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‘Magic, tribal, ritual, illusion, hope, potential, inception, surrealism, dreamish; fashion as something we hold next to our flesh that can become us, be us, lead, protect and raise us beyond Ourselves,’ wrote Head of Fashion Zowie Broach introducing the event. ‘Somehow fashion needs to be allowed to run everywhere and view the process, invite their intuitive magical thinking in and out of systems, make, material and digital industries where we will make a difference.’

‘A walk without a cat’ presents a future world with Fashion at the avant-garde – a force to explore and define identity and a means to connect specialisms, industries, disciplines and fields of enquiry. This next generation of designers are defining new ways of being – that embrace a more connected world and the potential for positive change. 

Identity and the representation of the human form is a strong current running through much of the work in ‘A walk without a cat’. Guests to the show first encounter models wearing Sinéad O’Dwyer’s (Womenswear) garments which feature silicon moulded elements. Made in response to the lack of space for the body in fashion and toxic representations of the female body in fashion and beauty media, her work explores shape and form, creating powerful statements about women’s bodies, through the lens of vulnerability.

The physicality of the male body is addressed by Alejandro Virgos (Menswear) – who has designed a collection which approaches gender in an architectural way, through creating unusual and subtle lines and shapes. Alejandro aims to communicate what it is to be human today both physically and socially, with two models walking endlessly towards each other on treadmills. Elsewhere dancers performed wearing Saul Nash’s (Menswear) seductive, light and minimal garments that make a fresh statement about sportswear and are inspired by his experiences as a dancer of what gesture can communicate.

Self-expression through movement was a key part of the presentation of Holly Jayne Smith’s (Womenswear) work. Informed by research into how girls are affected by the commercial industry, social media and the spectrum of gender within social expectation, her vibrant and bombastic collection uses colour, pattern and texture to evoke a utopian sisterhood that values optimism and joie de vivre.

Through a close engagement, manipulation and invention of materials much of the work prompts us to reconsider our relationship to the garments and accessories we own, and the consumption, production and exploitation of materials. Looking to the future, Anna Talvi (Menswear) presented the research behind her garments that are optimised for space tourists and travellers by their engineering for prolonged stays in microgravity environments such as spacecraft and space habitats. 

Alice Robinson (Womenswear Accessories) gave a quietly provocative presentation about the leather goods, woollen gloves and perfume she has created from a single sheep, ‘11458’. The audience was invited to eat burgers made from the same animal – provoking reconsiderations of our approaches to animal products and the provenance of fashion as well as meat. Renata Brenha (Womenswear) took a similarly visceral approach, presenting her collection of sculptural garments that explore the rites and rituals of Latin America alongside offering guests edible earth. Her work prompts awareness of the symbolic significance of materials using textiles that incorporate sacred cacao and black chilli peppers, ingredients that were also used in the edible soil.

Other approaches to consumption and waste are seen in Katrina Yu Wei Lee’s (Womenswear) collection, which has been produced without any sewn seams using instead a new weaving technique that reduces fashion waste. Cavan Jayne McPherson’s (Womenswear Knitwear) collection uses all natural fibres and colour pigments from different types of wood and plants, to materialise the precious and constantly fluctuating nature of our environment.

John-Paul Trang (Menswear), has taken a more radical stance, rethinking if it is even possible to be a conscious fashion designer in the twenty-first century. His project proposes an entirely new system for the designer and consumer to create and interact with clothing over a lifetime. ‘Abyss Vision’ is headset that provides a third-person view live stream – creating what John-Paul describes as Uncanny Reality – distinct from virtual reality, because it a real space made strange, where everything is not quite right. He describes this as a way to inoculate against 'Virtual Vertigo' – the feeling of unease when navigating social media and our digital lives. 

Static displays and installations offered guests the chance to scrutinise the garments and accessories. Inspired by lived experience, Becky Hong (Womenswear Millinery) constructs by experimenting with raw materiality, asymmetry and accidental beauty to reflect the aesthetic value of imperfection. Using the techniques of breaking, displacing and replacing both the lenses and frame, Hong’s designs reflect the wearer's impermanent experience of life and the fragility of wider society.

Alice Potts (Womenswear Accessories) has used an innovative approach to create crystal accessories grown from human sweat – each one unique to the chemical make-up of the wearer. Her beautiful, speculative pieces imagine future garments shaped and formed by our bodily secretions.

Fashion at the RCA encourages young designers to take a fearless approach and develop unique voices through creative expression, obsessive and passionate attention to detail, and an informed, critical, global outlook. The work showcased in ‘A walk without a cat’ proves them to be accomplished makers, thinkers and innovators, with garments, accessories and visions and a spirit of exploration that will define the future of the industry.