Skill speaks for itself at UCA Rochester
University for the Creative Arts at Rochester’s collections, the last to show of day two at Graduate Fashion Week 2014, certainly made us sit up and pay attention, presenting well-executed, understated yet exciting collections. We were looking forward to their Fashion Atelier pieces – UCA Rochester runs two fashion design courses sharing the same catwalk at GFW 2014. We were rewarded with a confident simplicity and effective technicality. Ignoring unnecessary embellishments, students were content to let their craft speak for itself. Highly polished collections made for a well-edited show; each collection effective and relevant.
The University for the Creative Arts has over 150 years’ experience in teaching art and design students. Print, texture and creative cutting techniques are emphasised on the BA Fashion Design course and is clearly reflected in students’ designs. The Fashion Atelier at UCA Rochester trains fashion practitioners whose craft and technical skills are balanced with creativity. University for the Creative Arts Rochester has a solid reputation at Graduate Fashion Week with past students winning Best Womenswear Collection as well as the all-important George Gold Award.
This year’s menswear proved strong, with Corey Thompson’s bleached collection opening proceedings. Stark yet subtle, the models strode past in a clinical blur of bleached denim and pastel floral prints so faded they were a mere shade away from white.
Bujan Osaj took his street art influence in a pleasingly well-interpreted direction. Inspired by the faces seen in graffiti work, he transposed over-sized facial elements onto his garments. We saw eyes adorning sleeves, a nose pierced with a football-sized ring staring out from a sports jumper, and lips running along seams. His skilful placement and artful layering of different materials created shapes that were almost sculptural.
Pastels reappeared once more in the muted tones of Luqman Ali’s baseball-inspired pieces. The dusky pinks seemed to mock the sport’s supposed masculinity with softness while dropped crew collar necklines showed more skin than we might usually expect from menswear.
Nelson Were’s collection felt very new Vuitton with heritage houndstooths and tweeds expertly tailored alongside sports netting and plastic in a clash of tradition and innovation. The mainly monochrome pieces were built up beautifully with neat panelling and softened with rounded shoulders.
Womenswear was equally considered, with Eastern influences felt in the silhouettes of Hulya Mehmets and Mia Anderson’s collections. The latter worked with a palette of dusty blues and pinks, which melted into each other to form deep purples and indigos on silks so supple they moved like petals swaying in a summer breeze.
The abstract florals deconstructed over layered chiffon moved with so much grace and cohesion it seemed we were witnessing changing pattern over a singular surface. The cuts were striking too; the foxglove bud-shaped sleeves of one cropped jacket embraced the models’ shoulders with structural drama.
Jiayi Wu took us in a different, less feminine more boyish direction, with her collection ‘Sir, Any Newspapers’. Playing on the newsboy apparel of yesteryear, we saw supersize pinstripes, unpicked stitches and misplaced buttons which spoke of a childlike carelessness. Unexpectedly, newspaper satchels were not accessories, but part of the clothes themselves, and giant origami paper hats were placed jauntily on the models’ heads.
With her collection, ‘The Last Hug’, Xi Ming used charcoal and cream blocked colours creating a sense of harmony and contrast. The black element unveiled itself as an empty garment hugging the model wearing a cream dress. The atmospheric drooping drapery with structured elements beneath created a beautiful ying and yang dynamic. Though not the most original of ideas, its expert and attractive execution made it feel very new. Black profile masks – a singular undulating line joining the middle of the forehead and the tip of the chin – cast a dividing shadow over the models’ faces, evoking Picasso’s cubist portraits and suggesting split personalities heightening the collection’s human element.
Rochelle Minors offered a pleasingly considered collection. Her playful layering and creative accessories were an invitation to have fun with the clothes.
Working with the idea of windows, she layered different pastel shades using clear PVC panels for panes, gauzy netting for curtains and slices of felt for shutters. As we contemplated the clever curtain ring necklaces, we felt Rochelle’s collection articulated the idea of clothes as a window from which we look out onto the world as well as a way for the world to look in on the wearer.
Next, intelligent textiles with Faiza Matovu’s mathematical lesson of a collection. Using the natural sheen of grosgrain (a form of ribbed ribbon) to give depth to her optical illusion designs, Faiza’s outfits wove greens, purples and blues to create Escher-like designs striking in their simplicity.
Interpreting a similar palette in her own way, Amber Hammond’s collection mixed lime-green lace, navy blue patches and paint-splashed purple fur gilets. Her fabrics were decadent and exuberant; sumptuous velvets were stamped with letters that shouted ‘London’ at the top of their voices while her brick print was at home here at the Old Truman Brewery.
The message of UCA Rochester’s catwalk show was one of clever creativity and a confidence in the mastery of their skill. Pattern and print were purposeful with designers favouring tailoring and cut to surface embellishments. Speaking in quiet voices, the collections made us lean in to listen; their expertise shining through.
All photographs by Charlie Lee Douglas