Between the 6th and the 8th of September 2021, 80 graduates from 13 universities across Germany presented their work to a broad professional and public audience at Neo.Fashion.2021. On Wednesday, the 8th the grand show ended gloriously starring the debut of a very new format: At the ‘Best Graduates’ Show & Awards’ the best graduate of each university showed their collection of five looks in front of a seven-member jury* in the industrial, concrete halls of Kraftwerk Berlin. The three winning categories were: Best Design, Best Sustainable Concept and Best Craftsmanship.
Indulging in all the collections, it feels as though the lockdown and isolation - during which a lot of the garments were created - did not suppress any designs or creative exploration; perhaps the escapism and free spirit we were aching for in our homes during the lockdowns, were instead reason to wallow in ever more unapologetic, expressive creations.
Arguably, this generation of designers does not shy away from creative experimentation and innovation in favour of an improved fashion industry. We welcome it all the more, as we emerge from our four walls shifting between different loungewear sets.
Conventional shapes and silhouettes of garments are questioned and redefined; and materials commonly used for clothes are reinvented. We see sweeping robes of cushions on the runway beautifully braided and interweaved forming an exuberant dress shape. Nature serves equally as inspiration and as a literal design element while we find a somewhat skimpy dress crafted from beige stitched together nylon tights, shapewear and nipple pads in a head-to-toe affair.
We also love that the looks are presented by a diverse model cast of all genders, different ethnicities, differing shapes and sizes and disabled models.
We congratulate all graduates and the three distinguished winners: Aylin Tomta, graduate of the Fachhochschule Bielefeld, whose mastery of timeless, toned-down tailoring and refined lines scooped the award for ‘Best Craftsmanship’, and surely also pulled us under its spell. The works of Flora Taubner, graduate of ‘Burg Giebichstein Kunsthochschule Halle’ and winner of the award ‘Best Design’ almost seemed like a collection of fine art pieces. Morphing design and raw expression; all her looks seemed to have a socially critical message subtly sewn into them. Think a deconstructed, rigorously creased dress only to expose a neatly folded men’s shirt mounting from the thorax. Perhaps a nod to the widely accepted consumer behaviour of careless consumption and the urge to buy new while garments pile up in our wardrobes?
The winner of the award: ‘Best Sustainability Concept’ goes to Paul Kadjo, graduate of the Akademie für Mode und Design (AMD) Hamburg, who aims to challenge narratives around fashion, sustainability, and ethics in the industry and recently also launched his eponymous label ‘Paul Kadjo’. For his graduate collection, he took a radical approach to upcycling.
He speaks with us about seeking to create fashion without taking a second impact on the planet, and how the need to develop sustainable clothing can be an opportunity and engine for creativity and innovation. ‘I draw great inspiration from the search for more sustainable options and coming up with ideas on how to make garments viable for the future’, he says. He believes that in order to mitigate the challenges facing the industry, it is vital to consider new methods and materials.
His graduation collection ‘PAUL KADJO Artisan – The Spirit Between Bodies and Objects’ as well as the central principle of his brand are based around holistic up-cycling. By sourcing second-hand, the use of scarce natural resources, greenhouse gas emissions and the industry’s production systems which place huge strains on the environment’s ecosystems can be omitted. And Paul Kadjo takes the upcycling of second-hand garments a bit further, making use of everything his sewing machine can handle. ‘I wanted to look into areas beyond the fashion industry to source materials’, he says. The fabric for the jacket he’s wearing as such ‘he retrieved from an old sofa’, he tells us; but also old plastic bags are put to new uses, finding a presentable new purpose in his creations.
The Hamburg-based designer, who was born in Germany and raised in Ivory Coast, champions identity and artisan craftsmanship in his handmade graduate collection. His designs embody a clear message of inclusivity and working in alignment with the environment. With his label, he aims to be part of a ‘greener, more ethical fashion industry’ building awareness and conversation for systematic change within the fashion economy. Rooted in the desire to make ‘intercultural, sustainable clothing for all genders’ he wants to create room for fashion ‘free of prejudice and free of racialization.’
‘I want to add value to all multidimensional facets of sustainability in the industry,’ he says, emphasizing how honoured he feels to have won this recognition for his work today.
We are excited to see this generation of aspiring designers hitting the fashion world forcefully and opting for positive change in the industry. Doors to improved practises and materials are opening, and we see emerging – and established designers – pushing sustainability to the top of the agenda. These fashion enthusiasts are painting a brighter future of an industry very much in need of change, and it leaves us keen to see what’s to come.
Sarah Leonie Brodersen