FAD Stories: Holly Cooney

FAD Stories, Fashion Futures

Holly Cooney was a Fashion Futures finalist in 2011. At just 17 years old the determined teenager from South London was already setting her sights on menswear design. This month Holly was shortlisted for the Graduate Fashion Week Gala show. Here’s her FAD story.

It’s remarkable to believe Holly’s appearance at Graduate Fashion Week nearly didn’t happen. Back in 2011 this is what she had to say about the prospect of going to uni and the tuition fee rise:

Then & Now. Holly with her model at 2011 Fashion Futures Final & 2015 backstage at Graduate Fashion Week

Then & Now. Holly with her model at 2011 Fashion Futures Final & 2015 backstage at Graduate Fashion Week

“I might go to uni but I might not. To be honest I feel like I just want to get a job and work my way up and see how it goes. My friends going to uni this year will come out owing £3,000 whereas if I go it will be £9,000 just for one year. It just feels like a kick in the teeth. I know you come out with great degree and the experience from it; but you will still end up at the bottom with a £30,000 debt. I think I would rather be at the bottom with no debt.”

We catch up with Holly four years later to ask what changed her mind about uni, and to find out what the real story is behind ‘those’ cellophane bags.

Holly, now you have had some time to reflect, how was your week at Graduate Fashion Week?

“Exhilarating, exhausting and exciting. I didn’t really know what to expect.”

How did it feel to be selected for the Gala Show?

“It was a big shock. My uni has so many talented designers that I didn’t really think I would make it to the GFW selections. It was a real achievement for me. After the UCA Epsom show I was shortlisted. I found it all a bit surreal, but it’s a great feeling to know that someone who doesn’t even know me or my work picked me. Especially when you put your model in a cellophane bag!”

Holly's 2015 graduate collection

Holly’s 2015 graduate collection

Ah yes, the models in cellophane. Where on earth did that idea come from Holly?

“Basically above Raven Row Art Gallery in London lived Rebecca Levy. When the gallery was taken over by new owners they went to meet their new neighbour.

Upstairs they found Rebecca living among a time warp of interiors, collated from the 1960s and 70s. The flat hadn’t been decorated in over 30 years! When she passed away the flat was left to the gallery. Canadian installation artist Iain Baxter, re-configuring his work from the 60s, then covered the flat in plastic to preserve the memory of Rebecca Levy.  

That’s what my collection is inspired by; embodying her front room and preserving her memory in plastic. It’s slightly romantic but also and a little bit ‘Dexter’, from the TV series.”

Did you have anyone particular in mind when you were designing?

“A lot of the shapes and styles were taken from my dad’s old clothing. So maybe him when he was younger, There is a strong heritage in the collection and it feels quite 1970s and a little feminine. I think my muse is a confident guy who’s clothes tell a narrative and he wants to show this.”

17 year old Holly taking part in FAD Fashion Futures workshops

17-year-old Holly taking part in FAD Fashion Futures workshops

When you think back to being an FAD finalist in 2011 – how do you think it helped you?

“I think it gave me a bit of an oomph to apply for uni and just go for it. I never really wanted to go before as I was concerned about the cost; it is such a huge investment. But, when you get chosen for something like FAD and then the gala at GFW it makes you think “yeah, hold on, I’m not half bad at this” and actually that hard work really does pay off.  So thanks FAD for giving me confidence and my first ‘oomph’.” 

When I interviewed you back in 2011 you weren’t sure about going to uni because of the rise in tuition fees – what changed your mind?

“I think it was what I had to do. The tuition fee rise is ridiculous, elitist and disheartening. But I couldn’t let that stop me from achieving my goals. I still can’t get my head around the fact that universities don’t get any additional funding even with these sky-high fees. I want to know where all that money is going!” 

Holly's 2015 Graduate Collection on Vogue

Holly’s 2015 Graduate Collection on Vogue

What has been the best part of being at UCA Epsom – would you recommend it to other young people and if so why?

“Yes! Go to UCA Epsom. Probably the best staff/student contact I’ve heard about.  Resources are vast and it’s really coming up in the rising fashion schools. Ok so the location maybe sucks a little, but what I have learnt at UCA is invaluable to my future.”

What do you think you would like to do next? 

“I guess that’s now really! I’m currently looking for jobs in larger brands, getting as much experience as I can and learning from the best while I’m at it. I would love to travel and work abroad – that would be amazing!  At the moment just seeing where it all takes me is quite exciting. And maybe in the distant future I’ll like my own label. Maybe.”

As a new graduate, what do you think the industry could do to help young people like you?

“Hire us ! Ha ha. Just give us experience and let us in. There’s a lot out there, like GFW andindustry preview days, but we need more events like this. I do wish there were graduate schemes for design placements.  I think that would really benefit design grads.”

Lastly, one thing you couldn’t live without?

“It has to be a person rather than a thing for me. My mum. She has been a lifesaver and my number one fan.”

Read more about Holly’s amazing menswear on her website www.hollycooney.com and in the Evening Standard online.
Thanks to George at Asda for making Holly’s story possible thorough their ongoing sponsorship of Fashion Futures.

George Logo_white_blackbox



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