have the intention to infringe Gucci’s trademark. Accordingly, we did not suggest any legal action or compensation.”

The reason why this is an issue is because it presents an assumed idea that as Chinese people, we only have the mental capacity to see and copy. Though it is difficult to ignore China’s notorious reputation for producing fake goods, it is an incredible layer of disrespect to our identity as Chinese people and to the lack of knowledge of our culture, but what more could we expect from the monster that is the Kering group? The apology on Gucci’s behalf may be perceived as the right step forward in building bridges out of paper money (the non painted gold version) funded from the oh-so-far east of Hong Kong, but for a nation rich in culture, tradition and heritage, it is ten steps back for our recognition to the rest of the world.

A common sight. One of many stores in Hong Kong that sell a variety of paper offerings and traditional incense to burn at funerals. Photo: Yik Fei for The New York Times

One store owner told Chinese newspaper Apple Daily, that she has never bought a luxury brand and was unheard of the fact that Gucci was even a designer brand.

If anything, Michele should be pleased as the dead are in more dire need of Gucci than the living.

Goyard a luxury designer luggage label is one of the most popular stores in Mount Street, attracting families and individuals. Photograph: Carolyn Kang

Mount Street, tucked in the wealthy neighbourhood of Mayfair, appears as one of the top shopping destinations in London. But instead of hoards of shoppers peering into windows or taking selfies on the sidewalk, the shoppers of Mount Street are far less in numbers and the streets are sometimes empty, yet designers are still aspiring to occupy a space along those infamous concrete tiles.

Its home to the flagship stores of some of the most recognisable designer labels, with glossy windows bearing the names of Lanvin, Marc Jacobs and newly opened, Dior, it’s the street where luxury lives. In the chilly air of a Saturday afternoon, a women seated in the outdoor area of Scotts was being served oysters and Champagne with an impressive stack of Dior paper bags occupying the seat next to her. It became apparent that the shoppers of Mount Street all shared the common understanding of beholding quantities of quality, doubled with a uniform of mink coats and designer handbags. “Its much quieter than Selfridges or Oxford street because there’s a selective customer as it’s obviously not a typical price point for most people,” said Isabelle Peart, a 20-something year old Londoner, seconds after departing Christian Louboutin with a brand new pair of stilettos packed into a bag carried in her fist. “I’m a working professional but when I was a student back in university, there’d be no way I could afford anything here,” she continued, “We’re in Mayfair after all and it’s not exactly the most populated area in London.” Yet with a smaller amount of shoppers than its rivals, what does Mount Street have to offer its select customers? “I guess Céline would be the main store for us, it’s the store we come for, “ says Carla and Roberta, a mother and daughter from Italy on holiday in London. Indeed the flagship Celine store attracted the most customers, with many going in and coming out, arms filled with coveted Celine bags. “It’s a nice street for my mum and I to come to since it has stores that we both like.” 16 year-old Carla said whilst a Mulberry bag sat prettily in the nook of her elbow, as if on a mannequin. She wasn’t wrong as most of the youths in Mount Street took the form of teenagers with their credit card holding mothers. “We really like Balenciaga, Celine and Louboutin, so we made a bee line for those stores when we came here.” Julie and Elsa, friends from Glasgow on a day trip to London said as they also left Christian Louboutin with a new paper bag. “I work in Goyard back in Glasgow so I knew there was a Goyard in Mount Street and that it was the go to for designer shops.” Julie added.

Mount Street has a reputation of holding the hottest designer stores with Victoria Beckham, Simone Rocha and Linda Farrow, all opening their flagship store there within the past year. However, Mount Street wasn’t always the haven for designer labels. “Back in my time, from 1986-1990, Mount Street was very different from what it is now, it was mainly serving ladies who lived around Mayfair.” Jennifer Yen reflected as she spoke about her past days of working and shopping in London. “It had the reputation for having traditional stores. It was filled with antique stores and galleries. You wouldn’t go there to buy designer clothes, you’d go there if you wanted something more traditional and high-end.” She commented. “I remember there being Douglas Hayward, the bespoke tailor, very famous in fact, that would serve the men who worked there and there would be cigar store since that’s what the upper class men would buy.” Hayward, having opened on Mount Street in 1968 is now replaced by Marni, which is opening sometime this year. This replacement indicates the change Mount Street has undergone from its former days. In 1990, the Duke of Westminster, the primary landlord, started an initiative to revamp Mount Street into a luxurious and hip shopping area. Mount Street, once the area of ‘old money’ and nobility, has become commercialized, adopting a new [endif]--mantra of sell, sell, sell with designer stores popping here and there. “I guess what’s happened is that it needs to go commercial to survive.” Yen concluded. ![endif]--


Sautter, a cigar shop, still holds the original heritage of Mount Street as being an area only afforded and servicing those who lived there. Photography: Natalie Chui

So has the former niche doors of Mount Street been dissolved by its need to succumb into commercialization? Mount Street still holds exclusivity, yet this time its exclusivity lies more in price than class. It’s commercialization has driven more youths, albeit with their mothers, to the area, focusing more on the hottest designers. Mount street has gone from being what was only a sight for the very rich to enjoyably behold to an area that can be searched, hashtagged and double tapped for anyone who possesses an account on instagram.


Freelance Journalist & Content Editor