Developing a signature style at the RCA
Holly Fulton (Fashion Womenswear, 2007) started her own label in 2009, specialising in textiles and embellished and printed womenswear.
She has won several awards including a British Fashion Award (2009), the Scottish young designer of the year award (2009, 2010), several British Fashion Council NEWGEN awards (2009–2012), and a Fashion Forward award (2013) and has collaborated with brands including Smythson, Swarovski, and Fortnum & Mason.
We spoke to Holly about how she developed her signature approach at the RCA and discovered how collaborations could expand her horizons.
After your undergraduate degree in fashion at Edinburgh College of Art, you spent five years doing a variety of things – including creating bespoke items for sale in boutiques, working for an antique jeweller and travelling. What was it like returning to study fashion at the RCA?
It was a bit of a baptism of fire because I’d had my finger in a lot of pies previously and I’d never lived in London before. I was also then technically classed as a mature student because I was five years older, 26, 27 at that time, and I was incredibly nervous about the experience of coming back to study. But it actually completely changed my life. It really changed the direction of my career and my whole aesthetic over the time that I was there.
How did your approach to Fashion develop at the RCA?
My practice was really strongly informed by my time at the RCA and my signature developed during that period. I started with an aesthetic that was very rooted in vintage fabrications, reworking old materials, a lot of quite naïve hand-stitching. When I left the RCA, my work was about a pure pop aesthetic. I was using lots of synthetic and unconventional materials, and a very graphic use of line. I was quite nervous about making that transition at the time because it was such a departure from what I’d done before, it was like: 'Is this me?’ ‘Has this latently been there and it’s just now sort of coming out that I want to work in this way?’
It was the first time that I’d ever used plastics. Perspex is now something that I work with all the time. I love it. My whole MA collection was centred around that. The stuff that I did then was very raw and very creative and that is probably why it was one of the most enjoyable times in terms of creativity that I’ve had as a designer.
What did you do after graduating?
I interviewed for a job when I was in my second year for Lanvin in Paris, and I got that job. That was an amazing experience to suddenly be going and working in the really high-end of fashion in Paris. I was put in front of them because of the tutors at the RCA. So it really changed my life, being there, as a designer, but it also in terms of the opportunities and the network that it then gave me access to and helped to build, it set me on a very solid pathway forward into the industry.
How have the ideas you developed at the RCA continued in your work with your own label?
When I was at the RCA I was thinking about how to render pattern onto quite simple silhouettes, which for my MA collection was through embellishment. Print was something that I graduated into after a couple of years of having my own business. It became a way of taking that signature and making it more accessible because there was none of the constraints of wearing embellished garments.
At the RCA I worked with amazing expert technicians and machinists and was exposed to the power of collaborative manufacture. That stood me in good stead when I started my own business, to be able to engage with the people that technically you need to make these things happen. I never underestimate how important they are to the whole process of particularly fashion design, but design in general.
You've worked with Smythson, Swarovski, Fortnum & Mason and others. How did those collaborations come about?
One of the core parts of my journey at the RCA was discovering that I wasn’t really just a fashion designer, that I was a designer in a broader sense and really loved the application of pattern to stuff, whether that stuff was clothes, washing machines, sofas, bags, all sorts of things.
Over the last ten years, we’ve done collaborations with over 50 different companies within different sectors. We’ve done things that have ranged from luxury stationery with Smythson to Christmas crackers with Fortnum & Mason, jewellery for Swarovski and the Atelier Swarovski, handmade glasses with Cutler & Gross and a long running partnership creating footwear with Christian Louboutin. All of them have tapped into different areas of luxury and different client bases which have given me insights as a designer into who relates to what I do aesthetically, who wants to buy my product at different price levels and what we do with the brand as a whole.
What's your fondest memory of your time at the RCA?
One of the key moments would be the time we all spent together in the ArtBar. I was very lucky to be part of quite a stellar year group. It was an amazing melting pot of people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. There was healthy competition amongst us, but we all had very different aesthetics and adhered to the old adage, work hard play hard.
How have you retained a relationship with the RCA?
I still feel very, very connected to the RCA. I formed some of the best friendships of my life there, and we’re still very much in touch all the time. Everyone went in to work in different sectors, in sort of different areas of fashion and design, so we constantly help each other, there’s still that real communication. There’s assistance if you need it, if people need a job we have a look and we source our contacts and sort of pool that information. It was a very nurturing environment, and I think that really has just extended in the ten years since we’ve left.
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