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Interview: Anne Smith

Anne Smith, Portrait. Image courtesy Anne Smith
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Published date
29 November 2018

At the end of the last academic year, Anne Smith stepped down from her role as Dean of Academic Programmes for Fashion; Jewellery and Textiles; Product, Ceramic and Industrial Design and Spatial Practices. After 27 years at the University and 16 years at the College, she has chosen to focus on future endeavours but will stay with us as Professor Emerita. A few months after her departure, we interviewed her about her own studies at St. Martin’s, her research in sustainable production processes and her time teaching at the College. 

You originally trained at St. Martin’s before you began teaching at Central Saint Martins. Can you tell us a bit about why you have always been drawn to the environment of the College?

Quite simply, my foundation tutors said that St. Martin’s was the best place to study fashion so I applied. At my interview in 1976, tutor Bobby Hilson and Course Director Lydia Kemeny said that only those who were the most passionately committed to fashion would flourish and survive; I was and I did! My education was character building and life changing, and the passion, focus and creativity of the academics and students still makes Central Saint Martins the most exciting place in the world to study and work.

After your studies you practiced as a printed textiles and fashion designer. Could you tell us about your collections and your work as a designer?

After I graduated in 1980, I spent my first year working on printed textiles commissions for fashion and interiors. I also travelled with enormous portfolios to New York and Paris as an agent which opened my eyes up to the workings of the textiles design industry. But my real ambition was to produce designs for my own fashion label. So I dyed, printed and made my first fashion collection in 1981 which I sold to the most avant-garde shop in London at the time: New Masters on the King’s Road, who also supported me to exhibit at London Fashion Week. This exposure led to showing under Lesley Goring’s Clothes Show, Brenda Knight’s Design Studio and English Menswear Designer Collectives in London, Paris, New York and Tokyo. I carried on exhibiting and selling for about 7 years and then, along with 2 partners, formed the fashion agency Opera. We represented fashion stylists, photographers, make-up and hair artists, and ourselves as fashion show producers. Our clients spanned designers and organisations from John Galliano and John Flett to Marks & Spencers and Central Saint Martins.

Anne Smith
Real Dirty Blue, Installation View, Lethaby Gallery, 2016. Photo: Marco Kesseler

Your research practice is focused around the sustainable production of surface designs. You have also secured patents for new techniques in laser cutting and etching. Would you be able to elaborate on your research practice a bit?

My aim was to create surface designs without the use of environmentally harmful dyestuffs and print pastes. Inspired by non-chemical patterning processes such as lace and broderie anglaise I developed collections of laser cut fashion fabric designs. I was also awarded a patent in 2003 for the application of laser etching to flooring materials. Recently, interior scale panels reference traditional textile motifs such as houndstooth and tartan, the laser cut layers creating light and shade, transparency and opacity. A zero-waste approach utilising discarded transfer printed materials also minimises environmentally damaging coloration processes. These laser-cut and etched fabrics for fashion, interior and spatial design have been exhibited extensively across Europe and in the USA. Here at the College, I presented my work in the Lethaby Gallery exhibitions Real Dirty Blue in 2016 and Some Like it Hot in 2017.

Anne Smith, Work Detail
Some Like it Hot, Lethaby Gallery, Installation View, 2017

Can you tell us about your various roles at UAL and how you came to work at Central Saint Martins, and your role as Dean?

After 10 years at Chelsea – firstly leading the BTEC General Art & Design course and Foundation Design pathways then as Senior Lecturer on the BA Textile Design course – I became BA Textile Design Course Director at Central Saint Martins in 2002, then Dean of the School of Fashion and Textiles in 2006 and Dean of Academic Programmes in 2013.

I have represented Central Saint Martins and the voice of the academic on many University Committees. Most recently, I have championed the development of Knowledge Exchange culture after years of promoting and delivering industry relationships which provide enhanced learning opportunities for students – led by unrivalled teams of industry-experienced and socially-engaged academics. But above all I always saw my role as Dean as someone who could fight the corner for the College, programme and course teams to provide the best educational experience for our students, teachers, researchers and knowledge exchange practitioners. It has been an absolute privilege to work with the best in the world.

During your time at Central Saint Martins, you have watched thousands of students graduate. Is there any work that really sticks in your mind, or any particular graduation year?

There are stars in every year and I have been privileged to celebrate the successes of so many. Collections and final projects that make me sit up and take notice always do so because of their bravery, wit and invention. Most recently these qualities have been found in students who harness their design creativity and innovation to address social and environmental agendas. For me this is one of the most important and significant shifts in the education ethos of the College.

As Dean of Academic Programmes for Fashion; Jewellery and Textiles; Product, Ceramic and Industrial Design and Spatial Practices, you have overseen a wide range of disciplines. This is part of the appeal at being at Central Saint Martins – seeing how “distinct” subject areas can conjoin correlate and collaborate. What unifying factors or similarities can you see across these disciplines, in teaching style, student work, theoretical approach etc.?

While working across disciplines can be challenging, that is what Central Saint Martins is about – breaking down tunnel vision approaches, challenging pre-conceptions, taking risks and capturing the new creativity and the new territories that ignite from the frisson when disciplines collide. The move to King’s Cross absolutely accelerated this; the transparency of the new building gave birth to a curiosity about disciplines, approaches, facilities and processes that had previously been situated behind closed doors. Teaching styles, student learning and research have all benefited from the opportunity created by this openness and cross-fertilisation. Ultimately, Central Saint Martins offers a environment of extraordinary and diverse creativity and opportunity in which to learn and excel.

From left to right: Anne Smith, Antonio Belloni, LVMH Group Managing Director and Jeremy Till, Head of Central Saint Martins
LVMH and Central Saint Martins Partnership, Launch Event, May 2017

What has been your proudest moment while working at Central Saint Martins?

There have been so many: always the Degree Shows; always the BA and MA Fashion Shows; the launch of the second phase of the LVMH Partnership with its focus on innovative sustainable approaches; supporting academics to achieve their career goals, representing the courses, College and the University abroad and finally, the speeches, love and comments at my leaving party. But honestly, Central Saint Martins is a huge part of my DNA, so being awarded my Emerita Professorship is an amazing honour in recognition of a very special 27 year-long chapter of my life.

Do you have any future plans after you leave the College?  

To enjoy everything I am fascinated by at a stress-fee pace…and take a break from organisation and management!