Have they invented the ability to be able to split one’s body in two and be in multiple places at one time yet? No? That’s my pressing question for Silicon Valley peeps to ponder over in the near future. Seeing graduate collections, more so than established designers, takes a fair amount of in-person vision because you’re trying to understand a something you’ve not seen before and grasp at what might the designer be thinking. Still, in my absence in New York, photographer Russ McClintock was able to attend both the Royal College of Art fashion show a few weeks ago as well as the private view of portfolios of the graduates. From his beautiful and comprehensive photography, I was able to glean a sense of optimism emanating from the students’ work – primarily in their use of colour, textiles and innovative materials as well as in the ideas themselves. It’s a visual feast that requires closer inspection beyond the performance choreography of the show – a major change-up instigated by new head of fashion Zowie Broach, formerly of the label Boudicca. I might not have gotten the gist of these clothes in movement but in stills, in inspiration imagery and in the details, these particular students for me encapsulated an uplifting energy that needs to be harnessed – especially because at this particular moment in time, when it feels like such a precious privilege to be studying the creative arts.
For most publications and journalists, Hannah Williams was a stand out from this year’s batch of students. That’s no surprise. I remember her silicone-dipped trompe l’oeil BA collection from when she was at UCA Epsom. Her investigation into all things plastic and shiny continues into her final MA collection, which was inspired by the sculptor David Altmejd. Williams eschews garment making norm by creating these pieces live on the models, adopting a sort of live-sculpture approach, where both clothing and body are doused in liquid latex that feels spontaneous and of its moment. It’s basically the prom scene in Carrie re-enacted with a more nuanced consideration of colour palette. And the results? A beautiful sort of mess.
“If it doesn’t sparkle, don’t buy it.” That’s a phrase that knitwear designer Sarah Isabella Sweeney overhead in her home town Liverpool. It’s also a mantra that I’m more than familiar with. As Sweeney delved deep into sparkle, into 1970s glam rock culture and styles of icons like David Bowie, Mark Bolan and Patti Smith, her ombre-dipped tactile knits take on a glittery bolshiness. This is one of those collections that does exactly what it says on the portfolio cover. Sparkle magpies unite!
Hanging out with my erm… excuse the un-PC term… “gaysian” friends has taught me one or two things about Grindr. I therefore had to laugh out loud when I saw that the title of Hong Kong-born Ka Wa Key Chow‘s collection was called “No Asians Plz” – a profile description that prompted Chow to use innovative and beautiful textiles to start what he calls a “Rice Queen” revolution. You can ignore the mildly offensive terminology if you have a gander at Chow’s Monet-esque collaged knits and painterly pastel fabrics. Dating apps basically still baffle me but I can certainly get down with Chow’s textural vision.
Turkish graduate Tuğcan Dökmen did a very abstracted riff off his own culture as he looked at the popularity of the lined polo shirt in amongst Turkish men, combining this masculine garment with traditional female-focused Turkish bead work. Dökmen used 3-D printing to create his own large scale beads which were then spray painted in vivid colours to snake around the body along with undulating waves of layered tulle. It’s a delicate balance between hard and soft with a clever colour palette used to define the silhouette as well as decorating it.
It wouldn’t be a graduate fashion show without some unfettered commentary on society and designers Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl have opted for the 2-become-approach to put together their collection for joint label Namilia. Their collection “My Pussy, My Choice” is a celebration and exaggerated representation of female icons who have used social media to put unapologetically put themselves out there. Li and Pfohl cite the likes of Miley Cyrus, Arvida Byström, Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian as pop culture leaders that put themselves “out there” and so quite literally, every silhouette comes engulfed in phallic inflatable shapes – brandished with slogans like “Think Outside The Cocks”. It brings to mind some of the reversed gender jokes in films like Pitch Perfect. “He’s a hunter” says man-eater Stacie or the main character Beca referring to her “toner” as her “dick”. This is the kind of vernacular that makes Namibia’s collection a) timely and b) engrossing as feminist-fuelled expressions in fashion takes on quite literally, new forms.
Finally Morwenna Darwell also has something to say about representation of women in mainstream media. She says her work is about celebrating “the beauty possible in the mundane and the everyday” but the older women she opts to portray in her lookbook and in her research are anything but mundane in their glamour-laden animal prints, worthy of Advanced Style attention. Darwell uses her collection to debunk these “glamourous” style tropes though by deconstructing her fabrics to reveal the “real” skin underneath the faux animal one. After all wild cats evolved to obtain their spots and stripes as a form of camouflage for their environment and so it is that Darwell’s collection unfurls on the body so that we might look beyond the surface .
All photography of portfolios and of the RCA Show by Russ McClintock