Testament to the renowned fashion school's reputation, the Royal College of Art’s 36-strong class of 2011 showcased final collections that can hold their own with illustrious predecessors Christopher Bailey, Philip Treacy and Erdem. Already masters of their craft, the students put on display a combination of daring experimentation and technical capability. Each explored their own chosen field – be it womenswear, menswear, knitwear or millinery – in fruitful collaboration with the footwear and accessories courses. Dazed Digital asked a few of the designers to elaborate on their creative vision.
Dazed Digital: Where does your love of fur and animal scraps come from?
Amélie Marciasini: I am very fascinated by the idea of designing nature and speeding up evolution, and have spent a great deal of my studies trying to mimic nature’s material and create my own animal hides. I wanted to use real fur because of its amazing qualities, which cannot be found in any other material. It’s a challenge and a responsibility to work with fur, which made me approach my work differently. You don’t want to rush something that exists in only one unique version. I was intrigued to use the most unwanted parts and scraps, because I wanted to use fur in an unconventional, non-furry way. I was not looking for traditional perfection.
DD: The silhouettes were very rock’n’roll – does music inspire you?
Amélie Marciasini: Very much so, but I’m not really into rock’n’roll. I like dance-music!
DD: What pieces did you collaborate on?
Amélie Marciasini: I had the pleasure of working with the most amazing Holly Russell, who made my shoes and kept me from going mad.
Dazed Digital: What inspired the explosion of colour in your collection?
Philipp Schueller: I was inspired by Tukiko Suzuki’s photographs of jellyfish, Mat Collishaw’s ‘Fleshheaters’ imagery and Marc Quinn’s airbrush paintings of orchids. My MA collection started out using the colour pink as a ‘white canvas’. Painted with several shades of lime, red and purple this ‘pink canvas’ makes for an explosion of tasty colour - tasty but poisonous at the same time, just like a carnivorous plant is to an insect.
DD: How does the collection reflect your general aesthetic?
Philipp Schueller: In the collection I identified things I love, brought them together and expressed them visually. All the base shapes for the looks come from garments I like to wear myself. Texture, colour and atmosphere are strongly influenced by my geeky teenage times, breeding tropical fish and working in the public aquarium. I have always been drawn to fantastical underwater creatures but never used them as my main inspiration for a collection. I am always amazed by things that are odd but beautiful at the same time, and my general aesthetic is definitely influenced by this fascination. Hopefully I managed to express what was of personal importance for me at the time, but the real beauty of fashion is that there is a place for everything you can imagine and beyond.
DD: Was the process of collaboration for the knits and millinery difficult?
Philipp Schueller: One of the main reasons for me deciding to do my MA at the RCA was it being known for its great cross-departmental collaborations. Of course working with other people and communicating your ideas to them is neither smooth nor easy, but I think that’s what working in fashion is about. The capacity of several brains is definitely bigger than of only one. I have to say that the people I worked with were fantastic and without them this collection would not have been possible. Be on the look-out for fantastic millinery coming from Hannah Kates Morgan, intelligent knitwear from Carlo Volpi and stunning prints from Maria Cooper and Kitty Joseph. Those guys listened to what my ideas were and helped me all the way to get the best out of them.
Dazed Digital: Your graduate collection was big on volume and texture. What were you inspired by?
Hao Feng Li: My graduate collection was inspired by a series of installation work by Matthew Monahan and a photograph ‘Rock of Ages’ by Edward Burtynsky. I used these visual references to explore compositions and silhouettes, combining different materials in 2D and using layered organza to create obsessive lines in 3D shapes.
DD: Can you tell us some more about the technique used?
Hao Feng Li: I used metal chain embellishment for the contour of the garments and trimmed down layered organza to create the voluminous garment shapes.
DD: Are you planning to show during LFW?
Hao Feng Li: I have been given the opportunity to join Vauxhall Fashion Scout for a graduate showcase event during LFW in September, and would like to show during LFW in the near future.
Dazed Digital: What was the starting point of your collection?
Helen Turner: Initally, I was inspired by Phyllis Galembo's portraits of African masquerading costumes and this then evolved into researching hand-crafted techniques such as weaving and braiding. Like the costumes, I wanted to achieve contrasts in textures and volume. I wanted tosuggest luxurious furs and smooth pony tails.
DD: What are the advantages of knitwear when designing?
Helen Turner: I think you can take a different approach to designing knitwear. You get the freedom of structuring the garment and creating the silhouette, entirely out of the yarns you use and the type of fabric you knit. I love building up textures and volume integrally as I knit.
DD: What kind of woman do you envision wearing your designs?
Helen Turner: I have a really close group of friends who inspire me, who in turn, I aspire to dress. Being surrounded by creative people has definitely influenced who I design for. I think I design artisanal clothes for people with a sense of fashion.
Dazed Digital: Your collection had a definite tribal/warrior theme. What attracted you to it?
Anna Schwamborn: My work is inspired by the aggressive defense behaviour of animals that increase their body shape to appear bigger and more powerful. With this collection I wanted to create futuristic, tribal hunting armour with asymmetrical animalistic spine-like structures that "grow" out of the silhouette. My goal is to empower the woman wearing my pieces and turn them into urban amazons.
DD: Where does your previous work in jewellery fit in?
Anna Schwamborn: I have always been interested in organic materials such as hair, bone and horn. In previous collections I have worked with real human and horse hair and horn. My previous jewellery collection shows the basis of my interest in working with all sorts of metal and creating my own hardware and fastenings. The ‘Urban Savage ‘collection features molded transformed sculptural shapes that are reminiscent of animal horn and tusks.
DD: Do you want to produce bags only in the future or clothing as well?
Anna Schwamborn: My pieces are a cross-over between accessories and garments, and I am equally interested to produce both in the future.
Dazed Digital: You’ve used materials that look quite futuristic. What inspired you?
Itziar Vaquer: It came from the idea of air understood as a palpable form of absence as well as from our tendency to value speed and instantaneity. Everything is in continuous transformation so nothing remains solid. We are living in a liquid world in which everything melts into air. So I decided to use PVC as the main material because in a certain way it represents these ideas. It has the appearance of lightness and modernity. Also, the finishing that is obtained by melting plastic onto fabrics or constructing whole garments in plastic and melting them afterwards, helped me materialize the idea of liquid.
DD: How do you feed your creativity?
Itziar Vaquer: To conceptualize I draw my inspiration from contemporary philosophy and art theory and then I refine the concept with visual elements such as photography, and other art forms.
DD: Is there a fashion house you can imagine yourself designing for?
Itziar Vaquer: I would prefer to design for someone whose work is based on specific concepts like Maison Martin Margiela. I really admire his work and I think the way he translates concepts is done remarkably well with great sensibility that reflects the values of the company.
Dazed Digital: What’s the perspective you want to bring to men’s fashion?
Sol Ahn: A bit more personality, softness and some humour.
DD: Do you think as a woman that you can bring something different?
Sol Ahn: I don’t think I will be able to bring something different simply because I am a woman as compared to male designers… However, I do think different people with their different philosophies and personalities can make a difference.
DD: What are your plans for the future?
Sol Ahn: I am seriously job-hunting at the moment. Nothing is set nor cleared up for the future. I am very excited to finally graduate but a bit lost and also a bit scared!
Dazed Digital: What’s behind your rather un-masculine use of playful knitwear for men?
Hannah Taylor: Even though I am designing knits for men, I do tend to use elements and ideas which appeal to me and my own personal tastes - for example I'm quite a girly girl, I love bright colours, and a lot of my work tends to be a little bit tongue-in-cheek along the way somewhere. For some reason I just can't help that bit of 'me' that tends to come through, but I guess when you're doing what you love the most and working on your own collection it's a hard habit to break!
DD: Animals are a recurring motif in your work. What was the starting point for your graduate collection?
Hannah Taylor: My final collection is a right mix-up of inspiration, from the chav's style in my home town of Warrington, to eco-warriors and circus animals. The animal thing is probably down to my personal tastes again as I have pet ducks at home and used to have guinea pigs etc, and I just generally really like animals.
DD: You’ve already collaborated with River Island. What’s next for you?
Hannah Taylor: I'm currenly working at Burberry on the Men’s Knitwear team assisting the designers with the London and Prorsum lines. Exciting stuff!