A model in a sheer top and two huge fried eggs covering her modesty adjusts her outfit in one corner of room 2.05, Heritage House. Mannequins covered in swathes of block neon fabrics and contrasting luminous macrame hoops stand in another.
Tables are piled high with lace, PVC, cotton, velvet, nylon – every type of material you could care to mention – as well as beautifully detailed sketches depicting all manner of weird, wonderful and, to the untrained eye, completely bonkers outfits. Design students armed with pins and scissors and tape dash from one model to the next, putting the finishing touches to the creations that could soon take them to the catwalks of Graduate Fashion Week, in London.
This is De Montfort University's selection day for its third-year fashion design undergraduates; "the day we've been working towards throughout the whole course", most of them will tell you.
After months of putting a final-year collection together, 15 of the 22 students will be chosen to represent the university at Graduate Fashion Week, a platform which, hopefully, potentially, could see them picked up by top designers or brands scouting for new talent.
So this is it. Their X Factor moment. Their chance to impress the judges who decide their fate.photo: celebrity dresses
Outside room 1.06, where the panel – fashion design course leader Della Swain, three other tutors and designers Alex Mattsson and Scott Ramsay Kyle – is waiting, Florence Tudgay, 20, is making the final tweaks to her collection.
"Can you just round your shoulders," she asks one of her models, as she takes pictures from all angles.
"I'm feeling all right at the moment but I think I'll be scared when I walk in," she says. "I've not written a speech because I feel like if I do that, I'd be worrying about remembering the words."
Graduate Fashion Week, she says, is the reason she picked De Montfort, which is world-renowned for its fashion design and contour fashion design courses.
Florence's collection is inspired by the countryside, or rather, pollution of the countryside. It features lots of argyle and checks, lots of chains and lots of lace sprayed with liquid latex.
They always say that catwalk fashion filters down to the high street, but it's hard to imagine picking out one of her coats as an essential winter cover-up. Works of art, yes. A rival to Topshop's latest trench? Not that I can picture.
And not least because they must weigh a ton.
"Well, it's elements of outfits that filter down," Florence explains. "The chains could become a print, for example. And this lace was really expensive, but you could use cheaper lace. And yes, it's impractical because of the weight, so you would use different fabrics. This red coat is very over-sized, very exaggerated, so it would be toned down."
Florence has been making clothes since she was 12. Her dream before university was to become creative director of Topshop, but she's changed her mind in the three years she's been studying.
"I love the technical side, so maybe pattern cutting. Later on, I would like my own label, but I've realised that takes a lot of work and a lot of money.
"But, I've got a lot of drive – if I want something, I'll do my best to get it."
At that moment, she's called into the judging room.
"My collection was inspired by my memories of going to my Nan's in Devon, and walking through the beautiful countryside there," she explains to the judges. "Then, I was walking through my hometown and there was so much litter and fly-tipping, it was just so different. Human beings are wrecking the planet.
"I wanted to look at traditional countryside things, like the Mac and checks, and giving them a twist; polluting them. The chains represent all the metal litter."
It's all quite relaxed, informal. More nice, lovely Cheryl than Mr Nasty Simon Cowell.
"Is there any green in your collection?" asks Scott.
"No, because we're killing the green." Each student has to present six outfits – with some garments almost complete, some in toile (test) form and some simply at the sketch stage.
Florence's outfit six is still at sketch stage, so the judges offer some advice about peplums. Then, she's asked to swap her coats about.
"Number two is looking really nice," says Alex. "I think number one is probably the best. Number one coat is brilliant, really, really great. Number three is nice but I find the jumper a little bit frumpy."
A red coat, however, he's "struggling" with.
Scott agrees. "It's a bit tomato soup for me."
"It needs to be almost blood red," says Alex. "And I think it (the collection) would be really nice with a lace suit." (Florence's outfit five, a suit in toile form, would be perfect for this, they decide).
And they both agree the collection is all "very exciting".
There's relief when Florence finishes her pitch.
"I couldn't tell you how many hours have gone into this," she says. "A lot. I didn't get a lot of sleep last night.
"I was quite happy with how it went. It wasn't as formal as I thought it would be.
"I knew the bottom of the red coat wasn't perfect and I was happy with them swapping things round, it did make it flow a bit better."
Florence says she's not sure if she's done enough to make the cut.
"You don't know how it's going to go because I think we've all got really good stuff. And there's a criteria, certain things they're looking for, like a good concept and technical skill. We'll see."
As they break for lunch, the judges chat about the designs they've seen so far.
"There's ups and downs, as you'd expect," says Alex. "You always see lots of really exciting and promising things and equally you see people who have struggled a bit. There's lots of potential here, definitely.
"It won't be a problem putting together a really nice-looking show.
"They're all completely different so I guess what you're looking for is real flair and talent. You're not expecting 20-year-olds to be ready to go, but you want to see the potential and talent and ambition, as well. There's lots of that."
Alex remembers making it through to his own Graduate Fashion Week.
"I've been where they are and it's horrible, walking into a room and a panel of people there to judge you.
"When you're sitting here now, you have to remember what it was like. For them, it seems like life or death. Graduate Fashion Week is like the prize of your degree, your prize for working hard. That's why it can be so heartbreaking for students who don't get through.
"It's the best thing you can do as a graduate. A lot of good things can come out of it."
Scott says he has been impressed with the technical skill and attention to detail shown by the students.
"There's a real mix of fabrics and a lot of thought gone into the design process. It's exciting to see that."
Della, who has worked with the students for the past three years and seen the blood, sweat, tears and late nights that have gone in to their collections, has to remain impartial when she's sitting in front of them as a judge.
"I detach myself emotionally," she says. "You have to judge on the collection. You also have to judge in terms of a balanced catwalk to promote DMU as a course, not just the individuals.
"They started mid-January on their first ideas, so they've been working on this for several months. I think there's always a real adrenaline rush, a sense of urgency, on selection day, exactly as you would expect.
"But there's a good camaraderie as well, with students working well and encouraging each other and supporting each other. That's good to see, as fashion can be quite competitive."
When you study fashion at university, you have to commit, says Della. It might not sound as taxing as chemical engineering or nuclear physics, but it's certainly no airy-fairy, six-hours-a-week course.
"It's full-time-plus. You've got to be dedicated. For example, you might have to toile 10 versions of one garment until you get it perfect.
"It's not for the fainthearted. But it's an enjoyable process, as well. If that's your dream, to be a designer or work in the industry, you're going to love the journey and be happy to put the work in."
Many De Montfort fashion graduates have gone on to be well-respected in the industry, moving on to careers with brands including Burberry, Louis Vuitton, River Island, Nicole Farhi and Reiss.
"We've had people like Katie Eary, who's now a successful menswear designer, people like that who go on to have their own successful label," says Della. "Then we've got students working here in Leicester for suppliers for high street brands.
"I never watch the (GFW) show. I'm too much of a perfectionist so I'm always backstage. Plus, it's their moment, not mine."
Chelsie Leadbeater, a 2013/14 graduate who will soon be working as a junior sportswear designer for Sports Direct, is helping this year's students get ready.
"It was so nerve-wracking," she remembers. "Your goal for your degree is to get to Graduate Fashion Week, it's what a lot of people come to this course for, because DMU is so renowned."
Inside the changing room, models are breathing in and getting zipped and laced up on rotation.
It's a full day of dressing up and stripping off, with no time to worry about who's sharing the room with you.
"It's strange how normal it becomes," says Chelsey Johnson, 24, of Syston.
"My friend is in her first year on the course and I did some modelling for that, and was then asked to do this.
"It was initially quite scary but now I'm quite comfortable sitting here in my underwear.
"It's been interesting. I'm studying a fashion foundation degree at Leicester College, so it's been really cool to see how it works at this level."
Upstairs in room 2.05, the second batch of students are getting ready to show off their collections.
Inspiration comes from all sorts of sources, from music icons David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac to Buddhist monks – and even, rather bizarrely, serial killers. Whatever happened to jeans and a T-shirt, eh? Carmela DeVivo, 23, used her family's Italian heritage to come up with her collection.
"I went over family albums to see what my relatives wore," she says.
"For the women, I looked to the north where the colours are richer, with chiffon and fitted lace. The men were more classic, more sophisticated."
Philippa Carney, 21, is the student with the Buddhist monk-inspired neon macrame collection.
"I love working with colour, I don't like using black," she says. "I used macrame as I was inspired by the Chinese knotting culture."
Of all the designs, Philippa's, to my inexpert eye, are among the pieces that could most easily translate to the high street.
Maybe just with a little less macrame.
"There's still quite a lot of work to do, it's quite bare and crude at present," says Scott as she makes her pitch.
"Number one is looking good, though," says Alex. "The macrame is looking really nice."
Jack Dorman, 22, who lives in Earl Shilton, is next to go through. "My collection is based on football hooliganism, it's heavily influenced by skinhead culture," he tells the judges.
Scott gives the thumbs-up to an outfit with shorts, socks and Chelsea boots.
Each piece features one bright orange item, whether that be trainers, a bag or a scarf.
"It's looking really good, mate," says Alex. "It looks fresh and it looks good. Number four is looking cool. I like the shorts and top. Number one is looking great and number three is looking nice."
There are a few faint oohs and aahs as the models are turned to show off their outfits from all angles.
Jack was nervous beforehand, he admits, but pleased with the judges' response.
"I was so nervous," he says.
"I'm usually quite a confident guy, but... I don't know. I think it went okay. They said they wanted me to introduce more fur and I was planning on doing a full fur coat. So that's good."
Jack says he has been interested in fashion since his GCSEs, when he opted to study textiles "because there were lots of girls doing it".
But then he found himself enjoying it and developing a talent for it.
"I always shop a lot for clothes and I would get annoyed when I couldn't find stuff I wanted so I started making my own.
"Graduate Fashion Week means everything to me, it's your stepping stone to designers seeing you.
"I've been working long days – sometimes 8am to 9pm, then an hour break, then in the library until 3am.
"Today is the most important day of my life."
After the judging day, the students have a three-day wait to find out how they have fared.
Florence and Jack are among the definites who have made it through.
Others the judges weren't so sure about face a call-back.
"We found out on the Friday afterwards and it was a nerve-wracking few days, we were all on edge," says Florence.
"When I saw the e-mail and I saw my name, it was exciting. There's still a lot of work to do, though, but it's going well.
"All six of my outfits are pretty much there now. I'm just so pleased. I can't wait to get there."
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