Matthew Harding and Levi Palmer, fashion designers and Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design graduates, spoke at the Art Institute of Austin on December 1st. Alumni of Central Saint Martins include the late Alexander McQueen, Christopher Kane, John Galliano, Phoebe Philo, and Stella McCartney.
Harding, whose designs are currently available at Top Shop, is a London-based designer. He graduated from Central Saint Martins earlier this year. His postgrad collection, which was shown during London Fashion Week this past February, followed the school's Alexander McQueen tribute. Harding said that his "campy reference" was none other than Lynda Carter, aka Wonder Woman. Harding also mentioned that he wanted to create "something beautiful and chic after something cheap and nasty".
Palmer, who grew up in Belton, TX, knew from a young age that he wanted to do fashion. He moved to Austin at the age of sixteen with knowledge of sewing basic patterns. Palmer then became part of the Designers Guild of Austin, which was co-founded by Gail Chovan to promote local talent and and showcase the city as a creative hub.
In 2001, Palmer began his formal education at El Centro in Dallas. His graduate collection won a scholarship for him to study abroad in London and Paris. Palmer subsequently attended Central Saint Martins from 2005 to 2009, and stressed two things that have shaped him as a designer: first, he "worked anywhere" and, secondly, noted one should "always remember those who brought you". He said his graduate collection at Central Saint Martins reflected his homesickness and Texas heritage, while creating a "hyper-masculine image infused with feminine properties".
Vogue UK name-checked Palmer following the Central Saint Martins BA Fashion Show and Palmer was later recruited by H&M, where he currently designs. The following is his Central Saint Martins graduate collection from 2009.
In all, both Harding and Palmer were generous with words of advice that were very useful to the students at the Art Institute of Austin, myself included. They showed students how to write a business letter in this day and age and how to use the professional networking site LinkedIn to one's advantage. One tip I learned from listening to their talk: instead of sending letters to a company's HR, send it to the person you want to work for (in their case, designers).
"Find someone within the company rather than 'To Whom It May Concern'" Harding said, adding "if they're kind, they might meet you if they have the time...because it's all about connections".