Marchioness > Archive > Volume 1 > Sarah Garfield: Goth Manifesto [Published February 2022]
Interview by Jessica Ann Richardson & Jessica Fynn

Sarah Garfield: Goth Manifesto    

Marchioness talks FASHION TEARS, ANN DEMEULEMEESTER, BDSM AND FETISH CULTURE, A BITTERSWEET ACCEPTANCE, FINDING CATHARSIS, and THE RELEVANCE OF GOTH with CSM Fashion Graduate, Loreal Pro Scholarship Winner and womenswear designer Sarah Garfield. 

Sarah Garfield declines on the chance to edit her fashion story for the purposes of an interview. She tells it as it is, so-called “fuck-ups” and all. “I think my story is quite real. I don’t think I had an easy ride compared to others on my course. I had to really fight for it.” 


Sarah’s path to MA Womenswear acceptance reads like fashion’s series of unfortunate events: paved with rejections, personal bereavements and the most fickle of tutors. She received the news of her post-graduate acceptance whilst working as a part-time sales assistant for Sophia Webster, a position she was later fired from due to dyeing her hair red. “I got accepted the weekend after my Grandma died. Literally the weekend after. Someone asked me, ‘how are you?’ and I said ‘I’m really good, thanks.’ And they turned around and said, ‘I thought your Grandma just died?’ and I was like ‘Fuck. Yeah, I’m really sorry. I’m still very upset about that, but I got accepted to the MA course at Central Saint Martins’”.


Reflecting back now, Sarah laughs at her deadpan delivery and the comedic timing of the situation, but expresses some concern, afraid that she sounds heartless or uncaring. “It isn’t that, at all. People would kill to get onto that course. They would sacrifice a lot. A friend of mine once said that they would legitimately push the next person in front of a bus if it were to secure them a job in a luxury fashion house. They were joking, of course, but it shows the lengths that people feel they need to go to get to where they want to be, and how cut-throat these industry positions are.” 


The now legendary postgraduate CSM fashion course is known for producing some of the fashion industry’s most mythologised names, but also for its soul-bearing method of teaching: breaking you down and building you back up again to be hardened to the opinions of others. In spite of not being the loudest person in the room, Sarah, for the best part of her years as a young adult, has always had a firm grip on who she is. Like a young boy stashing his first pair of high heels under his bed at the sound of footsteps on the stairs, Sarah quickly grew out of the embarrassment of her mum catching her in black lipstick on her way home from Camden Market. Today her look is The Virgin Suicide’s Lux Lisbon visiting the emo section of North London Claires Accessories circa 2006; all hard-edges, cigarette smoke (Juul Vapour, it’s 2021 and smoking isn’t as cool as it used to be) and soft interiors.

Sarah’s line is her own unique aesthetic of Tim Burton-style B&W stripes, Edwardian bodices, and mismatched underground references. There is also a hereditary and symbolic subtext to her New Romantic Age uniform of ghostly-couture. Sarah taught herself how to knit, so that her gossamer textures could be darned on needles left to her by her late grandmother, but it was for her unconventional draping techniques and abrasive knitwear samples featured in her MA Womenswear collection “Catharsis”, that Sarah won the L’Oreal Professional Scholarship, a title of CSM fashion prestige which put her somewhere in the limelight. “I’m not used to all this attention” Sarah says, ever humble about her achievements, like the little ghost she uses as an emblem, with its buttons for eyes and it’s mouth sewn shut. Here Sarah shares her personal manifesto of the gothic.




Your final MA Fashion collection “Catharsis” is quite confrontational in the respect that it seeks to quite literally unravel some of your own emotions, affections to gothic subculture, and heritage. What was the original impulse behind the collection?


I really wanted to follow my own voice and express everything that I love, everything that is true to me and my community of people and my friends. I don’t feel like there is enough expression of subculture in fashion at the moment. Throughout history, there has been some representation: I’m thinking of the early Rick Owens that was very dark, very tribal. There was a bit of a cult around that. Goth is always relevant, maybe it won’t be relevant in twenty years time, but I think for most of the twentieth century to the present day, it has remained relevant. Just like punk and hip-hop will always be relevant until there is some massive change, and we are all living in some robot society or in space. As long as society is on the ground and not in some future fantasy we are naturally going to reference these kinds of things unless they have evolved, of course. 


In what ways did your own research evolve while you were designing your collection?


Sometimes when you get to the end of your MA, you can feel kind of removed from your research. Looking back through my portfolio, I see it’s quite eclectic. There’s a lot of specific references: a BBC documentary on Slipknot, pictures of teenagers in Camden, a romantic-looking bride on the beach. It’s the contrasts that are the core of my work. I’ve also got images of Whitby Goth festival from a book, fine art pictures that are quite emotive, Amy Lee from Evanescence, some couture pictures for draping reference. 


Can you explain how you go about your design process? What is your state of mind when you begin working on a new design?


When I was at CSM, I didn’t do a huge amount of pattern-cutting. It’s not that I can’t pattern-cut, I just found it more emotional to work with fabric straight from the stand, almost like sculpting. I also worked with found garments and combined them with fabrics. My process: I’d drape something, take pictures, print them out. I’d then evaluate it by sketching, and asking questions like: ‘if this is the front drape, what’s the back going to do? What’s the side going to do? Can I add sleeves?’ I’d then go back to draping. It’s a back and forth conversation. My collection is quite small in comparison to others I’ve seen, because everything has to come from scratch and from drapes. There is no real blueprint for it. It’s just from my own head.


After graduating, moving on to my next collection and thinking about how to build my brand, I find I’m having to take a different approach to design now. I’m thinking a lot more about clothing that is designed to be worn and washed without risk of tearing or falling apart. Moving away from fashion as an art piece but still keeping in line with my design methods is a challenge I'm very much enjoying. I’m now going back to pattern cutting and proper finishings for my next collection, which oddly now feels exciting to me as I spent such a long period with the freedom to reject it. It almost feels new again. My next collection S/S23, coming out in September 2022, will contain a mix of very RTW pieces for my audience to purchase as part of their wardrobes and the couture-but- slightly-decayed-showpieces seen in my MA Collection. It's about finding the right balance.  


What feelings were you trying to provoke in people who experienced your MA collection?


There’s quite a feminine romantic darkness in my research: the corpse bride, pictures of Kurt Cobain, My Chemical Romance. There is a brutality and romance within my research that comes through in my clothing. I guess, it’s also romantic in the way that it’s kind of ripped off the body, which can be interpreted as quite sexual as well. I don’t really talk about sex much as a person, but in terms of how I dress, I express that. People do get signals from me by how I dress – often the wrong signals. 


Is BDSM and fetish culture something that you’re interested in, personally or artistically? 


I definitely am on a level, especially artistically. I was fascinated by the books on Torture Garden, the notorious goth fetish night, that I found in the CSM library. I haven't experimented a lot with it as of yet, as I think it's about finding the right person you can trust, but I am open to it. You also don’t have time for much erm.. extra-curricular activities while studying at CSM. I do think experimenting safely in this type of thing will help me in bringing a new sense of confidence and evolution to my work. 


Although, I do want to say that this is a subculture stereotype. I’m not opposed to BDSM, but I don’t have a huge fascination with it to the point that people assume I would.


It works in the reverse too – some people don’t dress in a way that signals they are part of that community.


Within my current romantic context, I’m quite a sensitive, tender, passionate person. A lot of people assume that I’m quite hard, but I have quite a gentle nature. I think that this is partly why I put two boys in my collection. I’m not attracted to those boys, but it does say something about the type of men I would find attractive. I’m attracted to a vulnerability and softness in a guy and I think that’s an expression of it. The guys look quite natural in the clothing, as opposed to drag. Subculture is naturally quite gender-fluid and queer-inclusive, but I’m not trying to be a queer or non-binary brand. I’m pro non-binary and pro gender-expression of course, but that’s not the core ethos of my brand. It’s the same with sustainability: I’m very pro-sustainability, most things I produce are made from reclaimed materials,  but it’s not intended to be the core selling point of my brand. Mine is more about the aesthetic.


Which designers do you love and reference in your own design aesthetic?


My favourite designer is probably Ann Demeulemeester. I do like Rick Owens and Olivier Theyskens. Some early Rodarte as well. Of course everyone who's a bit gothic or rebellious in fashion loves early MCQueen,Westwood and Margiela, you can’t deny their huge impact.  It’s become a bit of a taboo thing at CSM to admire those designers, which I’m sure you’re familiar with.


There’s the argument that you do have to have the knowledge in order to reject it. Where do you stand now on mainstream fashion?


I’m actually at the point where I don’t look at fashion a huge amount. I mean, this sounds like a cliched thing to say but I find it a bit regressive to look at other designers. I was continually questioned on the fashion context of my work at CSM, and it is really important and it does strengthen your work to have a fashion context because if you really dig deep, you can be like, “I’m not that into fashion-y fashion, I’m rebellious,” but I did discover Undercover and Carole Christian Pole in the CSM Library. There are people outside what you see of the sphere of mainstream media. Having an education about niche designers who are really doing their own thing, strengthened my work. I often force myself to look at collections that I don’t even like. Sometimes I force myself to look at a brand like Dior, just to know what a house of that weight are doing currently. It is good to know what is valued in the mainstream so then you can rebel against it or provoke your own views against it. 


Yes, and that brings me onto your own fashion education. I’m interested in your journey onto the MA Fashion course at CSM, because it wasn’t a straightforward, linear one. You had to really fight to be there.


It’s been a long journey. I didn’t expect to get in either. It’s actually quite a funny story, but I initially got rejected, and then I got accepted after. They just changed their mind. It was a complete mindfuck. I got rejected and then I got accepted. It was the week that my grandma died. I had quite a lot of mixed emotions that week, it was hard to know what to feel. I just kept thinking, ‘what if I’d said something slightly different? What if I’d been more confident? What if I’d worn different clothes?’ There were so many ‘what ifs’ with it. What did I do wrong? What if I had turned around and said something that changed everything? The fact they changed their mind so suddenly made me feel like they must have seen something special in me, which maybe just needed to be fine-tuned. I must have had some kind of impact. 

@ Eva Watkins
@ Eva Watkins

Sarah wears a vintage dress, skirts by Raven and Luv's Bunny, jewellery by Sarah Garfield and shoes by Emily the Strange X T.U.K.

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@ Eva Watkins
@ Eva Watkins

Sarah wears a vintage dress, skirts by Raven and Luv's Bunny, jewellery by Sarah Garfield and shoes by Emily the Strange X T.U.K.

press to zoom
@ Eva Watkins
@ Eva Watkins

Sarah wears a vintage D&G dress, Reconstructed Slipnot T-shirt by Sarah Garfield, and Demonia boots.

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@ Eva Watkins
@ Eva Watkins

Sarah wears a vintage dress, skirts by Raven and Luv's Bunny, jewellery by Sarah Garfield and shoes by Emily the Strange X T.U.K.

press to zoom

Was the MA all you had dreamed it would be? 


I wasn’t expecting to get in because I found out quite late and had been initially rejected. I had other plans for what I was going to do: I was working part-time in retail, I’d got myself a small studio and was going to make another mini collection and apply again the following year. I kind of got thrown into it and it was very overwhelming. I feel like I hadn’t had the time to emotionally prepare for what was going to happen. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to be there, experienced imposter syndrome, I was really fragile and not very confident. I was called into my tutor’s office because he was concerned about my emotional wellbeing. There were a few students at the beginning that would just cry. 


It’s quite emo and on brand, the thought of you showing up to class and crying all of the time. 


It was only once or at most twice! But there was an immense amount of pressure. Sometimes we would do group crits and you do feel quite exposed, presenting yourself. It’s different if you’ve known that group for several years like on a BA, but it’s loads of people you have never met from different backgrounds, some of them have already worked at big fashion houses, some are quite a bit older than you and it’s just quite intimidating. And to lay yourself bare and for the tutor to be rude, it just feels like you’ve got a wound and someone is agitating it. 


From experience, the designers on the Fashion MA can be quite secretive about their work. Did the lockdown ease any of those tensions as you were not really interacting in the same way?


No one knew what anyone was doing, unless you went out of your way to ask. If someone did accidently hit share all on a portfolio, it would be ‘oh my god, so and so’s portfolio is online, and the line-up’s there. Go have a look.’ People would discuss it and bitch about it. Doing the L’Oreal Pro Scholarship Award, you could see all of the portfolios on the drive, and you could look at everyone else’s. It gave me so much anxiety. You’re only meant to do six, and one person did fifteen looks. I thought that I didn’t stand a chance.


And yet you won! Congratulations, Sarah. How did you find out that you were selected?


They emailed me, but I’ve been trying to keep it on the down-low. I’ve been told not to tell people. It’s hard to keep it in, but they’re not announcing it until the day of the show. So I haven’t told anyone in my year group. I don’t want to start any gossip, either. There’s probably gossip going around anyway. There’s probably people who think that they’ve got it. 


There is definitely an elitist mindset that applicants are conditioned to have. Also, a sense that if you don’t succeed there, you’re never going to make it as a designer. I’d love to break that stigma down. It’s just a school. It’s a place where you can go to be creative and to do your work.


I was having this conversation with someone else. This is during the pandemic. He’s in first year, and he was saying that he feels like he could have basically done the same thing anywhere else. ‘I feel like I don’t even need to be at school because I’m self-directed in my own studio.’ It’s broken down this idea of needing to be at CSM.


For me, the best thing about my time at CSM, although I decided that I didn’t want to be a designer in the end, was the people that I met there. A lot of us were saying that we went into CSM with good mental health, and then we came out the other side feeling ripped to shreds. What did you learn about yourself during your time there?


I’ve actually experienced the reverse. I went in with terrible mental health, but I’ve come out feeling strong and quite a together person.I feel like I’ve grown up, that I’ve come out as a self-assured, young adult. 


In Hannah Ewens’ article for The Face, ‘Beyond the Batcave: at home with the goths’ you talk about your childhood and upbringing, both inside and on the periphery of the gothic subculture. Could you share a memory from your early teen years?


My mum used to make me come with her to Brent Cross shopping centre. It was very North London: the girls would go to Hollister, they’d get a Starbucks Frappuccino, and walk around with their flip-phones with charms from Claire’s Accessories. Claire’s had a good emo section as well. I still have a few things from 2006 which I bought when I was eleven. The objective of the shoot was to have that suburban contrast. I like the juxtaposition of the photographs.


Now that you’ve graduated, what are your plans for the future? Do you have ambitions to work for an established brand or build your own label?


I feel like I shouldn’t be on the fence about this, but I do feel like I’m split between: do I want to work for someone else or do I want to make my own label? I’m going to see what comes out of the show. The response so far has been quite exciting. I really wanted to graduate and work for a big fashion brand. I’d never done that before, so I thought that this would be my chance to do that, as I would have a push towards it. But I’ve actually got to the point where I have invested so much in my own work and my own process, it would be a shame to have to abandon it to go and work for another brand. If I ever got contacted by a big company, I’d go for it, but if not I’m probably just going to continue pushing my stuff, while freelancing. I’ll probably do my stuff anyway, no matter what. I have that passion for it. It’s something I’m very much in love with, so I won’t give it up. That sounds pretty cringe, but I’m sure you feel the same way about your magazine as well. 


Would you ever consider moving to another city to continue your work?


My dream city to live in would be New York. In my mind, it’s just like London, but on steroids! I have been thinking about relocating to a new city, but right now that doesn’t seem that appealing. I have experienced loneliness in lockdown and only communicating via phone or social media. If I went to a new city with a native language, I’m sure I would learn in time, but I can’t speak French if I went to Paris, or Italian if I went to Milan. I would feel quite alone and I don’t know if I want to go through that if I don’t have to. Life is short and I have invested so much in my career, I just don’t know if I would be happy. 


The thing with those fashion jobs is that they are usually so intense that you don’t actually have time to do your own thing.


I know from hearing other people’s experiences that I’d spend all day working, I’d come home, have some microwaved food, and go straight to bed (laughs).

@ Eva Watkins