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 don’t like the word cruise,” declared Miuccia Prada after well, what was in fact, Prada’s first cruise show.  That sounds like a deliberately contrary thing to say when venturing into but I think what Miuccia really meant was that she these clothes that form a pre collection in between the two main ready to wear seasons aren’t just for the jet set cruising folk.  They’re clothes that spend the bulk of the year on a shop floor, hence why they’re given this mini schedule of experiential shows.

But even as Prada felt the commercial need to join the other biggie houses in showing their resort collection, they were never going to do so in a far-flung location.  Another reason why the word “cruise” feels inappropriate.  Instead we went to the historical heart of Prada.  Moments away from their 150+ year old historical store in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, is the Osservatorio, a new addition to the Fondazione Prada, which will play host to photography exhibitions.  You clamber up and industrial staircase and find yourself in what feels like a secret of a space, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the iron framed cupola of the Galleria.   For this particular showset, OMA/AMO deliberately designed a contrast between the grandiose curves of the central dome, conceived by Giuseppe Mengoni in the 19th century, with a surreal mirrored set and pink satin linear seating, flanked by photographic screens.  Miuccia was fixated on the transparency of this setting – the view of the cupola seen from the Osservatorio, the panes of glass that loom over the resplendent shopping arcade and the flood of light coming into the space itself.  It certainly felt wildly different to the Prada shows of norm, held in their headquarters in a windowless space.

The Osservatorio also happens to be a lot smaller than the normal Prada show space.  All the better to appreciate Prada’s first standalone resort outing.  The transparency in the venue prompted a delicate spread of Japanese organza-esque fabric worked into frothy lingerie layers, echoing the pastel hued cakes and confectionary of the Prada-owned iconic cafe Passticeria Marchesi 1824 downstairs, where we had lunch beforehand.  Those ultra feminine underpinnings were contrasted with puffed up sportswear, like an off-the-shoulder tracksuit jacket with billowing sleeves, worn with knee high striped socks and chunky trainers.  I love that there’s a hint of late Victoriana worked into the track tops.

“I wanted something contemporary – somehow sporty – and then for it to metamorphose into elegance and then vice versa,” said Miuccia.  “I really had in mind what this place means in history and the beauty and charm of that period.  There was a sensuality as well as an eccentricity.”  And so the girls with their single feather headbands, girlish plaits and layers that flickered from club sportif to Belle Epoque promenade walked to a similarly juxtaposed soundtrack, where Johann Strauss’ The Blue Danube, sampled by Malcom McLaren on a mash-up house track on his album Waltz Darling.

There was also an unabashed transparency about the way some of Prada’s greatest hits were recycled and remixed.  Miuccia talked about her love of see-through fabrics in the 90s and add to that, you can tick off familiar Prada territory such as knee-high socks, techy nylons, diamanté and feather trims.  But the most notable Prada archive resurrection was a repeat collaboration with the artist James Jean, who was responsible for the fluid Art Nouveau-ish lines of fairies and blossoms in the S/S 2008 collection.  His signature florid lines this time featured illustrations of a reworking of the Prada logo and rampant pink bunnies.  This time round, Jean’s illustrations were sensual rather than whimsical.  There are many Prada collections that have been seared into my memory but that I particularly remember the frenzy of love for this one.  It’s been a whole decade since that S/S08 collection and thus there’s enough distance for Miuccia to dip into her archives, reviving an artistic collaboration for a new generation of customers.  No doubt, those illustrated bunny bags will fly.  For the Prada faithful such as myself, that of course wasn’t the only cause for celebration in this collection.  Much like the rows of mini fruit tarts and iced mini treats at Marchesi, you’re tempted to say, “One of everything, please!”

I’ve emerged from the newborn hell and fash-un is calling.  In between the thankfully reduced night feeds, I’ve been dreaming that I was having imaginary conversation about Edward Enninful’s new era at British Vogue or how insane/funny the queues are going to be for Supreme’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton.  Not a lie.  I did indeed wake up one morning thinking I had had a chummy frow-worthy chortle, and was then brought back down to earth by the rhythmic beat of Ewan the sheep and the milky scent of leaking boobs.

And so I’ve decided to throw myself into the deep end of the cruise show diving pool.  I’m doing all of ‘em.  As in all the biggie houses that take you around the world, serving up experiences as well as clothes so that whatever far flung location seeps into your brain.  The freezer is full of blocks of my boob juice.  The other half has been schooled on the art of Milton cold water sterilisation.  Timer alerts have been set for FaceTime sessions with Nico and five minute bouts of breast pumping.

To start the cruise journey off, there was an easy one-day jaunt to Paris on Wednesday for Chanel’s cruise 2018 show.  Chanel may have been one of the first houses to pioneer the extravagant travelling cruise show but such is their might, that the move to bring it all back to home turf in Paris, following their Metiers D’arts show at the Ritz, was a compelling  one.  Especially as we entered the Grand Palais under the angsty pre-election vibes of a drizzly Paris and found ourselves bathed in the warming hues of terracotta stuccoed walls and the ombre light of a sun setting over the Aegean.  The scent of real olive trees planted in amongst the meticulously crafted Doric column ruins was authentic enough, as was the wafts of burning charcoal roasting sticks of gyros at the after show cocktail (was I the only one who found it really great that we ate meat on a stick at a Chanel party?).  We didn’t physically go to Greece but in ambiance and mood it came to us.

And it doesn’t take a plane journey to make sense of the clothes in a collection Karl Lagerfeld called “The Antiquity of Modernity.”   This was perhaps one of Chanel’s most straightforward, easy-to-decipher collections of late.  You couldn’t possibly apply the phrase ‘It’s all Greek to me’ in this instance.  Because the collection was the opposite of unintelligible, which isn’t to say that the clothes are simple.  “Reality is of no interest to me. I use what I like. My Greece is an idea.”  That was the bold assertion from Lagerfeld in the press notes and indeed it’s not quite the reality of the country today, marred by economic woes.  Instead, it’s the mythical Greece of not just Lagerfeld’s imagining but a collective one.  This Grecian jaunt ran the gamut from Madame Grés-esque pleated and draped gowns, to amped up Halston vibes in caped printed chiffon dresses and then to modern day chiton mini robes for those Insta-friendly holidays in Santorini and Mykonos.  Gabrielle Chanel provided the starting point with her costumes for Jean Cocteau’s 1922 staging of Antigone and her marble Venus statue that still sits in her Rue Cambon apartment.  From there, it was every tried-and-tested Grecian-inspired dress trope for Lagerfeld’s taking.  Chanel’s tweeds were roughed up and frayed for rugged coastal climates.  Knife-cut pleats were moulded into amphora-shaped dresses, tightened in with embellished corsets.  The King Midas touch of gold was scattered all over a recurring laurel leaf print motif, an owl of Athena on a double CC purse and the gentle jingle of hammered coin embroidery.  For the lover of a memorable kitsch Chanel shoe, gladiator sandals come with ionic column heels.

The familiarity of it all works in the context of a cruise collection.  Type in beachwear into MatchesFashion.com and ye shall find the holiday friendly fashion category, burgeoning and bursting as a sector in its own right.  The monied and jetsetting community of the world who can afford to look to Chanel for their poolside and yacht-sunning needs will find that these toga-lite silhouettes and sun-friendly shades of terracotta, midnight blue and white fit that functional bill.  And for something more fanciful that mirrored Michel Gaubert’s 21st century Greek soundtrack consisting of Aphrodite’s Child and Iannis Xenakis?  How about those black ankle Daria-esque boots with criss-cross straps?  Or a transparent swiss dot-decorated kimono in thin plastic.  Or a crackled marble waist cinching corset rendered in sequins.  In the end it was proof again that Kaiser Karl could apply just about place Chanel codes amidst any era, civilisation or universe.

I hadn’t really intended to write any posts about dressing my pregnancy bump for two reasons – first that the internet is awash with advice, tips and recommendations on maternity attire and second that from the get-go, I had wanted to adjust or change as little as possible with regards to my wardrobe.  There’s no nice way of putting it .  Mainstream maternity wear by and large, sucks.  It can generally be summed up with horizontal stripes, faux kimono wrap constructions and copious amounts of cotton jersey (scroll through #Bumpfie on Instagram and your eyes adjust to that linear striped pattern).  In other words, clothes that I wasn’t prepared to spend actual money on.

But as my due date has been and gone (yes, I’m STILL pregnant) and I’ve weirdly adjusted to this bulbous formation that has been with me, more or less since August last year, I realised I had gathered up a personal arsenal of tactics that has enabled me to largely avoid the dull horizontal stripy jersey maternity hole.  Therefore here’s one last set of outfits in my largest, most rotund state, that pretty much sums up my mat wear approach.  I can’t say there’s any legit wisdom that other pregnant person can take away seeing I can only speak for my own changing curvilinear bod, but anyhow, here goes… the most specific and therefore least useful bump-dressing advice that has been ever been administered…

Enjoy!  Or not as the case may be…

– Layering need not be abandoned.  In fact the bigger I got, I think the more layers I put on just because once it was evident I was pregnant, nobody was going to really mistake three layers of skirts with two jumpers for a food baby.  When I wore a voluminous skirt with an extra puffy Coach shearling coat over it, I did get a male nurse at UCLH asking me, “Are you pregnant or is that just fashion?”  Chortling, I replied with, “It’s both!”

– There are obvious designers that aided me through the months.  Molly Goddard’s gatherings of tulle, smocking and elastic that got me through dressier occasions.  Simone Rocha’s generous proportions of beautiful fabrics, which “swaddled” my body, as it did hers when she was pregnant with her own precious daughter Valentine.  Sturdy outerwear from Coach to keep the final trimester months warm and cuddly.  Then there were less obvious culprits.  Thanks to Selfridges’ support of Fashion East designer Richard Malone, I overwore his use of ribbed jersey, asymmetric cuts and apron-esque constructions.  Vetements’ floral dresses – either in oversized bonded cotton or stretchy viscose – were also hugely useful.  Yes, wearing all that hype may have added extra weight but it would be churlish to fault the design or the roomy sizing…

– Wrap skirts that had several button settings or kilts that had different buckle distances can be worn when fastened “incorrectly” and worn over trousers, almost like a pelmet.  I had to look longingly at my rack of zippered skirts but wrap skirts were fortunately game.

– All hail the knitted trouser.  Ribbed knit trousers sort of became my equivalent of the legging.  Yanking and peeling off huggy sports leggings has become virtually impossible in the last two months without my partner helping me out but not so with the knitted trew that flops to the floor once waistband has been eased down .  Topshop and ASOS both did some great ones that were either made more interesting with a flare shape or cropped proportion.

– Speaking of elastic waistbands, not all are created equal alas.  The prize for the bestest of elastic waistbands goes to a pair of Comme by Comme des Garcons red velvet trousers, which festively doubled up as Santa Pants.  Plenty of give in the waistband despite it being a size SMALL and no painful digging in to the belly.  Topshop’s Lucas maternity jeans were the one exception to the no-mat-wear rule as the soft ribbed waistband also proved too comfy to forgo.  And leather trousers miraculously worked for most of my pregnancy thanks to J Brand’s cropped matte leather trews that came with a very forgiving elasticated waistband.

– It goes without saying that roomy dropped waist flapper dresses and bias cut slip dresses were also my salvation.  Except I’ve stretched a few of them out at the belly.  Bias cut pieces in particular seemed to skim over the bump most pleasingly.  Therefore browsing on eBay/Etsy/Kerry Taylor and on Camden Passage and Alfie’s in London was still viable.

– My love of flatforms was sustained all the way through pregnancy, with ankle straps and buckles tied at their largest size to allow for any swelling.  The key is weight of the shoe, illustrated by these Coach resort ones where the creeper sole is surprisingly light, with the added benefit of being about to have a bit of bounce in the step when the time comes to get the baby head down.  Fortunately my feet didn’t swell up so most of my flat shoes and trainers were by and large still wearable.

– Jumpers and sweaters have not in fact been ruined by their stretching over a bump.  I’ve come to be quite fond of the way they ride up at the front revealing a slither of bump to the world in all its stretch marked glory.  But just in case of the odd uncomfortable stare from sniggering teenagers on the bus, like I said before, there’s the layering thing with long shirts and tunics that can go underneath the riding up knitwear.

– I’m thanking the statement jackets and outerwear that I could still fling on if I did end up defaulting to shambolic lasagne-stained t-shirts underneath.  The zanier the coat or jacket, the better it made me feel in fact.  Volume!  Colours!  Print!  Embellishment!  Looking like an overly decorated sausage roll was precisely what I was going for.

– Oh, and lest there are any holier-than-thou zenned out mothers or mothers-to-be, thinking that I dedicated far too much thought to what I wore during what is supposed to be this beautiful and magical time, to ponder the miracle of life that is growing inside of me, time sloooooowed to a snail’s pace.  Every minute became more pronounced and elongated, even more so when I did eventually begin to wind down work-wise.   All the better to devote time towards sifting through dropped waist flapper dresses and experimentally yanking elasticated waistbands up and down my body…

Wearing Coach four pocket leather jacket, Coach cut out creepers and Coach patchwork Rogue with Richard Malone top from Selfridges, 2ndDay patent skirt and ASOS flared trousers

 

Wearing Coach Wild Beast cropped coat, Coach Car sweater, Coach haircalf cut out creepers and Coach Rocket Rogue with Prada sheer dress and Topshop knitted trousers

Wearing Coach Western Moto jacket, Coach car sweater, Coach patchwork Rogue and Coach cut out creepers with Vetements floral dress and Paskal sheer skirt

Wearing Coach car sweater and Coach haircalf cut out creepers with Ryan Lo blanket coat, Comme by Comme des Garcons velvet trousers and Low Classic shirt