Fashion designer, Cassandra Verity Green courts color and controversy
by Maria Raposo
Cassandra Verity Green has the voice of a London girl and she looks like one too: oozing cosmopolitan confidence in tiny denim shorts and a black band choker. She greets me with a friendly hug, as if we’ve known each other for years. “Sorry I’m late,” she apologizes through wisps of green hair. “I hate being late”.
We meet in The Old Shoreditch Station Café, the bar where she works when she’s not designing her new ready-to-wear collection. You can tell we’re in East London because the barista wears a red checked shirt and asks me what I’d like from behind square rimmed glasses. But then where else would you expect to meet a fresh-faced London fashion graduate.
Called Cassie by her colleagues, the young designer just graduated from four years of fashion at Central Saint Martins. Her graduate collection has a bubblegum aesthetic coupled with voluminous, seaweed textures – she admits that the heavy embellishment made the pieces very time-consuming to create, crediting a team of foundation students who helped her.
Grateful for this network of support, she’s experienced a lot of interest in her work since leaving university. There are stores in London and Japan who are keen to stock her stuff and she’s also been featured in a range of alternative and mainstream magazines; her reputation slowly but surely gathering momentum.
She orders an iced coffee, which looks more like a caramel sundae, before singing the praises of Central Saint Martins. “I wanted to go so much that I didn’t even apply anywhere else,” she says. “I did my foundation there – the tutors were amazing and it was the best course for knitwear”. When I talk about trends, she sounds embarrassed: “I don’t really know about stuff like that, Saint Martins teaches you to be potential leaders of fashion, not followers – I don’t think they’d like it if we said we were inspired by trends”.
However, like many art schools, the university fails to teach many practical business skills. “I would have definitely appreciated having a bit more guidance in that department,” says Green, crediting her internships for the knowledge she uses now to manage and maximize her creativity.
“I don’t really know about trends. Saint Martins teaches you to be potential leaders of fashion, not followers"
Bold and colorful in her designs, Green says she’s had enough of black – “it’s been done so much.” Instead she’s started to gravitate towards nudes, a tone she’s keen to push in her new collection. She’s aware her clothes are designed for customers a bit like her – “If I could wear my things all the time, I would. I’m always prancing around the house in them”.
She’s had a mostly positive response to her work, but she also found herself at the centre of a media backlash after her CSM [Central Saint Martins] fashion show. Her controversial use of goldfish on the catwalk sparked RSPCA outrage – prompting the Evening Standard and The Daily Mail to feature photographs of her models under headlines such as “RSPCA pours cold water on wacky graduate fashion”.
A spokeswoman from the animal charity responded to Green’s goldfish bowl handbags and rucksacks, expressing concerns about the fish’s well-being: “While we understand that a graduate fashion show is about grabbing attention and headlines, we do have concerns that using a living creature to create a novel or unusual accessory encourages people to see them as replaceable ornaments, rather than living creatures in need of care and commitment.”
But what the papers didn’t recognize was that these weren’t some poor fish, sacrificed for the sake of style but Green’s pets – Milkshake and Babtunde. “They were really well looked after,” she reiterates, telling me that they weren’t used for sensation but because they went with the collection’s aesthetics, “with the whole sea-monster vibe”.
None of the papers contacted her for a quote and so it was down to her tutor to defend her: “I was annoyed at how people are so quick to judge without hearing both sides of the story”. Indignant, she says that the CSM fashion show has always been about bridging the gap between art and fashion – it’s not about being practical, it’s about being creative. To her, this is what the papers didn’t understand.
Her graduate collection used her grandmother, a beauty queen, for inspiration. She recalls stories of her “nan” in the 50s, walking along the beach and holding up her pageant number. Combining these memories with a love of a sea-themed aesthetic – “I’ve always loved anything to do with water” – the way Green weaves nostalgia into her collection adds an intimacy that is unusual in fashion.
Uninspired by high-street fashion, Green gets her clothes from charity shops and is obsessed with Etsy and its “great vintage section”. Her disengagement from the world of affordable fashion suggests the industry is failing young and creative people who want to look good but dress differently. She refers to her own designs as slightly “tacky” but their confidence and color may mark a new wave of clothing that is not afraid to be bold.