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UEL student wins prestigious Graduate Fashion Week award

University sends 16 diverse collections down the catwalk

An exquisitely hand-rendered gown crafted by University of East London (UEL) fashion student Antonia Nae has won the prestigious Lipsy Red Carpet Award at Graduate Fashion Week 2016.

The sweeping black dress featured silk chiffon and lace applique detailing which was juxtaposed with tough leather sleeves, a modest neckline and a small train. It was inspired, says Antonia, by the texture and beauty of the nature around the Danube Delta in her native Romania.

“I am really excited and truly honoured to have won this award,” said Antonia. “It’s hard to put the feeling into words. It means a lot for me that people got to see my work and, more importantly, enjoyed it.”

Dorota Watson, UEL’s Head of Fashion and Textiles, said: “We are all very excited by the award and Antonia is a worthy winner.” 

Antonia received her trophy at Graduate Fashion Week’s gala award show on Wednesday night. More than 40 universities and 1,000 student designers participated in GFW, which ran from 5-8 June at Truman Brewery in east London.

The Red Carpet Award is sponsored by high street fashion chain Lipsy. According to the company’s website, judges were looking for a dress that combined design, creativity, craftsmanship, commercial viability and red-carpet impact. 

“My dress is sexy even though it’s not as revealing as one would expect a red carpet dress to be,” Antonia said.

“I think it’s all about how the dress makes you feel when you wear it. For me, sexy is confidence and ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ and I believe this dress could make any women feel like she owns the show.”

Antonia did a foundation year at UEL before embarking on the fashion design course. She has interned at noted fashion houses Allison Rodger and Jenny Packham, where she worked on couture dresses for celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Antonia says she hopes to one day start her own business.

UEL sent 16 diverse collections down the runway at this year’s Graduate Fashion Week, ranging from Tinotenda Chafesuka’s vibrant, rainbow-accented sportswear to Samuel Kaiser’s avant-garde garments inspired by African hairstyles. 

Samuel, a part-time Duck boat driver who joined UEL as a mature student, created many of his pieces using high-density boat foam discarded by his employer. Samuel said he wanted to send a message that designers should use recycled and reclaimed materials.

He said, “That’s my main aim, to educate, to send a message out there that we can go outside fabric, use other things, instead of littering the environment. It’s very important to me.”

Hannah E Richards was another UEL designer who used discarded materials in her collection.

Hannah said, “There’s an eco-side running through the collection, with me upcycling print fabrics and rags. I’m trying to show how reusing things can look really cool – without making it too much of a concept.

“Making the world a little bit better helps rather than pretending nothing is happening and burying yourself in the sand,” she said. 

Fashion Programme Leader David Thomas said UEL’s catwalk show offered a lot of character.

He said, “It’s a really good feeling when you’re part of a national event and have a busy show. For students to get that exposure, that’s an important thing.