The RCA Sashays Ahead
The Royal College of Art’s MA fashion show is one of the highlights of a unique moment in the UK fashion calendar: Graduate Fashion Week. While the high street still feels the pinch of the toughest recession in memory, this year’s RCA graduate fashion show foretells happier days ahead.
A sense of affluence was evident at yesterday’s RCA show with luxe materials in abundance. Curves negotiating hard-edged highlights, the overall palette, pastels mixed with primary colours was reminiscent of the Memphis Group famous for its 1980’s Post-Modern furniture.
The womenswear collections – we will review menswear and knitwear collections at a later date – presented by the Royal College of Art graduates moved defiantly away from current minimalism. They experimented instead with shapes and textures and playfully redefined the space between garment and body. With force of frills, flounces and ruffles, layers of fabric that swung and sashayed away, they produced large dynamic silhouettes.
With strong sense of structure and thanks to the innovative techniques developed by RCA graduates, their garments demonstrated a vivid mobility.
Being the oldest art school in the UK, the Royal College of Art’s Fashion programme is critically acclaimed worldwide. The RCA is also celebrating 16 years under head, Wendy Dagworthy, who will be saying goodbye to staff and students when she retires in July. Its School of Materials offers students specialising in mens or womenswear, a unique opportunity: the freedom to inovate while perfecting their craft. A leading art and design university, RCA holds an impressive list of fashion alumni, including Erdem, Holly Fulton and Burberry’s Christopher Bailey.
Both the collections of Ida Gro Christiansen and Katherine Roberts-Wood played with some form of optical illusions. Christiansen’s created voluminous designs from sheer material embossed with spirals which freely twisted and bounced with each step of the models. Compared with the fluidity of these garments, Roberts-Wood’s dresses seemed almost stiff. Underpinned by the idea of repetition and playing with folds and slashes, her outfits created undulating waves moving up and down the body. Regularly appearing in beautifully coloured arm pieces cut away from shoulders, these Chinese lantern-like frills had a life of their own, lighting up the room with azure blue, lilac and fiery orange.
Opening the show, Janni Turtiainen adhered to this year’s RCA trend of oversized garments while a graphic palette contrasted with that of fellow fashion graduates.
Angular cuts draped in front were simply tied with a single piece of string on bare-backs. Accentuated by wet-look hair, Annika Heikinheimo’s shiny sateen, hand-dyed from black to peach, blue or green formed a more sombre affair. In front, broad, brash and unrefined ruffles looked like lifted skirts, exposing the strip of skins between calf-length socks and skirt hemlines – the only skin to show. Louise Annis went down a sunnier route, designing a lively collection full of electric reds and pinks. Ruched wool and silk made for wearable separates which will undoubtedly appeal to modern women looking for the next tailored style.
Nam Jung Choi’s collaboration with Textiles student, Min Zhong, delivered stunning paint stroke prints in the most opulent of hues. “Inside Me,” a piece by Portuguese artist, Helena Almeida, inspired Jung Choi’s stroke technique and the garments’ loose yet structured silhouettes referenced 1960’s furniture; a particular sweaters’ sleeve reminiscent of those big, bulky chair arms.
Louise Bennetts, whose BA collection was previously featured on Modeconnect, presented highly constructed garments. She pushed forward her previous work and gave her architectural influences a rougher edge. Built out of industrial materials, her garments seemed kinetic scaffolding surrounding the body, removing portions of stained steel and hanging them elsewhere.
The very few collections cut close to the body did not make for any economy in fabric; they proposed full skin coverage and extremely elongated silhouettes.
Headpieces combined with a slimmer form featured only in a few collections with that of Marta Jakubowski and her metal head braces being impossible to ignore. Inspired by the loss of her mother and the contraption she wore as a child, Jakubowski’s collection evoked a melancholic feeling. Long fabric pieces connected each design, producing a captivating procession of all-over red, white and black. A succession of blue created by Lucie Hardouin saw the bottom half of the face staved in the same piece of fabric that made up the entire garment. Like a tailored morph suit albeit feminine, these elongated dresses were understated and modestly accessorized with a low-hanging gold chain linking both arms of the model. Evoking a procession of slaves, the impression was striking.
The show concluded with the collection of Emma Hardstaff; a designer intrigued by exploded shapes. A sheer netted skeleton revealed an inside layer of glittered bubbles suggestive of life-size Quality Street sweets, providing a cheerful and festive end to a whirlwind of designs.
Even the untrained eye will recognize that these collections weren’t concerned with being wearable. As with every year, the 2014 RCA fashion collections focused instead on the conceptual side of design, demonstrating not only a flair for colour and texture, but above all, a knack for researching contemporary ways to create new garments. Suspension, alternate draping, and a move away from the traditional feminine silhouette are all strong themes that emerged this year. No doubt they will be grasped and further explored by the industry.
All photographs by Charlie Lee Douglas for Modeconnect