Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Royal College of Art London // Graduate Fashion Show 2017 //

On the eve of the snap election called seven weeks previous by Prime Minister Theresa May, the Royal College of Art graduates were presenting their MA collections to the fashion press. It was the unofficial start to London Fashion Week Men’s. Many of the shows were, expectedly, politically charged. There were poetic nods to the atrocities in Manchester, to identity politics—students’ relationship with their race, religion, sexuality—and anti-consumerism. There were 40 collections shown over a three hour period. 

I reached out to four graduates, the ones whose vision and presentation struck me the most. There’s the eclectic ebullience of Rose Danford-Phillips’ Modern Baroque, the poignant exploration of black masculinity from Bianca Saunders, a sportswear-infused youth explosion from Charlotte McDonald, and the surreal disco-dancer in Colin Horgan’s jubilant work. 

I posed the same five questions to each aspiring designer and there were recurring themes in their answers. I probed them on their inspirations, their status as graduates, politics and the future. It is an interesting read, hearing the voices of four impressive students whose stamp I hope to see across the world in years to come.  


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As I often am, with Rose Danford-Phillips’ work I was drawn to her colouration. Her inclination to work predominately with bright hues caught my eye amidst the sea of subdued colours. It might be considered typical of a graduate to work with bold, arresting colours so to demand the attention of the magpie-like fashion press but I was mostly intrigued by the way she matches colouration with fabrication.

What inspired the collection?

I grew up surrounded by both cultivated and wild nature (my parents are gardeners), and so my collection is inspired by my fascination with nature; an interpretation of the complexity and unrestrained beauty of nature, which I express through layering unusual materials, colour and a maximalist aesthetic that takes joy in abundance and opulence. 

I create my own ecosystems of layered and built fabrics in knit, print and unconventional embroidery. My clothes are in a state of re-wilding - I infect the silhouettes with rich colourful textiles, giving them life. I grow my embroideries over graphic and sculptural silhouettes to emphasise and contrast the organic and the built landscape.

What is the hardest part of being a graduate today?

I’ve only done it for 2 weeks! I suppose not knowing what’s next. There could be jobs, or there mightn’t be and you just have to soldier on. It’s a weird combination of exhilarating and terrifying. I’m also really going to miss the facilities to make whatever I want immediately and very cheaply, 

Do you feel obligated to reflect your political opinions in your work?

I think the most important thing for someone to show in their work is their personality, some kind of essence - which could span so many concepts and aesthetics, let alone anything political. 

I think that all good designers show off some sort of political opinion in their work, usually identity politics, but I don’t think we are obliged to show them - fashion doesn’t need to be so overt that a political opinion is obvious. 

I don’t think you can really see a lot of my political opinions in my work… perhaps a belief in environmentalism. I do see a sense of hope, joy surrealism and a sense of humour in my work though… it’s not overtly political, but to me it’s important. 

Do you think it is increasingly hard to decide between launching an eponymous label and joining the ranks at a luxury conglomerate?

It’s not a difficult decision if you aren’t rich! It’s almost impossible to start a label without some money, and I don’t have any so I don’t find it to be a difficult decision, especially because I love making clothes that would be really really expensive and I don’t think many people could afford them! I would much rather to continue learning by working for an few interesting businesses, and collaborating with different people. I’ll definitely keep making stuff putting it out there, but I don’t feel the need to have my own big thing. 

What does fashion mean to you?

To me fashion is an applied art - one of the most challenging and complex ways of delivering a concept or aesthetic, because of the ways it unique touches identity, culture and history. It’s exciting and innovative and I love the way it stretches to encapsulate so many ideas and expressions. I think the general understanding of fashion is a really sad, neutered, capitalistic view of the beautiful fabulous thing fashion can be. 
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Perhaps you’ve already heard of Bianca Saunders… the virtuoso has already been profiled in Dazed and i-D, two publications that most graduates dream to be featured in. Her work comments on black masculinity and chiefly she used interviews with her male friends about masculinity and their relationship to the clothing. Hence, ‘Personal Politics’ was born: a collection and an accompanying short film. 

What inspired this collection?

My friends and conversations I was having around the time I started the collection. I selectively chose to interview male friends that challenge the stereotypes of hyper-masculinity and how that is internalised. The interview features Kareem Reid who has become a big part of my collection; what he had to say in his interview was really powerful  and gave me a lot to think about when it comes to black masculinity. I found it interesting how the other characters in my research film reacted to being questioned—it showed signs of vulnerability. I used the reactions to the questions to title the collection ‘Personal Politics’, as it’s about these personal conversations about black masculinity in reaction to their personal style that leads these characters to be challenged from having feminine nuances. 

What is the hardest part of being a graduate today?

It’s too early to say—so far so good. It has been great.

Do you feel obliged to reflect your political opinions in your work?

I don’t but I believe it’s my duty to be as authentic as possible. If it happens to come across political, so be it.  

Do you think it is increasingly hard to decide between launching an eponymous label and joining the ranks at a luxury conglomerate?

Yes, it is! To be fair when has it been easy? London is really expensive so having your own label is difficult.
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Like Ms Saunders, I was enamoured by the way Charlotte McDonald’s personal approach to fashion design. She sought inspiration from her family’s military enlistment history and studied the explosion of youth into adulthood and that uneasy time. Her clothes were marked by a sporty indifference and thrust is well into the 90s. 

What inspired this collection? 

When I design it's not necessarily a theme or a main inspiration. I'm susceptible to my surroundings and those around me - so it is very instinctive. Having always had an interest and having built an archive surrounding masculinity and the pretences we have of young men today (my younger brother and members of family are in the Army)  I conducted interviews, and took images which led to my MA 'interference' collection. It's the idea of order and disorder coming together in a moment of glitch and youth in between boy and man. In terms of material, I became infatuated with stickers and the tactility of these against the skin -  I developed a process called RF welding which is normally a hidden process often used in inflatables and high tech sportswear for its durability - I explored exposing this through using a range of fabrics under this method, denim, silks, rubber and satin nylon. The physical process of this is almost like a mechanical stamp - irreversible and using electromagnetic current. 

What is the hardest part of being a graduate today?

I don't necessarily think it is 'hard' being a graduate today, I think it's your attitude towards things. For me, I felt more than ready. When you do an MA you are so engulfed by your own line of enquiry and process that it doesn't feel like education in that sense, your doing this for you. So graduating isn't really like the end of an era - it's when a new one is beginning. 

Do you feel obliged to reflect your political opinions in your work?

It is natural that our beliefs and opinions manifests itself into our creative work, so it's not an obligation it just happens. For me, with everything I do there is context and a whole other world of personal primary research and references behind my work. The sketchbooks, photographs and films that came through the collection work are endless. It doesn't necessarily have to be brash for a designer to express their opinions on society when sometimes it may be the subtle nods that are most powerful.

Do you think it is increasingly hard to decide between launching an eponymous label and joining the ranks at a luxury conglomerate?

Do what you want to do, for you.

What does fashion mean to you?


Emotion. And where all disciplines collide and explode: art, photography, film, sculpture, painting.
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Colin Horgan’s work reminded me, fundamentally, of Rick Owens latest menswear collection. For him, fashion is about transporting the wearer or the audience to a fantasy world and, moreover, the catwalk show is intrinsic to his brand. I recalled Owens’ show as it too was preoccupied with detracting from political turmoil and establishing itself in a distant surreality—Horgan’s one was dazzling-coloured and efficiently exacted. It is easy to imagine his work in the pages of Love magazine or something of that kind… in months to come perhaps we’ll see him there.

What inspired this collection?

My inspiration came from the idea of 'Second Mothers' or what I associate it as 'Temporary Mothers'. My influences are a combination of physical and virtual women growing up. Kim Betts who played ‘Lightning’ on the television series ‘Gladiators’ became a major influence in both my life and work. From the virtual realm I was fascinated by a character called Nina Williams from the video game ‘Tekken’. I wanted my collection to be a celebration of bringing these women onto an equal platform where fixation and highlights are represented in new and manmade materials. The draped parts represent the organic, flesh and blood women while the heavily technical aspects echo the technological women in my life. Each of these characters are unique however they share one interest and that is their natural gravitation to danger.

What is the hardest part of being a graduate today?

I think the hardest part of being a fashion graduate today is being original. The industry today is so saturated with the new that I think as a graduate it’s very hard to make your own stamp without people having an opinion or associating it to something that’s already familiar. I think the key with my work that makes it new and fresh is the approach to finishing. I wanted to create something that is 100% me in the finishing. I had taken my own steps and research ways into a new way of finishing the fabric selection I had made to make the most out of its possibilities. I didn't have buckets of money to get the highest end fabric but I think what I created gives a feeling of somewhat high end even though the original composition of the material before treated is quite cheap.

Do you feel obliged to reflect your political opinions in your work?

To be honest I think the internet and papers have enough political opinions already out there - this is my own place where I think I rather focus on fantasy then reality. I don't have a problem with people that do though - if its genuine and honest then of course I'd support it but for my work it doesn’t make sense.

Do you think it is increasingly hard to decide between launching an eponymous label and joining the ranks at a luxury conglomerate?

Definitely today it is increasingly hard to take the jump to do my own thing. The annoying thing is that I really want to but I don't have the cash to do so. If I do my own brand I want to make sure that I have enough cash to cover a good few seasons and production as I don't want to be in trouble only 3 seasons in. I don't have a problem working for someone else but I know it’s not forever. But then again if I do work for someone and get the freedom I want then it’s better to spend someone else's cash then my own.

What does fashion mean to you?

Fashion, to me is my way of communicating my mind. I think I don't get enough from seeing it on paper or seeing it in a photo - I think it’s definitely the show. I'm a huge supporter of showmanship as long as there is substance to the work behind it. I think nothing beats a show and for me and if I have a brand, the show is a major part of it. I will decide the clothes, the shoes, the earrings, the models, the walk, the music, all the bells and whistles that come with it. To me, fashion is about the whole experience - and people want to be a part of it.
 



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