Christopher New

As both the senior lecturer of Menswear and Fashion Program Coordinator at the renowned Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Christopher New juggles teaching some of the brightest young talent in the design world, tackling daily administrative duties and keeping up with the ever-changing fashion industry.† Chris is former fashion designer who had his own namesake label for fifteen years. Yet performing his second act in academia is the role in which he feels most at home. †Letís find find out what advice he gives his students, what core skills new designers need to succeed, and why great work can still be done with a pencil and paper.

What is your job exactly?
I have two jobs here at Central Saint Martins. For the last fifteen years Iíve run the small, very select BA fashion menswear course for about 15-20 students each year. This course is for students who specialize in menís fashion. My job is to deliver some of the teaching and also organize a sort ofďarmyĒ of visiting lecturers,. We bring in practitioners involved in the fashion industry who come in for a project or assignment and then go back to their normal day jobs. Recently, I became Academic Coordinator which means I now look after the fashion program as a whole. Itís looking after the academics, assessment, and regulations dealing with academic quality. Itís more of an administrative job than face-to-face interactions with students.
What is a typical day like for you?
My days really vary. Today I was with my final year students doing fittings for their last major project. We had a model come in and looked one by one at their different toile garments, discussing how they might be changed, how they might be improved, fabrications, that kind of thing. Other days Iíll be sitting in front of a screen making sure grades and marks are all entered into the system properly- boring stuff like that, but it has to be done.
How did you get your start in fashion?
I actually studied science as my first degree, but my family was in garment manufacturing, so it was sort of in my blood. Rather than becoming a scientist, I decided to work in the retail part of the fashion industry as that really got into my blood. After working for different people, including Paul Smith in the early days, I started my own company. I opened my own retail store, started designing stuff, and my brand just grew from there. This was all under my own name. In those days there was a sort of an explosion in the Japanese market. So very quickly the business I was doing in Japan increased, and I had a license deal that went well. Then after about 15 years I had enough of the stresses and strains of running a fashion label.
Did you have a mentor?
As far as being an academic, my mentor is the current fashion course director, Willie Walters. One of the main things she taught me in the world of universities and academia is that you have this whole management structure that pushes you more towards filling out forms. This push takes you away from the teaching and how important it is to be face to face with the students. At Central Saint Martins we are really lucky to have a great reputation, so some of the students we take in are already very talented. I can still learn from them sometimes- their work is mind bogglingly good. The goal is to have as much contact with the students as possible in order to further their talent and avoid being bogged down in too much organization.
How does Central Saint Martins differ from other design schools?
Itís probably true to say Central Saint Martin is different than most other colleges here in the UK. We are an art school, so we have all of the other disciplines in art and design, and a very creative institution, but we donít do any kind of business studies at all. We are clear about that and donít pretend that you are going to learn the business side of the fashion industry. If you come to study here, it is really all about the creative. If students need to get to know business stuff, they will probably need to get training elsewhere. I would say other institutions are heading slightly more towards the commercial side of the fashion industry. Thereís nothing wrong with that - itís the biggest part of the fashion industry and the kind of training most designersí need. We have this small niche of teaching and training people for the more highly creative jobs in the industry. That works for us. It is a small niche, but I think there is a space for at least one institution to work like that.
In regards to Design Portfolios, what advice do you give students that may help them stay competitive?
There are an awful lot of tools to help students draw and present their work, but I donít think there is anything that replaces working with a pencil and a sheet of white paper. If you are going to succeed, you have to do really interesting, creative, desirable fashion designs and that is the only way. Dressing them up in clever computer presentations is important and a lot of the way the industry requires you to work. I wouldnít say we discourage the technology, but computer designs donít prove your work. If you havenít got that kind of creative spark, then no amount of tricks or gismos will improve the work. Many of students who come to us they are not short of creativity- itís bubbling out. They tend to suffer from putting too many ideas in one piece of work and over designing something. One of the things we try to teach them is to use all of that creativity in an intelligent way.
How has the Design curriculum changed over the years?
I suppose it hasnít changed hugely. Obviously, fashions change and the type of design changes. We have to keep up with the times and itís very important that the students learn about new media and ways of presenting their work and producing e-portfolios. Yet in some fundamental ways the curriculum has not changed. Nowadays, certainly in menswear, people tend to dress more casually and thereís the whole fashion sportswear thing. We definitely push projects of that sort and possibly less of the more formal stuff like tailoring, but tailoring is a big fundamental part of menswear and still very important. I think if people can create a good tailored garment they can probably create anything else with their eyes shut.
Other than the very well known graduates, what are other Central Saint Martins grads doing?
There are many who are creative directors of older fashion houses. Their name isnít in lights above the door, but that will be the majority of cases. Itís definitely worth saying that a lot of our students donít work for top end houses. They might start careers there, but then decide to work for a more commercial brand and are having extremely good careers probably making more money from those in the top end brands. Some will change direction and someone who studied garment design may move into magazines or new media work. We hope to give sufficient transferable skills so that change is not impossible. There is that handful of names that everyone is always repeating- obviously we are very proud of those names- but thereís a huge number of people out there working, and although not famous, have extremely good careers.
What up and coming fashion designers do you follow?
Christopher Kane is making a big splash over here and his name is definitely ascending. I really like Richard Nicollís work. He started taking my menswear course many years ago, went on to our masterís course and decided to move to womenís wear. Recently, he started doing some menswear again and I think his work his amazing. Thereís a little design team Agi and Sam- neither come from CSM- and I think what they do is great fun; very print based. Henrik Vibskov is a graduate and his work is also great fun. Iím also quite enjoying one of my old favorites, Kenzo, and hope that continues to blossom in itís second life.
What trends in menswear do you like?
Personally I like the more relaxed silhouette. That incredibly fitted and slim tailored look is disappearing. What we are seeing now is a much more casual, creative, easy to wear, and comfortable way of dressing, which I like.
Do you have any regrets in your career?
I think if I did it again, I probably would have been more commercial. Like most people who graduate from here, what I wanted to do was very individual and designer. I wanted to do my own thing, which was great and exactly what I did, but doesnít have massive market appeal. Its tough to do stuff like that. And I think the industry is a lot harder now. When I was doing stuff there was still quite a lot of manufacturing going on in the UK and certainly in Europe, but thatís now disappearing. You have to go to the Far East to get manufactured, minimums are larger. Itís far harder to get off the ground than it was 20 years ago.
What career advice do you give students?
When students talk to me about their career and starting their own labels my advice is, well, itís a great idea and I donít want to put them off, but maybe think of working for someone else. Everyone is going to make a few mistakes in the beginning and make those mistakes working for someone else where you have mentors to help fix them straight away. When working for yourself, those mistakes could be catastrophic.

Letís talk London.

What are your favorite stores?
One of my favorites is Oliver Spencer. There are lots of references to classic menswear, and the kind of things I like to wear. Itís affordable, nice, fun, easy clothes. I still very much like Paul Smith. I can see the value in spending 1000 pounds for coat or something but I rather buy two coats from brands a little below the level of that topnotch area. I love walking around stores like Dover Street Market, which I find very interesting, but I enjoy more wearable clothes now.
Places to eat?
Iím really keen on Lebanese food so I go to small restaurants of that sort I find around town.
Places to look at art?
I enjoy quite mainstream art and look forward to Roy Lichtenstein at the Tate. Both the Tate Modern and Britain have excellent shows and permanent collections. And the smaller galleries- the Hayward Gallery in the Southbank has a show on light and neon art. Iíve always enjoyed Dan Flavinís stuff so Iím looking forward to that.
Favorite bands?
The kids are constantly playing music in the studio and trying to tell me how good it is, but I remain to be convinced on most occasions. Iím not a big music person, I suppose. I quite often listen to the bands I listened to 20 years ago. I guess Iím a bit old fashioned like that.
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