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Riot Grrls, Punk Feminism, and Powerful Women: A Look into Day Four at Graduate Fashion Week

by Mohsina Alam

At Graduate Fashion Week, stunning displays and playful designs created by students from over twenty different universities could be found everywhere. Spanning across runways, presentations, displays, shops, stalls, and more, fay four began with an incredible hour-long collective catwalk. 

Each collection was hugely varied, with designers drawing inspiration from the pandemic, technology, and cultural heritage, to name but a few of the themes.

A core ethos spanning each of the collections was sustainability. Although the pieces ranged drastically in colour palettes and fabrics, many of the designers chose to utilise recycled and deadstock materials. 

Elle Curzon, a graduate of De Montfort University whose designs walked on day two of GFW, stated that she “trailed charity shops” in Leeds for bedsheets, which she upcycled to create a ruffled, rococo-style tiered skirt.

Alexandra Pantovich and Eli Heijink, two designers whose collections appeared on the runway on day four, both drew inspiration from punk music, feminist subcultures, and their own personal gendered experiences. 

Alexandra Pantovich - “Pretty Grrls”

Inspired by the ‘90s punk-feminist movement ‘Riot Grrls’ and classic rocker style icons like Courtney Love, Pantovich’s four-look collection possessed both glamour and grunge. The silhouettes created by oversized jackets gave the collection a masculine sharpness, which was softened by gold embellishments and feminine prints. The pieces were made from vegan leatherette, duchess satin, and stretch mesh, locally sourced in London.


Pantovich also explained that her love of history influenced the Pretty Grrls collection. She states: “Drawing inspiration from the intricate details of [Queen Elizabeth I] dresses, I have reinterpreted them through printed motifs on my garments”. 

In this way, the looks embody the power that accompanies regalness, in a subversive, effortlessly cool fashion.


Uplifting women and conveying female solidarity was important for Pantovich within her designs. As well as her nods to powerful women through history, her own female friends and family were integral to the creation of the runway looks. The brooches featured in these looks were either second-hand or personal pieces passed down from family members. She also sourced small adornments like buttons from her grandmother who was a seamstress. The chunky embellishments acted as small pieces of armour, giving the wearer strength through femininity.

Eli Heijink - “Mx GRRRL”

Leeds-based designer Eli Heijink was similarly inspired by the punk-rock and Riot Grrrl movement. His six runway looks utilised a wider colour palette compared to Pantovich; ranging from royal blue to mauve, to a gradient of red shades which felt almost reminiscent of the British punk movement.

The most memorable aspect of Heijink’s collection is the print of the prussian-blue set, the fifth look to walk. The print came from one of Heijink’s collage paintings, which was inspired by the punk music that he was listening to. He was then able to translate the painting into print through cyanotype printing.

The collection was also inspired by the designer’s journey of coming out as a Trans man. He states that he ‘experimented with draping to achieve the free flowing DIY aesthetic of Queer culture’, which is also part of the ethos of Punk subculture, he explains. The shapes created by the looks are reflective of a desire to resist conformity and a willingness to occupy space. 

Heijink utilised locally-sourced deadstock fabrics, including cashmere selvedge trims, cotton-blend tailoring fabrics, and woven wool, as well as scrap leather.

Heijink and Pantovich’s collections were a part of an overall incredibly impressive Graduate Fashion Week. Their willingness to traverse cultural and gendered political terrain resulted in powerful, innovative looks. Further, their conscientious approach to sustainability within their work offers an exciting and positive glimpse into the future of fashion.

Edited by Emily Duff

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