With our Creative Unions exhibition now open at Central Saint Martins, we take a closer look at the themes and works which comprise the show.
Bringing together six designers and one design collective, the Material Identities section of the exhibition explores how we use objects, images and garments to externalise and construct our identities. The designers in this category make material the human dimensions that are often hidden. From object to image, from the wearable to the watchable, they surface the invisible and confessional and counter stereotypes of gender, race and identity.
Esc is a collective which explores of forms of escapism – both digitally and in the physical world – and promotes the work of people of colour and queer artists. Formed by three 2018 BA Fashion graduates, Firpal Jawanda, Steph Linn and Annie Mackinnon, the collective produced their first collaborative work specially for Creative Unions: a large gargoyle-like sculpture made from upcycled scraps and second-hand materials. The gargoyle has an extensive and paradoxical symbolic past: at points an icon of evil, at others apotropaic magic. Here, it symbolises the shared themes across their final year collections: demonic forms, chimera, plant morphs and our disconnection from nature.
During Degree Show Two: Design 2018, in celebration of the diverse range of skills within our Fashion programme, we commissioned a series of designer profiles from our then-second-year BA Fashion Journalism students. Showcasing the art of fashion designing and fashion writing, each profile provided an in-depth insight into the work and inspirations of a selected graduating designer. Here, Honor Rose Cooper Hedges profiles one of the Esc members: BA Fashion Design Womenswear’s Annie Mackinnon.
23-year-old Womenswear graduate Annie Mackinnon is an enigmatic and multi-talented designer who lives between her overgrown terraced house in New Cross, South London and her parents’ house in Canterbury, Kent. She expertly crafts garments, inspired by organic shapes and modern technology. Her resulting items are an exciting hybrid of the man-made and organic – a feast for both the eyes and the mind.
“The collection draws on the themes of greenwashing and green capitalism – how people buy into the green or outdoors-y lifestyle,” Mackinnon explains as she introduces her graduate collection. “I’ve been thinking about the paradoxical ways in which nature can become a highly marketed and controlled commodity sold by companies. The collection looks are jokey outdoor-wear, the pieces revolve around the wearer becoming a useless product which is supposed to help you to connect with the outdoors.” The collection indeed appears to be a camping trip in an alternate reality, with looks named Sexy Solar Panel, Treehugger, Portable Bar and Sack of Mud, to name a few.
Exploring the idea of eco friendliness as a marketable, lifestyle trend, Mackinnon extended her research into the exclusive use of up-cycled fabrics: “Everything is made from broken gear I got from Hillingdon Outdoors centre, Shadwell Basin outdoors centre and I also used two second hand tents.” Her collection is made up of shades of neon orange, yellow and blue, spliced with silver, white and black. Her anthropomorphic nylon silhouettes are blended with clean sportswear finishings and slivers of vinyl. “I quite like the ring of the title Drowning in a pool of plastic North Face jackets”, Mackinnon informally christens her graduate collection, “but I am trying to come up with one that doesn’t directly link to North Face.”
In addition to fashion design, Mackinnon is also a talented illustrator and creates intricate, hand-painted, sublimation prints of humanoid forms and figures spiralled around strange sucklings, jagged vines and impossibly malformed vegetation. Some of her illustrations function as stand-alone pieces. In January 2018, she hosted her own exhibition Rhopalocera Mutex, with her two flatmates Firpal Jawanda and Stephanie Linn. Jawanda also graduated from Womenswear at Central Saint Martins and Linn from Knitwear; together they have now formed the Esc collective.
Mackinnon also DJs, posting her own eclectic dystopian electronica mixes on Soundcloud under the name Ans M – something she humbly dismisses as “just a hobby” despite being offered an hour slot on NTS Radio on the day of the Central Saint Martins internal fashion show in May 2018. “I love NTS so I kind of had to do it,” she shrugs. If there are three words which could be used to perfectly describe her they are: cool, calm and humble.
Mackinnon’s consciousness for fashion, environmental issues and technology seems innate. On top of her instinctive approach, her year out in industry substantially contributed to her outlook on sustainability. After interning for six months for German designer Bernhard Wilhelm in his sunny studio in Hollywood, Los Angeles, she took a different route, living and working out of a factory in rural China: “I wanted to try living there. I used to visit every year growing up because my family is Chinese and I still need to really improve speaking Mandarin. It was really off-putting and I left feeling extremely negative about the entire fashion industry. Now, I am glad I had that experience but still feel horribly about most things to do with factory production and the work environment that so many workers have to exist in for most of their lives.”
A designer who executes everything with a fantastic passion, Annie Mackinnon truly cares about current issues, tying them into her work with seamless genuineness and a true overpowering talent for fashion, technology and beyond.