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Plastic Lounge: A Day of Material Exploration and Exchange

Brittle, soft, cheap, malleable, colourful, durable, sexy, playful, fun: plastic can be many different things to different people. This wealth of meanings, physical properties and applications were explored in Plastic Lounge, a one-day exhibition and lecture series for Fashion and Textiles students in the Senior Common Room of the RCA.

Organised by Flora McLean, Senior Tutor in Footwear, Accessories and Millinery, the event brought together visiting lecturers and RCA graduates to share their investigations into the potential of plastic across fashion and textiles. ‘The word plastic can be used loosely and is open to interpretation. It refers to the material but it’s also about being mouldable, things that can be transformed. Today was a chance to bring the School of Material together; in particular making links between Fashion and Textiles students,’ explained Flora. ‘The talks were about making, moulding, fixing; the processes that you go through when working, researching and thinking through a certain material.’

The event opened with a talk from Pandemonia, the fictional character created and performed by an anonymous London-based artist. Inspired by celebrity culture, social media and the semiotics of advertising, Pademonia is an alter ego, a second plastic skin. Every element is handmade, including items of clothing, inflatable sculpted hair and pet dog. Pandemonia has become known worldwide, with appearances on the front row of catwalks, fashion shoots, music videos and in the celebrity magazines she set out to critique. Discussing her choice of material Pandemonia explained an interest in the fluid nature of rubber and its association with sexuality: ‘it represents nature within ourselves that can’t be controlled’. 

Throughout the day international industry professionals shared insights into various applications and uses of materials. French designer Florence Druart cited Galliano’s 2003 collection for Dior as sparking her initial desire to work with latex. She outlined how over the last ten years latex clothing has migrated from fetish clubs to couture. With House of Harlot, Druart has created garments for Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Balenciaga, and Comme des Garçons. Her presentation discussed working methods, including experimentations in dye and print and ways to create volume with a material that is fundamentally flat and associated with a skin-tight aesthetic. 

Other guest speakers included milliner Carole Maher, who discussed her technique of combining thermo plastics with leather to create more resilient hats. Hamlyn Terry from Gabriella Ingram talked through the practicalities of working with moulded silicon and rubber to create Ingram’s cabinet of curiosities inspired bags. In addition to their presentations both Maher and Druart ran practical workshops to share specialist techniques with students.

Several RCA graduates presented their work including Timothy Bouyez-Forge, who graduated from Fashion Womenswear this year. Bouyez-Forge gave a presentation discussing the inspiration behind his final RCA collection, describing it as an amalgamation of ideas, bringing together references to post humanism, JG Ballard’s Crash and the machine aesthetic.

Footwear graduate Chau Har Lee described how her time at the RCA allowed her to experiment. For her final collection she worked with a range of techniques from 3D printing to creating laser-cut Perspex "flat-pack" shoes. Her designs explore the strength and durability of plastic, as well as its versatility. Through combining traditional and more experimental materials, her shoes are sculptural objects that explore the relationship between function and aesthetic.

The Plastic Lounge event launched this year’s 100% Optical eyewear competition, an annual competition open to students from across the School of Material. Last year’s winner and MA Textiles graduate Jen Cheema, gave a presentation on her use of resin in her eyewear designs. She explained the importance of learning the processes involved in casting resin in order to experiment with, and push the capabilities of the material.

Many of the speakers exhibited examples of garments and accessories in the Senior Common Room. This included garments by current Fashion Womenswear student Louis Alderson-Bythell who presented his unconventional and innovative approaches to working with hybrid cloths such as silica, carbon fibre and Vermiculite.

Find out more about Fashion Menswear, Fashion Womenswear and Textiles, including how to Apply.