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Meet the Judges Shaping the Future of Accessory Design at Graduate Fashion Week

By Partner


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Image: YKK

YKK will be continuing its support for Graduate Fashion Week (GFW) with the return of the YKK Accessory Awards for the 9th consecutive year, showcasing exceptional talent in millinery, shoes, bags, belts, and jewellery.

The YKK Accessory Awards serves as a platform to celebrate the creativity and innovation displayed by graduating fashion students. The award recognizes outstanding individuals who demonstrate a contemporary and forward-thinking approach to accessory design. Notable past winners include Natasha Finlay from Northampton University, acclaimed for her remarkable range of outerwear accessories, and Dimitri Gabellier from Montfort University, whose footwear collection earned him opportunities with renowned fashion houses Givenchy and Adidas Originals.

As the excitement builds for the GFW Event and Awards. Let’s meet the judges for this year's YKK Accessory Awards.

Sian Evans, a truly multi-talented force, for 14 years Sian worked as a senior lecturer in BA jewellery design at CSM. With a remarkable career spanning 40 years, Sian has excelled in various roles, including those of a goldsmith, lapidarist, upcycler, jewellery designer, and sustainability champion. Her work has graced catwalks for London, Paris, and New York fashion weeks and has amassed global appeal.

Image: Sian Evans, jewellery designer.

When asked about the uniqueness and importance of Graduate Fashion Week for emerging designers, Sian highlights the incredible opportunity it presents. "Graduate Fashion Week is a unique platform that brings together students from all over the UK to showcase their work in London," she explains. "It's a chance for these young designers to make their mark, meet industry professionals, and gain exposure."

In terms of advice for fashion graduates participating in Graduate Fashion Week, Sian emphasizes the importance of confident communication. "Practice talking confidently about your work in a meaningful and concise way," she advises. "Being able to engage strangers and effectively convey the essence of their creations is crucial for the participants' success." Sustainability is also a key aspect for her, as she believes in championing sustainable and traceable methods of working in the industry. Reflecting on her own career highlights, Sian shares a pivotal moment that transformed her career. "As a very shy recent graduate, I decided to put my shyness aside and take a risk," she recalls. "I took my first collection of fashion jewels to stores that I thought might be interested." This bold move led to an unexpected meeting with an editor at Vogue, and from that point on, her career soared.

Adding further expertise to the panel is Liz Ciokajlo, an American designer based in London. After completing an MA in Fashion Footwear at London College of Fashion (LCF), Liz has worked as a design consultant for Clarks and has embarked on several footwear projects focusing on material innovations and design forms. Liz brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field of accessory design, particularly in shoes. Additionally, she has served as an educator, working with the next generation of design students at renowned universities such as Central St. Martins and Ravensbourne University London.

YKK: Liz Ciokajlo, shoe designer.

When asked about the significance of Graduate Fashion Week for emerging designers, Liz emphasizes the invaluable exposure it offers. "Graduate Fashion Week provides a unique platform for emerging designers to showcase their work to a wider audience," she explains. "It allows them to gain recognition and open doors to potential opportunities within the industry."

In terms of advice for fashion graduates participating in Graduate Fashion Week, Liz encourages them to stay true to their vision. "Don't be afraid to experiment and push boundaries with your designs.” "Originality and a strong design concept will set you apart from the competition."

Liz's judging criteria will revolve around the fusion of creativity and technical skill. "I look for designs that demonstrate innovative thinking, while also showcasing a high level of craftsmanship". "Attention to detail and an understanding of materials are essential in creating successful accessory designs."

Looking back at her own career journey, Liz recalls a turning point that shaped her future. "One of the defining moments in my career was when I received recognition for my innovative approach to shoe design," she shares. "It opened up opportunities for collaboration and allowed me to explore new avenues in the field."

Founder and head designer of House of Flora, Flora Mclean, is our third judge. Flora's expertise lies in accessory design. She is currently a tutor at the Royal College of Art (RCA) on the MA Fashion course. Flora specializes in avant-garde hats, accessories, eyewear, and artwork. Her work has been worn by stars including Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and Erykah Badu.

When asked about the significance of Graduate Fashion Week for emerging designers, Flora highlights the exposure it provides. "Graduate Fashion Week offers a crucial platform for emerging designers to showcase their work to industry professionals, press, and potential employers," she explains. "It's an opportunity for them to gain visibility and establish connections within the fashion industry."

Image: Flora McLean, Founder of House of Flora.

For fashion graduates participating in Graduate Fashion Week, Flora emphasizes the importance of originality and craftsmanship. "Focus on creating unique designs that demonstrate a high level of skill and attention to detail," she advises. "Aim to push the boundaries of traditional millinery and accessory design while staying true to your creative vision."

Flora's judging criteria revolves around the exploration of new materials and techniques. "I look for designs that show innovation in both concept and execution," she reveals. "The use of unconventional materials or the application of traditional techniques in unexpected ways can make a design truly stand out."

Sharing a transformative moment in her career "I had the opportunity to work with renowned fashion designer Alexander McQueen early in my career,". "It was a profound experience that opened my eyes to the possibilities of design and fueled my passion for creating unique and extraordinary accessories."

Finally, our fourth judge is Kei Kagami, a Japanese creator based in London. With a background in fashion design, Kei has been developing and creating clothes, shoes, bags, and installations since graduating from the MA fashion course at CSM in 1992. Kei has collaborated with Maurizio Altieri on their bespoke project "Vnapersona" and has worked closely with YKK Europe since 1998. Additionally, Kei has served as a creative adviser for the YKK London Showroom since 2015.

Image: Kei Kagami, Creative Director.

When asked about the uniqueness and importance of Graduate Fashion Week, Kei emphasizes the significance of the event for students. "It is simply wonderful that they gather in London and present their students' works through GFW," he shares. "It is a great opportunity for the students to expose their work and to find jobs, as industry professionals and the press are present. I also appreciate the event for presenting works from other countries."

Kei's advice for fashion graduates participating in Graduate Fashion Week is to continue developing their work until the end. "Just do your best not to have any regrets," he advises. "For the shortlisted graduates, make sure you can explain your work well. Every year, I see one or two who forgot to tell us something important about their work. Practice is key!"

With their vast experience our judges are poised to identify the next generation of accessory design talent. Graduate fashion week will be held at The Truman Brewery in London from June 12th to 15th.

Graduate Fashion Week
YKK Accessories Award