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RCA Fashion Graduates Set Sail on Inaugural Transatlantic Fashion Week

Five RCA Fashion alumni joined the first Transatlantic Fashion Week aboard Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2, spending a surreal and special week sailing from Southampton to New York, arriving in time for New York Fashion Week.

A team of five people from Cunard, including fashion journalist, historian and RCA Visiting Professor Colin McDowell and retired merchandise director of Saks Fifth Avenue Gail Sackloff, visited the RCA to interview recent graduates about their final collections. 

Womenswear graduates Stefanie Tschirky, Sophie Schmidt and Oksana Anilionyte, and Menswear graduates Laetitia Berthier and Niels Gundtoft were selected to showcase their graduate collections during the voyage and share the ideas and creative process behind their garments.

‘The Transatlantic Fashion week was a very interesting experience as we had a chance to show our collections to a different audience as well as discuss our collections with people that came to “Meet the Designers” events,’ Oksana Anilionyte explained. ‘People showed a lot of support and were genuinely interested in the concepts behind the collections.’

Also aboard the luxury cruise was Dame Zandra Rhodes, who revealed designs from her new collection in a special catwalk show during the voyage. ‘It has been an honour to show our collections together with fashion legend Dame Zandra Rhodes’ said Oksana. ‘It was extremely inspiring to talk to her, as she also graduated from the Royal College of Art and has achieved so much.’

During the crossing, guests were treated to an audience with Dame Rhodes, Colin McDowell and Fern Mallis, founder of New York Fashion Week. This offered a unique opportunity for the students to meet and work alongside these important industry figures. ‘It was really great to meet people that have had key roles in fashion over the years,’ explained Laetitia Berthier. ‘It was very beneficial to get advice from them on how to handle the beginning of our careers.’

The graduates presented their work in two fashion shows during the crossing, where they each presented four outfits from their graduate collections. ‘I really valued presenting my work in such a different environment and also discussing it with dancers and other passengers to gain new perspectives’ said Laetitia. ‘It made me realise how I want to carry on pushing my work forward and developing it.’

The trip offered the graduates networking opportunities with important figures from both the London and New York fashion industry, yet perhaps the most memorable thing was the journey itself. Sophie Schmidt explained: ‘It was a special week crossing the Atlantic, not being able to see land with very limited phone contact; a moment where you can only enjoy and relax as well as gather your thoughts. I got to show my collection in the middle of the Atlantic, how surreal and special is that? It might be a once in a lifetime experience.’

As well as sharing their final collections with fellow passengers, the graduates also had time to enjoy the entertainment and activities offered on the ship, including fashion-related screenings in the cinema, concerts, lectures and cocktail parties. ‘The trip itself was a very surreal experience’ explained Stefanie Tschirky. ‘It felt like being in a different time, where everyone dresses up in smoking jackets and cocktail dresses, dances to music played by a big band and has dinners with amazing courses accompanied by a violin player.’

However the trip was not all rest and relaxation for the graduates, as Stefanie explained: ‘we actually had very busy days on the ship. Normally we had to get up early, rehearse in the morning, attend meetings or fashion shows in the afternoon and nearly every evening we had an event at the champagne bar, where people could meet us and ask us questions about our collections.’

As well as taking part in fashion shows, the graduates also had the opportunity to photograph their work aboard the ship. For Niels Gundtoft, whose collection was inspired by Nordic industrial dockyards, the transatlantic ship made a particularly fitting location.

‘The whole experience was crazy: luxury and attention every single day,’ said Niels, discussing the journey. ‘It was a great experience to work with legendary designer Dame Zandra Rhodes and get to know her on a personal level. Gail Sackloff and Collin McDowell took care of us during the whole week and made us feel really comfortable. The best thing might have been the five of us being together during the whole week and supporting each other. It was great to have a small RCA unit standing together outside of the College.’