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Amy Vanderwal’s Graduate Fashion Week diary

We talk to the menswear winner and her mentor, Oliver Spencer

Punk. Inspired by one of fashion’s most revolutionary trends, Amy Vanderwal’s winning Graduate Fashion Week (GFW) collection made a bold and brave statement. So it’s no surprise that the judging panel picked her as their 2018 Tu scholarship menswear winner. Mentored by British designer Oliver Spencer, Amy has translated her GFW collection into a coolly casual range that feels totally right for now. We took a minute to sit down with Amy and Oliver to find out everything there is to know about her journey.

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Tu Style, Tu Clothing, Sainsbury's, Graduate Fashion Week, fashion, fashion designer, clothing, designer, British designer, menswear, collection, Oliver Spencer, Amy Vanderwal, punk fashion, raw shots, polaroids, moodboard
Tu Style, Tu Clothing, Sainsbury's, Graduate Fashion Week, fashion, fashion designer, clothing, designer, British designer, menswear, collection, Oliver Spencer, Amy Vanderwal, punk fashion, moodboard, catwalk, polaroids

“GFW is the future. It’s inspiration. Every time I’m constantly surprised. And I’m learning, which is great.” Oliver Spencer

Can you describe your collection and the inspiration behind it? 

“The initial graduate collection was inspired by the post-punk traveller movement that happened in the 1980s. It was all about rebelling against conformity and wearing what you want so that’s where the idea of clashing prints came from. It was all about tartans clashing with bold stripes, clashing with the bleached denim. Fabric choices went against the conventional norms so you’d have a biker jacket but it would be in a suiting fabric. It was all about things that aren’t really meant to be how they should be.”

“A combination of denim, knitwear, huge coats and loads of tartan, I also drew inspiration from the concept of travelers’ children and the idea of hand-me-down clothing. That’s where things like the oversized silhouettes came from – it was the idea of things being either too big or too small.”

How did you chose that as your inspiration?

“I was in a bookshop one day and I came across this book – The New Gypsies – it’s by subculture photographer called Iain McKell. He does a lot of stuff for i-D. In the book, he documented punk travellers from the late 70s up until today. I just picked it up and was like, ‘This is it. This is what I want my collection to be.’”

How has your collection evolved from your GFW show?

“It’s definitely been a journey. It’s changed quite a lot from the initial collection. I had to work really hard to make sure that it’s wearable because when you look at it on the catwalk, it’s quite out there. I wanted to stay true to still keeping the punk, rebellious attitudes so I did that through the tartans, using the bold stripes and bleached denim but in a more commercial way.”

Are there any designers that have influenced or inspired your design aesthetic?

“Vivienne Westwood is known for her influence of when punk all began, she was basically one of the people that helped start it all. And her rebellious aesthetic is ongoing today. She influenced my handwriting quite a lot. But I also looked at people that draw inspiration from youth culture, like Raf Simons.”

Do you think you’ll stick with the subculture inspiration or will you try something totally different in future collections?

“I think I’ll always look towards youth culture because it’s so prominent and that’s what drives the industry. I find it really exciting so I think that will always continue through my handwriting but maybe it would steer away from punk slightly. I really like the idea of deconstructed tailoring so I think that would be something I’d like to continue with and keep as my specialism.”

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What do you think is the most important lesson you’ve learned from this process?

“I’ve learned to not compare myself or my work to others and be confident in what I’m doing because that will make others believe in it and it will shine through my designs as well.”

What have you enjoyed most?

“I’ve enjoyed meeting and working with so many different creatives. I’ve worked really closely with the buyers and merchandisers at Tu. I’ve liaised with suppliers and been to their showrooms, and that’s been really exciting. I also helped Oli with his fashion show in January. Working with all these different people helps you understand how fast paced and exciting the industry is.”

What have you found hardest?

“The hardest thing was probably translating what was an autumn/winter collection into a spring/summer collection. The whole attitude came from the knitwear and the coat so it was just ensuring that I was still using those really bold tartans and translating the print into lightweight fabrics. It took a lot of trial and error.”

“I’ve had to lose a few pieces along the way but I get to keep the samples so I give them to my dad. I had all these punk T-shirts that we did loads of different slogans on and we only selected three in the end. He won’t wear them, he’ll just keep them in a drawer.”

What’s it been like having Oliver Spencer as a mentor?

“It’s been really good. The transition from uni to working in the industry is huge and you learn so much when you go into a job. Oliver’s got so much knowledge of menswear products and so much experience in the industry so it’s nice to have someone there by my side who can give me guidance along the way.”

“He’s also ensured I’ve got my own handwriting as a designer because it’s important that you stand out from the rest, as it’s so competitive. He drilled it into me that I need to have this handwriting that I can carry through my whole career. His advice has been really helpful.”

What do you feel is the standout, must-buy piece from your collection?

“It would be the tartan co-ords. Or the bleached denim shorts – they’re quite bold.”

Can you pinpoint the moment when you knew you wanted to work in fashion?

“I’ve always been really creative. My grandma is really artistic and we always used to draw and paint together. I think from that, I realised I wanted to work in a creative industry. I’ve got a really high interest in fashion as well – I love buying clothes – so I think the two just go hand in hand. It was never really a plan, it just kind of happened.”

If you could imagine any celebrity, alive or dead, wearing this collection, who would you pick?

“It would have to be David Bowie. I love how his style was so eclectic and he had so many different personalities. And how he used it as a way to present his individuality. He just wore what he wanted. I think that reflects what my collection is about. The dogtooth double breasted jacked is inspired by him, it’s a Bowie jacket.”

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Oliver Spencer

How did you first get involved with GFW?

“Sainsbury’s were very generous towards my cancer charity Shine so all my time for them is because of that. I got approached by Tu – they asked me if I’d be interested in mentoring the menswear programme – and I’m very into the whole idea of apprentices and young forward-thinking designers coming through. It’s not a great market to be a young designer at the moment so this is definitely a foot in the right direction.”

Why do you think it’s important to be involved in GFW?

“It’s the future. It’s inspiration. It’s as inspiring for me as it is for them. I hope. It’s a two-way relationship and it’s thrilling. Every time I’m constantly surprised. And I’m learning, which is great.”

Why did you choose Amy as the Tu scholarship winner over all the other contestants you saw?

“There were lots of great contestants and people who were doing equally as good things as Amy but Amy’s collection struck me, as did her personality. I always try to look past the collection because I believe that’s mega-important. I thought she’d probably be the most suited for Tu and what goes on out there.”

How would you describe her design aesthetic?

“At the moment she’s kind of formulating it. It’s coming to her. She’s finding out about what she’s doing which is a really exciting time. That’s going to develop over the next couple of years into something that’ll stretch from being exciting to commercial. And then hopefully she’ll get the exciting bit and the commercial bit to come together.”

The collection’s quite grungy with a punk influence. Do you see that being a big trend for this year?

“Not necessarily but I don’t think that matters either. What’s important is that they’re really good solid pieces with a lot of integrity. I feel as if we’re at a turning point in culture in any case so I don’t think it’s necessarily out of fashion either. I think that we’re going through a big change right now so I think it will work. I think it will work very well.”

Also, you have to be not too literal with the word punk. The word punk is to disturb, to alter, to challenge. That’s what it’s all about. She’s challenging Tu as well.”

What trends do you see coming through this year?

“Late 70s, early 80s. Lots of texture. Quite glamourous. I think people are getting their heads around what they’re meant to be wearing for work at the moment so that’s playing a big part. The suit is becoming something more that you would go out in at night.”

“There’s that blurring of lines between workwear and homewear. Pieces are just designed now to wear absolutely anywhere. It’s utilitarian and if you’re making it in soft, beautiful fabrics then it’ll work anywhere.”

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If you could imagine any celebrity wearing Amy’s collection, who do you think of?  

“I could actually see a footballer wearing it. Someone who’s got quite a swagger about him – wearing it in quite a hip-hop, punk way, which could be kind of cool. Or someone like Machine Gun Kelly or King Krule. And Glass Animals.”

Which piece do you think will be an instant sell-out?

“The blue and navy striped jumper. It’s very cool. I think the denim drawstring trousers are really good. I also love the blue striped shirt.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

“See all, hear all, and say nothing.”

Would that be the piece of advice you’d give to aspiring designers as well?

“I’d say stay creative. But work for it.”

Did you have a mentor when you were starting out?

“I’ve had various mentors but I suppose Paul Smith has been my biggest mentor over the years. But I’ve never worked with him. He’s always just been on the end of the phone for advice. He’s a really nice guy. I’ve been chatting with him for the past 15 years. He rings me up on random occasions when he’s driving in his mini and he’s outside my shop going, ‘Just seen your new shop, it’s bloody amazing.’ It’s really nice. He’s one of the good guys.”

How would you say that he’s influenced you?

“Not necessarily clothing-wise, but businesswise, definitely. That really got me going.”

Can you pinpoint a moment you knew you wanted to work in fashion?

“I was working in a market stall on Portobello Road selling second hand clothes. Dealing with stylists, it became more apparent that this was something I wanted to do.”

Have you learned anything from working with Amy in this process?

“I’ve learnt that you need to not be too opinionated and let people do what they’re going to do. And that my role is to help the winners develop into what they need to become. It’s helping develop instead of dictating what to do.”

Spotted our winning womenswear collection yet? If not, check it out here.