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Fashion Show 2016: A Whole New Vision for Our Times

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Fashion Show is presenting outside the College’s Kensington campus. Graduating Menswear, Womenswear, Knitwear, Footwear and Accessories students have made the journey across Kensington Gardens to Lancaster Gate, where they are showcasing their designs in an abandoned hotel – a site of layered histories. 

This ambitious temporary relocation will comprise three performative Fashion Shows on 9 June; Avant Hard, a launch event of live performances on the evening of 10 June; and a Showroom, which is open for the duration of the weekend to allow visitors to admire the 40 graduating students’ work in close detail. All shows are by invitation only.

The location, an empty nineteenth-century mansion house, provides a setting of dilapidated luxury complete with scuffed parquet flooring, ornate ceilings, distressed plasterwork and peeling paint. The building’s past uses can be traced along with changes in style and taste, from English Baroque and French Mannerism to Art Deco. The venue is truly unique and poised for its next reinvention, making it an apt setting for the presentation of the students’ work, which too is highly individual, layered with past, present and speculative future narratives, and awaiting its launch.

Throughout their time at the RCA the graduating students have been encouraged by Head of Programme Zowie Broach to be brave and bold about carving their own identities. This generosity of approach extends to the final presentation of their work, which offers a vivid glimpse into each individual student’s creative world.

During the shows, one look from each student will be performed across the ground and first floors of the dramatic setting. Choreographer Joe Moran has worked closely with the students to devise a dynamic display. ‘The choreography creates a beautifully complex moving whole with models’ distinctive pathways crossing strategically through halls, rooms and stairs,’ explained Joe. ‘A spacious, elegant pace allows the audience space to absorb detail and excellence, while enabling the environment to support and highlight attention on each collection.’

As preparation to enter a continually transforming industry, the students have been given the confidence to adapt while staying true to themselves. Alongside being influenced by personal experience, their work combines traditional tailoring and craft techniques with references from across art, philosophy and politics.

Menswear student Niels Gundtoft Hansen has drawn on his upbringing, ‘skating the wet streets of Copenhagen in a cold and isolated Nordic landscape’. His collection captures the tactility of this environment through a naive or goofy lens. ‘I tell the story of lost kids hanging out by the industrial docks,’ said Hansen. ‘Vandalism is the agenda and their uniform is metamorphosed by the Oil Sea, wet asphalt and rusty containers.’ Footwear student Marco Baitella has also captured ideas of identity and origins through his final collection, which he described as ‘a time-lapse of memories that are painted into objects, in a stream of gestures that end up being shoes'.

Taking inspiration from further afield, Womenswear student Sophie Schmidt has explored the power of light and its interaction with the human body. ‘Light is the invisible energy traveling through dark space; it is for me the most powerful element of the cosmos. It creates life, space and colour, it creates beauty and aesthetics, it creates questions and wonders,’ she explained.

The loaded issues of animal rights and the use of fur in fashion have been tackled in a unique and playful way by Womenswear Knitwear student Mao Tsen Chang. ‘Real fur looks amazing but faux fur look Fur-bulous!’ explained Mao, who has imagined a future anthropomorphism where animals are empowered by wearing human clothes, and through her collection humans are transformed into ‘special kinds of animals in the city'. 

This year, Menswear students Elsa Ellies and Miles Dunphy have opted to work as a collective: ONEBYME. Each garment in their collection is crafted from one piece of cloth, which the duo explain ‘breaks all the rules of conventional pattern cutting,’ while remaining ‘respectful of old-school tailoring principles through the careful consideration of garment details and construction'.

A similar process of craft, experimentation and spontaneity led to the development of Footwear student Helen Kirkum’s collection, which explores the texture and landscape that surrounds the foot. Kirkum explained: ‘my work signifies the struggle to belong in a hyper-commercial reality, evaluating process, ownership and obsolescence.’

This year’s Fashion Show coincides with London Collection Mens, offering the best possible exposure for graduating students. Alongside their presentations at the College show, two graduating Menswear students Per Gotesson and Luke Stevens are showcasing their work with Fashion East at the event. Both Per and Luke are inspired by pushing boundaries and finding the innovative in the everyday. Luke has established a new form of critical fashion design practice that challenges the dominance of the existing seasonal based model. ‘My research focuses upon the latent potential of the everyday, the ordinary and the habitual,’ he explained.

Strong links to industry are a core part of the fashion programmes at the RCA. Alongside students’ individual works, the garments from this year’s collaboration with Brioni will be exhibited in the Showroom. This is the tenth year that RCA Menswear students have collaborated with Brioni’s master tailors to develop pieces that demonstrate an adventurous approach to tailoring combined with traditional and intricate craftsmanship. 

To launch the Showroom, Avant Hard – an evening of live events – will enable students to expand perspectives of their final collections through performances and screenings. These collaborations across sound, dance and film express the singular attitudes of students and their work.

Womenswear student Jessica McGrady, who works with tailoring and couture techniques in a new and instinctive way, has collaborated with spoken word grime performers for the event, highlighting the dramatic and the unexpected within her collection. A perfume created by Jessica as part of a longstanding partnership between the RCA and International Flavors and Fragrances will also be showcased as part of the Showroom.

Watch the video here.

To find out more about this year's Fashion Shows, visit the online Menswear and Womenswear catalogues.

See more information about Menswear and Womenswear at the RCA, or attend our Open Day on 25 June.