I’m loathe to use buzzwords.  Especially ones preceded by a hash sign #.  “Woke” is one of those dreaded words, not so much because of its meaning and intentions but more to do with the general implications of its usage.  Its very grammatical structure implies that somehow the people that aren’t crowing about their “wokeness” online are asleep, drugged by political and social lethargy.  And where it is used as a hashtag, one’s very acknowledgement of “wokeness” seems to dent the noble cause they purport to protest and fight for.

However, it is a useful bit of vernacular when looking at a new generation of designers, graduating from their embattled MA courses, from which they emerge into the world, saddled with an increased amount of debt and most probably riddled with uncertainty as to whether they can make it in an ever-tough industry.  Being “woke” is what will differentiate these designers from the ones that simply want to make pretty clothes.  In fact, aesthetically pleasing things may not be enough to entice a younger generation of consumers who prioritise experiences over stuff.

And so on the day the extraordinary election in the UK played out, 48 MA students from the Royal College of Art under the tutelage of Zowie Broach made their debut through a combination of performance, choreography and installation, in a stand-out graduate show that utilised both a traditional catwalk show structure as well as that of an art gallery.  “It is fitting that the show takes place at the very moment when the UK decides on its future Government,” said Broach in the introductory notes.  “Since the UK voted to leave the EU last June, students have been asking urgent questions about owning their own culture that haven’t been asked for generations.  They have been pushed to ask deeper questions about fashion within the current political climate and its power to effect change in this unsettling landscape.”

From the overtly political to personal identity issues to the questioning of gender archetypes and materials, this cohort of students had idealised ideas in spades.  And they ranged in their final resolution of commercial viability, from clothes you could see making their way onto a shop rail to more visually surreal results.  That’s how the show seemed to oscillate from the down-to-earth to the fantastical.  Zahra Hosseini kicked proceedings off with a sobering display of the Muslim call to prayer.  A leather-trimmed black chador robe, unfolded to form a prayer mat, like an origami fortune teller.  Downstairs in the basement Hosseini’s Iranian compatriot Maryam Navasaz also drew from her Islamic identity, with her exaggerated head pieces sitting zen in a verdant courtyard garden.  At a time when feelings of fear and anxiety have sadly once again been stoked up around extreme Islam, both Hosseini and Navasaz felt pertinent in their objectives.

Zahra Hosseini, Womenswear


Maryam Navasaz, Womenswear Millinery


More topical moments came when Bianca Saunders’ black men wandered out in clothes that sought to define “contemporary black masculinity”.  Bathed in a pink light, one central figure in a do-rag and little else was lifted up by the others like a baptism of sorts.  The references to Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight were deliberate and were instantly felt.  Saunders hopes to start her own label soon.  Another voice that adds yet another dimension to black masculinity is certainly more than welcome.  Ellie Rousseau’s rave-inspired oversized knits and Manchester-proud garb came trooping out with signage that was bound to get an election night crowd going.  “Corbyn In, Tories Out”, “Save our Future” and “Peace for MCR” were met with vehement cheers.   Another menswear knitwear designer, Jennifer Koch chose to address her own personal gripes about Chinese identity with a blinged out sportswear collection, doused in fortune cookies and lucky red packets.  As a mother of a biracial “hafu”, the statement “You look more Asian today” was bound to resonate.

Bianca Saunders, Menswear


Ellie Rousseau, Menswear Knitwear


Jennifer Koch, Menswear Knitwear


Designers that chose to confront the real and the mundane also found their calling in knitwear (a particular strong suit of the RCA MA graduates).  Alison Hope Murray exploited the stretchy property of her monochromatic knits to express a state of extreme comfort – so much so that one model can feel comfortable in her own topless skin.  Pippa Harries‘ knitwear was more rigorous with its nods to traditional silhouettes but in peeling back a pair of checked trousers with ciggy in mouth and a leek in hand, it revealed a facet of odd domesticity that was intriguing.

Alison Hope Murray, Womenswear Knitwear


Pippa Harries, Womenswear Knitwear


When things took a more fantastical turn, they still held true to that personal quest for answers to questions consistently asked in culture at large.  Alternative ideas of female empowerment – another misused buzzword – were explored by Fabian Kis Juhasz, and his cartoonish horror film archetypes with daggers in their feet and blood drenched tulle.  Women as maximal flora/fauna was expressed in Rose Frances Danford-Phillips‘ joyous explosion of nature-driven embroidery and feathers.  And to flip that gender exploration, Sophie Condron‘s pastel-kitsch installation of pink satin, rhinestones and nan’s house soft furnishings, transposed onto her menswear collection made for heady viewing.

Fabian Kis-Juhhasz, Womenswear


Rose Frances Danford-Philips, Womenswear Knitwear


Sophie Condren, Menswear


Confronting a rocky future ahead hasn’t killed these designers’ ability to dream big.  There were a few that unashamedly tapped into the aesthetics of the futuristic convincingly.  Aubrey Wang is hoping to set up a collective of engineers, artists and tech heads – an ambition, which was reflected in her retro sci-fi cast of characters, welding giant mobiles and encased in Mars Attacks glass bubbles.  Han Kim pieced together plastic feathers of candy stripes and polka dots in a CMYK colour palette, in complex bird-like configurations on the body.  And Colin Horgan‘s woman stood on the precipice of danger, in draped bands of holographic and black patent, that elongate the body into female figures of strength such as Lightning from my own Saturday night childhood TV staple, Gladiators and Nina Williams from the video game Tekken.  For me, they were all a welcome dismissal of a pervasive minimalism that has dominated fashion MA shows of recent years.

Aubrey Wang, Womenswear


Han Kim, Womenswear


Colin Horgan, Womenswear


The most memorable of RCA grads have often surprised with their interpretation of materials or garment categories.  Their millinery pathway once again excelled with Jing Tan‘s surreal presentation of strange fruit and flower bouquet heads atop conservative looking suited men.  We got to experience the top of the world with Ting Ting Zhang‘s physical iCloud of computer-programmed knitted hats, which utilises the same technology as Nike’s FlyKnit.  She plans to set up her own label to bring her headfuls of knitted data to the world.  Why?  “Because they are slogans, they are full of spirits, they are forever on the top. And of course, they are indeed cute!”  Quite.

Jing Tan, Menswear Millinery


Tingting Zhang, Womenswear Millinery


In between the two runway shows, we were invited to explore the installations that also yielded new exploration into the possibilities of materials on the body.  Take Abbie Stirrup’s “tailored gunge”, which had models dripping in moulded neon silicone and realtime applied gunge.  Stirrup is proposing the idea that these second skins could perhaps enrich us spiritually or even one day nourish us physically.  It’s not too far off the mark if vitamin drip bags take on a wearable form.  Louis Anderson-Bythell seems set to open up a materials lab with his collection of self-shrinking, elastomer garments, moulded and cast into clothing that appears to be alive.  His work points to the fact that true exploration of the technologically new in mainstream fashion is still largely absent.  “Fashion is always quick to adopt an image, slower to adopt any new mechanism. Maybe this will change.”

Abbie Stirrup, Womenswear


Louis Patric Alderson-Bythell, Womenswear


Finally, you have Kira Goodey‘s intricate shoes that range from more ready-to-wear friendly leather specimens to a full-on slashed PVC bodysuit, printed with a blur of Into the Void-esque neon lights from her recent travels to Tokyo.  She like all her contemporaries, is hopeful for change.  “We are on the brink of a paradigm shift in terms of the way fashion is designed, manufactured and sold – one that will usurp the ready-to-wear mass produced culture currently in place.  This movement will be much more grassroots and empowering to smaller manufacturers.”

Collectively, this was a graduate showcase that left you with a sense of optimism for fashion’s future – woke and ready to wake this industry up with their ideas.  On Alison Hope Murray’s own website, her personal summary of the RCA show says it best.  “Just because we can’t buy a house. Doesn’t mean we won’t work something else out for ourselves.  Stay tuned, we’ll probably Facebook Live the whole thing.”  

Kira Goodey, Footwear

I’ve generally always prescribed to the adage “All dressed up with nowhere to go”.  Post Nico though, that phrase has become a “fun” game of sorts.  I say fun of course, taken with a huge pinch of Epsom salt, given the limitations of what one can do with a two month old baby in tow.  But when you snatch one or two hours from the day, whilst tethered to the house for fear of carting a screaming baby around town, putting together elaborate outfits at home is sadly about as good as it gets.

All of this fanciful dress-up that’s been confined to the home happens to fall in line with both current season Prada’s marabou frou frou fancies and Miu Miu’s well-tred territory of retro geometrics.  Miuccia Prada has long held fascinations with bygone notions of femininity, reflecting, reproducing and subverting them in a myriad of ways.  For S/S 17, Prada was quite literally dusted down with the help of a 1950s Stepford homemaker’s feather duster.  For Miu Miu, Miuccia imagined frolicking around on a beach in simpler and more innocent times.  So it stands to reason that my homebound state should be accompanied by the most ornate of idealised haus frau attire.  From these collections, specifically a Prada peach feathered geometric wrap skirt and a Miu Miu jacket rendered in a print fit for a mid-century chaise lounge become integral puzzle pieces to this love-in with retro-tinted domesticity.  Abigail’s Party esque entertaining, ridiculously over trimmed peignoirs and negligees (those very words invite cynical chortles) and Western-lensed chinoiserie best expressed in Vladimir Tretchikoff’s kitschy The Green Lady painting all come to mind.  These are the sort of clothes that are made for lounging artfully at home amidst pieces of Danish furniture and strategically placed plants. 

Alas, I’m only make-believing such antics in my N15 hovel.  You can’t see the brushed aside piles of Pampers 2, Water Wipes and milk-drenched muslin cloths.  Brow-raising feminists out there will be glad to know that this temporary fascination with  airbrushed visions of housewives of that mid-century era is fortunately only an aesthetic one.  I am slowly easing myself back into the land of the working, having snuck in a business Skype call and a casual writing deadline here and there.  Still, if I can’t get to ze fashions, ze fashions will come to me.  Even if they’re destined for breast milk stains and poop smears.

(Top: Vogue Mar 1969 photographed by David Bailey, Bottom: Vogue Jan 1968 photographed by Gianni Penati)

(Top: Vogue 1953 photographed by John Rawlings, Bottom L: Vogue Dec 1966 photographed by Henry Clarke, Bottom R: Twiggy in YSL tunic pyjamas)

Prada SS 17 skirt worn with vintage peach bed jacket from Fat Faced Cat, vintage quilted housecoat, Ayame tights and Prada SS17 flower sandals

Vogue Patterns 1967

Oriental Fashions 1960 photographed by Stan Wayman

Miu Miu SS17 geometric jacket worn with Jenny Fax smocked top and matching flares, Miu Miu slippers

Miu Miu SS17 geometric jacket worn with Miu Miu knit floral top, Jenny Fax smocked flares, Malone Souliers slippers and Prada plex ribbon bag

Raquel Welch in Geoffrey Beene’s ostrich-trimmed pyjamas Vogue Mar 1967

I’m just about emerging out of a hallucinatory haze, comprising the tail end of what seemed like a never ending pregnancy, a shockingly speedy labour that then segued into a shocking amount of blood loss and then two solid months (feeling like two years) of falling in love with this new being in my life and having my heart stabbed every time she cries.  And then all the while, the fashions have been going on in New York, London, Milan and Paris and I wasn’t there for the first time in about seven years.  Colleagues and cohorts have said I haven’t missed much but I think they’re just trying to make me feel better.

It’s not however necessarily the fashion that I have missed but the feeling of doing something with my brain, unclouded by feeding times, nap times, more feeding times and the occasional time when her eyes are awake, looking at you in that way that makes you feel like an awful human being for even thinking about wanting to do anything BUT look after her.  I’ve barely written a thing.  I’ve not read anything longer than a five hundred word online article (or more precisely a few panicked sentences in a baby forum that never seems to answer the question that I’m asking at 4am in the morning).  Venturing outside and breathing physical fresh air has mostly ended with my rushing back inside the house, clutching an Amazon Prime parcel or a bouquet of flowers (thanks friends, family and fashion peeps for filling our house with all that flora).

That haze is slowly clearing up though and with Nico Hiu Nei (pronounced Lei if you speak Cantonese) Salter-Lau registered and writ real into the world, I’m also beginning to think about integrating my daughter (I’m still trying that word on for size… ) into life, rather than making life revolve around her.  That could also be fighting talk that decrescendos into me staying in a nursing bra and bobbly overwashed leggings for the next week.

Still, the haze did produce something to kickstart the blog with, after the looooong hiatus.  Namely, a variety of shades of a colour that automatically accompanies and heralds the birth of a baby girl.  Thankfully, the range of pinks I’ve been receiving have been of the nuanced kind.  And they’re also things that don’t just revolve around saccharine baby gifts.  I’ve also been feeding my sleep addled brain  – online and in person – with images that are incidentally along that colour register.  On film Natalie Portman standing in the White House in a blood-splattered pink Chanel suit in Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, Naomie Harris staring down the camera with a menacing neon pink light behind her and Matty Bovan’s pink hued fashion film Girlness have been on my mind.  Wolfgang Tillmans’ skyscapes and crustacea and Ren Hang’s visceral poeticism and Maisie Cousins’ sexually charged fruits and flowers are also floating around in the noggin somewhere.  There’s little coherence below other than the shared colour palette but that’s par for course when you’re going through the postpartum pink haze.

Molly Goddard S/S 17 dress worn with Chanel t-shirt, Waven jeans and Shrimps x Converse hi-tops

Maisie Cousins

Lina Scheynius image from “09”

Sandy Liang dress with Yolke sleep mask and J.W. Anderson pink Pierce bag

Patty Carroll “Anonymous Women” series

Nico in Stella McCartney bunny knitted romper and bonnet, Soft Gallery onesie from Scandi Mini, La Coqueta booties, Studio Arhoj moneybanks and Loewe blanket

Wolfgang Tillmans, Astro Crusto, 2012 

Wolfgang Tillmans, From the Skies, 2015

Nico in Fendi Baby romper and pram blanket with Melanie Johnsson prints

Anna Barlow ceramic ice-cream tiles

Holly Hendry installation at “Wrot” Baltic Mill, 2017

Mold Magazine

Karen Walker “Transformers” sunglasses and Sophie Hulme S/S 17 Albion tote worn with Prada jumper

Ren Hang photography

Repetto “Anna” ballerinas  with Luncheon magazine issue 1

Naomie Harris in Moonlight

Natalie Portman in Jackie

Still from Matty Bovan’s film Girlness for Barbie’s 58th Birthday

Fiorucci bomber jacket 

India Mahdavi interior for Red Valentino store in London

Milo Baughman sofa from Coming Soon NY

Plys knitwear and Christopher Kane safety buckle Devine bag 

James Springall collage

Jo Brocklehurst drawing from Nobodies and Somebodies at House of Illustration

Fendi S/S 17 “Rokoko” trainer boots and Prada lace-up socks

Christian Lacroix homage editorial photographed by Roe Ethridge and styled by Katie Shillingford from AnOther Magazine S/S 17

>> How to alleviate the tiresome feeling of waddling around town with what feels like a 3 kilo bag of rice strapped to your belly?  By doing the conga with a human sized dinosaur mascot and Bryan Boy, which got the bump jiggling along too.  And as I hit my final days of being quite uncomfortably pregnant, I thought I’d look back to more jovial times when me, bump and Rexy were havin’ it large at the Coach House flagship store opening in London’s Regent Street back in November.

As this belatedly posted set of photographs attest, touring new stores – more often than not a solemn activity, peppered with facts about marble finishings and architecture waffle – can indeed be fun.  That is the key word of course that has underpinned Stuart Vevers’ turnaround of the brand, particularly in the runway Coach 1941 collections.  But even as T-rexes and stegosauruses waggle their leather puzzle piece tails about and kitschy Brit-themed badges that peppered a special capsule collection of accessories and varsity jackets (scoured from eBay by Vevers’ team apparently), there’s heft to back up the frivolity.  At the Craftsmanship Bar, there’s a wall of emojis to choose from to monogram Coach classics, in addition to the normal initial stamping.  Downstairs, there’s now a Made-to-Order service where a bespoke Rogue bag can be created in over one million possible colour combinations.  And throughout the store, Coach’s hometown of New York is evident in black steel fixtures, mahogany wood and a central mechanised conveyor belt that actually moves – a symbol of the chugging along of Coach’s upward trajectory.  Even Bryan and I play acting with a baseball glove and ball bears some significance, as they’re pertinent reminders of the glove-tanned leather that the founder of Coach was inspired to create because of the well-worn patina and buttery feel of a pitcher’s glove.

For Vevers, London is a chance to come home and officiate Regent Street with a proper retail incarnation of what he has achieved at Coach.  It’s a concept that has rolled out in New York and is likely to do so in the future in other cities.  The word “House” as opposed to “Maison” is fitting for a store that sits on what a street that straddles between contemporary, high street and designer.

A giant Rexy near the entrance is there to invite gawkers in for a gander and a feel of what are in essence, comparatively accessible products.  Incidentally, did you know Rexy’s a “she”?  According to Vevers, “she’s” not strictly speaking part of Coach’s 75 year history but has become an apt character and mascot, representing the sort of japes that now goes down in Coach design team.  Nope it’s not that dignified or necessarily “luxurious” to be hugging a lycra-clad female dressed up as a T-Rex.  But it is a laugh – and nestled in amongst all that leather and shearling – it’s providing a formula that’s working for Coach’s newfound customer base.

 

This post is part of an on-going social media partnership with Coach