Tuesday 21st July

| BY Paul Toner

Meet 10 Graduating Designers From The Royal College of Art

We’re coming up to the final stretch of the degree shows and to say we’re impressed is a complete understatement. In what has been the year from hell, fashion students across the country haven’t been able to show their final collections in physical degree shows. Instead, universities such as Central Saint Martins and Ravensbourne have created digital showcases where students have presented their work within unique, URL universes. Now it’s the turn of the Royal College of Art, who have set up a digital exhibition space for its MA students. With a cracking list of alumni emerging from the university in recent years – Bianca Saunders, Saul Nash and Per Götteson, to name a few – there’s no doubt in our minds that all 51 graduating fashion students are destined for great things. In honour of this innovative digital showcase, which you can explore now, we spoke to 10 students from the mens- and womenswear pathways, as well as those who studied accessories, about the making of their final collections.

Marie Isaacson, MA Fashion Menswear

Can you tell us a little bit about your final collection?

“I’m fascinated by the interaction between the real and fantasy life and for me to experience our modern world is a combination of physical and virtual elements since we are constantly moving between them. My work has explored online alter egos and how people represent themselves in the real world compared to in the virtual world, with a focus on gamers and their digital portraits. With my work, I aimed to understand and represent the connection between the player and the avatar and to show the two extremes of one’s identity, one that is linked with the reality and the second that is not.”

How has it been creating under lockdown?

“It has at least been unexpected and challenging times posed by the Covid-19. The same day as the school closed my work has been stuck inside of the building. However, my biggest concerns were not having access to any equipment, resources, and space to continue on working. 
I spent the lockdown by myself on The Isle of Wight and the only equipment I had was my MacBook, which meant that I had to redirect my work to become purely digital. During that time I carried on as best as I could with 3D modelling, which was not pleasant at all because the software kept crashing. So honestly, I don’t have any positive things to say about creating under lockdown except for having Alex Mullins and Matthew Miller as mentors during this time, they are absolutely amazing and so are the rest of the tutors!”

What are you taking away from the whole experience?

“To have patience (!), not to be too hard on yourself and that my brother is a great flatmate!”

Andrew Culloo, MA Fashion Womenswear

Can you tell us a little bit about your final collection?

“The name of my final collection is called Art Darlings, which was born out of my experience of working in an art gallery and seeing these vibrant women in all their glory coming to the openings of every new show. Throughout history, unconventional women have thrived in the art and fashion world, such as Peggy Guggenheim, Paloma Picasso, and of course Diana Vreeland. Today we have Valeria Napoleone and Katy Hessel who channel a similar energy. These are the two worlds that I adore, and these are the women who I want to create for and dress in the future.”

What did you originally plan to do with the collection pre-corona?

“Corona has had an impact on all social gatherings in the art world and beyond. Originally, I intended to bring to life my collection by working with specific clients and muses, who would try and wear my collection to art openings.”

What are you taking away from the whole experience?

“We are still living through a pandemic, and I’m unsure what I will take away from this whole experience. I guess in terms of my practice I have had to rethink how I operate as a young future designer. People will always need fabulous, colourful clothing to brighten up their day, this won’t change, and I believe my design trajectory is to make people feel great about themselves through how they dress.”

Jake Treddenick, MA Fashion Menswear

Can you tell us a little bit about your final collection?

WORKING CLASS SCUM! was about the experience of social mobility from a working-class, northerner’s perspective. I was drawn to 1980s TV shows Like The Young Ones and their use of humour, playing with the idea of the ‘masculine’ within class structures by contrasting identities. I also researched traditional embroidery techniques to create vivid textures in a modern context. The pieces were made, f**ked up and then embellished. Working with limited fabrics and supplies the collection was created in quarantine.”

What did you originally plan to do with the collection pre-corona?

“Creating work within a small east London flat is always tricky. The only solitude is knowing there is another couple of thousand students doing the same thing. That kind of kept me going. I realised very early that I had to maximise my flat to accommodate a one band studio. The bath became a dying station, my living room became a photographer’s studio and the dining room table was raised with cookbooks to pattern cut on. At one point the electricians were not allowed to enter the property to fix the lights so I worked by candlelight hand embroidering jackets. I think as designers you are set challenges and it’s what makes the final outcome so much better!”

How has it been presenting your collection digitally? 

“I love this challenge!! I hosted a Zoom party for my classmates in March and thought then this was a great way to show off a collection. With this in mind, it then determined how much I had to make to fill the six zoom screens. Myself and six friends got together on June 13 to do a Zoom presentation. The webinar setting allowed us to be ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’ as the audience sat at home and tuned into to listen to music, dance and play games. The screens showed different performances, one of my friends entered the screen in white and left in neon pink. It also let me work with a whole new community of fashion lovers called ‘High Fashion Talk’ who were a huge technical help before, during and after the event. It’s still not the real, but bond with those friends is something I will take forward into future shows.”

Mariana Malta, MA Fashion Womenswear

Can you tell us a little bit about your final collection?

“This project, entitled VULNERABLE SUPERHERO, explores the tension between conflicting selves. It’s about acknowledging that as ever-evolving beings, we are in a continuum of change, influenced by who we were in the past, who we believe we are now and who we wish to be, and that these different versions of ourselves exist simultaneously.”

How has it been presenting your collection digitally? 

“A big part of my practice as a designer is its performative side. For me performance walks in hand with the garments I make, when you place a garment into a specific context its meaning is enhanced, it becomes clearer. The idea of subversion constantly present in my work, this bittersweetness, has a bigger impact when performed live. This idea of pushing the limits, to feel “check-mated” by our own human perversities and uncomfortableness is at its exponent in live experiences, so having to translate that into the digital realm was definitely a challenge for me, especially because I was by myself trying to recreate this idea of proximity.”

What are you taking away from the whole experience?

“I believe the greatness of design is the ability to problem-solve. Being a designer is constantly responding to the environment around us, to feed on our experience and bring it to the design. I think being a student and having access to all the facilities we do, we tend to get comfortable in the middle of all of those resources, which is fantastic and allows us to create amazing things. However, I believe that great work can come from being limited, this anger that one feels when being stripped away from something but having the utter need of doing it, that can be a catalyst for greatness. It’s an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective.”

Jonathan Rayson, MA Fashion Womenswear

Can you tell us a little bit about your final collection?

“Symbiosis is the exploration of the symbiotic nature between anatomy and architecture through the lenses of “visible engineering” and tailoring. The project examines how the long-established aesthetics of tailoring can be subverted by a sculptural-hyper engineered hand and digital approach. Challenging the notion of the traditional through the convergence of advanced digital technology and hyper-modern materials. Converging the real with the unreal, distilled to the unseen. This was achieved by networking into other digital worlds, disciplines and workflows of other creatives, whilst using fashion as the common catalyst.”

What did you originally plan to do with the collection pre-corona?

“A central part of the collection was a series of hyper-engineered, 3D printed architectural sculptures and accessories which were to be tailored and merged into the garments – augmenting the silhouette and body. The original plan was to present both the collection as a physical installation, alongside a virtual reality experience.”

How has it been creating under lockdown?

“Fortunately, for the most part, my practice has remained unaffected, especially since I decided to go further down the digital rabbit hole. Which in many ways has forced me into new ways of thinking with a different approach to the end goal. The real and physical can always be made at a later date, so what’s key is finding new and interesting ways to render ideas, beyond something purely physical.”

Isabel de la Roche, MA Fashion Womenswear Accessories

Can you tell us a little bit about your final collection?

“For my final piece, I explored large scale accessories in relation to the body, becoming garments. A piece, titled The Empty Space of a Jacket, is the study of a deconstruction of everything but the pockets and the outer silhouette of a single-breasted jacket, taking the principle of bags being an inclusive part of a garment, extrapolating and emphasising the pockets and making it the accessory.”

How has it been creating under lockdown?

“Interesting! My world became divided into two polar opposites – focusing on handmade pieces, finishing without any machinery or glue, only hand stitching. On the other hand, the digital world – experimenting with 2D & 3D artwork. During my first year at RCA, I posed the question ‘what would we do if all the sewing machines be removed from our studios?’  The way we make garments and accessories hasn’t changed for 150 years, yet I never imagined that we would be faced with this in the key three months prior to completing our masters and having to pivot regardless. It has certainly shaped me into a more dynamic designer with an ability to transcend and for this, I have to acknowledge the leadership from our head of fashion and all tutors involved.”

What are you taking away from the whole experience?

“Friendship, collaboration, community, a respect for leadership in adversity, all of which helped me/us navigate the challenges and achieve our goals.”

Jing Liu, MA Fashion Womenswear

Can you tell us a little bit about your final collection?

“My work’s inspiration comes from my childhood, because of my parents, I have been constantly changing my growing environment in my childhood, and every stage of my growth is in a very different place. From the countryside to the big city. I need to constantly adapt to new environments, from unfamiliar to familiar – so I was familiar with the unfamiliar feeling. The sense of belonging of strangers is the feeling I am exploring in my work. Different people have a different sense of identity in different regional cultures.”

What did you originally plan to do with the collection pre-corona?

“Before lockdown, I wanted to make a short narrative film to present my collection. However, many resources were limited, so I couldn’t finish the short film. But even so, I put most of my energy into my production process, so I am still very satisfied with my collection at this stage.”

How has it been presenting your collection digitally? 

“This time, I chose the image to present my work, I asked my friend to be my model and created these series of photos together. The space that I have used was very life-like, but my characters are absurd. I want to express that kind of disharmony and absurdity, just like the sentimental feeling that people can’t integrate into the new environment when they first arrive. This kind of sensitive, disharmonious and fragile feeling.”

Shuai Zeng, MA Fashion Womenswear

Can you tell us a little bit about your final collection?

“A few months ago, I was reviewing my favourite childhood Japanese manga, Fist of the North Star. It evoked memories of my childhood that had lain dormant for many years. The most memorable moment was when the protagonist used his northern star fist to punish the enemy and make their body burst into pieces. This left a lasting image in my mind. Following my sculptural design identity and conceptual design research, I created a deformed body mannequin as a protagonist of my own world, and I treated it as a design prototype. The concept of my final collection is variation. When the mannequin deforms, it is variation at play, accompanied by the intergrowth and phagocytosis. The mannequin ultimately moves towards the goal of adapting to the changeable environment, which marks a “survival of the fittest” phenomenon.”

How has it been presenting your collection digitally?

“I made a static display video with the software: CLO. I used CLO to make clothes of my final collection by transferring my 2D illustrations to the 3D garments, to show the progress of my design. Due to the current situation, the fashion industry focuses on sustainable environmental protection, and the digital way of presenting my design is a very effective way to protect the environment. My final collection is a combination of science and technology. One can view my three-dimensional work to present my sculptural identity.”

What are you taking away from the whole experience?

“The most unforgettable part of my study experience was the experimental methods that make me both change and makes progress a lot.  I did lots of experiments to transfer the sculptural mannequin into a wearable, artistic garment. For example, I used the wet leather moulding, vacuum forming, wool steaming and silicone moulding to craft the shape into different materials. Apart from the material experiment, I also used the performance to mould the plastic prototype mannequin’s shape to experiment with new shapes between a mannequin and the human body, and towards realizing the shape of the new design garments and more possibilities”

Veronica Chen, MA Fashion Menswear

Can you tell us a little bit about your final collection?

“My final collection is an intimate conversation: one infused with my personal feelings, emotions, and attachments. I set out from a straight woman’s perspective, approaching men from their bodies up to an emotional level. By ways of dressing, or rather undressing, uncovering and revealing inner emotions, I want to create garments that communicate either sexual desire, emotional flaws or vulnerability. Inspired by artists depicting male nudes and the female gaze, my take on my practice is emotional and intimate. It is not all about reversing gender powers and taking over control, rather I seek to empathise. I see my garments as a communication tool between the wearer and the dresser, bringing them closer for a deeper conversation.”

How has it been creating under lockdown?

“It has been hard not being able to work at the studio. I was a bit lost when everything first happened. Without access to machinery, models, dye rooms, materials, everything just seemed impossible. Luckily afterwards I had a chance to fly back to Beijing where fabric shops were accessible. Instead of collaborating with professional models and photographers, which I had planned before, I had my friends come for the fittings and did the shooting by myself. It has been a whole new experience for me.”

What are you taking away from the whole experience?

“My time at the RCA has made me think critically on my work, others work and the situation happening. By exploring luxury in pattern cutting and fabrication, I found my own voice on masculinity in the eyes of a woman. The process has been particularly challenging for us this year, and I am proud to have managed to adapt to the change.”

Jaden Cho, MA Fashion Womenswear

Can you tell us a little bit about your final collection?

Non-object. Making garments by understanding modern women’s needs, ideas and voices is, in my opinion, a new way of creating couture. I think about what it means to ‘objectify’ women as a womenswear designer. There are a lot of preconceptions built into objects. People tend to overwhelm the object with their own ideas. I try to use improperly perceived objects to express paradoxes. I aim to complete the collection by adding function, high-quality and fabric development to my clothes in the process of visualising and materialising them.”

What did you originally plan to do with the collection pre-corona?

“I wanted to fill the collection with clothes that were sophisticated and could actually be worn. Then I tried to present my work back and forth between Europe and my hometown, Korea.”

What are you taking away from the whole experience?

“Through this situation, I once again admired the ever-changing look of fashion. Fashion constantly evolves. Fashion will certainly change a lot, from visual to functional. However, I believe that fashion in 10 years, like fashion from 10 years ago, will have a very close relationship with people and create a unique culture and have a great influence on society.”

Top image: Jake Treddenick. You can explore the Royal College of Art’s digital exhibition until July 31 here.

rca.ac.uk