North African football gangs, motorcycle chicks and a wedding: the Royal Academy of Fine Arts class of 2015 show us what they’ve got
As menswear month kicked off in London, across the Channel a ten-strong group of young designers were making their own marks on the runway. The MA fashion graduates of Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts debuted their graduate collections in a show that said all eyes should be on the city – after all, when it comes to breeding new fashion talent, the school has got a pretty weighty reputation: Dries van Noten, Walter van Beirendonck and Ann Demeulemeester have made an indelible mark on fashion since they put their graduating class on the map in the 80s. Today, RAFA’s links with its iconoclastic alumni are inscribed in its DNA, with van Beirendonck heading up the fashion department and overseeing the final show during which students from all four years get to showcase their wares. Joining van Beirendonck, this year’s jury included designer Simon Jacquemus, photographer Venetia Scott and Uniqlo’s Yuki Katsuta. Here is Dazed’s selection from the best of the new blood.
Titled ‘Mint Grin’, Edoardo Rossi’s menswear collection channelled everyday streetwear codes with a smile and a wink. Initially inspired by a trip to Morocco, the Italian designer was captivated by the masculine swagger of the young people there – as well as the fake football t-shirts they wear. “They take on the football player’s strength by wearing his name on their back,” Rossi explains. “There’s a contrast between this colour everywhere and the very rough surroundings of the city.” Beginning with the dream-like digital collages he sources from this world, Rossi incorporated the idea of collage from the purely graphical into his fabrication technique: in a palette of bright orange, turquoise, green and neon yellow, acid burned-out denim was interspersed with layered vinyl, sweaters were knitted from a polyester usually used for sailing cables, and bronzed gauze rings represented tough gangs with perennially broken fingers. On the runway, models wore digitally printed bandanas over their heads – inspired by the eyes of football players in video games. For Rossi, it’s about fantasies of the everyday in a globalised world: “When cultures stick to one another and you see them melting, something very new is created from that – it’s not always good, but it’s not always bad either."
Taking the idea that fashion doesn’t only mean designing as her starting point, Marie-Sophie Beinke applied her skills as a painter to her technicolour menswear collection. Captivated by the Die Brücke school of German expressionist artists in the early 20th century, Beinke tapped into their non-naturalistic colour palette that was nevertheless emotionally charged. The group’s name literally means “the bridge”, and Beinke wanted her own designs to bridge the artists as men and their art works. “How might one dress an artist in his own paintings?”, she asked. “I want to put the world a man might have on the inside, on the outside.” The result combines the painterly, sketched world with more geometric and abstract shapes: Beinke’s playful paintbox included white suits and classic Macs printed with brightly coloured circles, while one stand-out suit was rendered entirely in sequins.
Strutting to the sounds of Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby”, Casper Werner’s space-age babes brought a touch of pastel-coloured, rhinestone-buttoned class to proceedings. He referenced one 60s chick in particular, though, citing Marianne Faithfull’s appearance in The Girl on the Motorcycle (1968) – in which she speeds through Europe wearing nothing but a leather catsuit on bare skin – as a key inspiration. Creating suede, leather and faux fur separates in powder-blue, pastel pink, red and tan, Werner translated the sexiness of clothing that zips all the way up with his skintight leather pants that met boots: zipping through the back leg and ending with a chunky heel, they were refreshingly body-conscious in a graduating year that, generally, favoured looser shapes.
Laure Severac likes to have as little distance between herself and the garments she creates as possible. Perhaps that’s why she crafted the year’s most enigmatic and emotional menswear story, inspired by the idea of marriage: an early Hockney painting, “The First Marriage”, and also her upcoming wedding to her girlfriend, Elo. Taking her focus on intricately crafted knitwear and expanding into other traditional techniques like weaving (she won the EE Exclusives prize last year, which gives a student a chance to create their own jacquard weave), her craftsy collection spanned tailoring and cozy, loose knits in shades of teal, ecru and tobacco; geometric squares and stripes mingled with delicate, nature-inspired embroidery. A play on traditional gender roles was discernible throughout: on the runway, the men wore veils, while the surprise 13th look had a girl join the models for a final wedding march. Severac even expanded into other departments at the fine arts school altogether, working with ceramics to create a fragile porcelain bowling ball and set of pins for models to carry on the runway: “The image of love! If you start to play with it when you take the chance, it falls apart.” The girl, of course, swung the bowling ball in the end.
“You can really be yourself,” says Swiss designer Miriam Laubscher of her time at the Antwerp fashion department. “It’s really important to me not to make a copy of someone else, and be unique.” Laubscher, who recently worked at Alexander McQueen, nevertheless paved her own path for her final collection. Titled Red Yellow Blue after the basic colours one can create all colours from, she took inspiration from painting without emulating the style of a particular artist. Instead, the organic standpoint of Brazilian Constructivist Lygia Clark and the chameleonic style of Tilda Swinton combined to create floating, free-form dresses that appear differently depending on the angle you observe them from. Laubscher blew up photographs of smaller fabric fragments to create a distinctive layered effect that was nonetheless airy and light – this way, says Laubshcer, “you get new combinations and patterns that you wouldn’t expect before”. “They’re like 12 walking paintings,” she adds. “The woman is a part of the painting and walks out of it, making her own stories from it.”
ALEXIS VICTOR GAUTIER
Alexis Victor Gautier’s final collection was inspired by four stories based on family traditions in dressmaking – something that might sound simple enough at first. But his inspirations from every corner of the world ought not to have come together quite so cohesively as they did in this absorbing menswear outing. A Nepalese carpet-making technique using ladders translated into thick wool coats with distinctive seams; a practice in 19th century Lancashire that protected utility wear using beeswax informed illusionistic co-ordinates; a tailor in a village near Lake Como’s decision to make pinstripe suits on a bias was channelled in slick grey suits with graphical stripes. The collection ended with airbrush-effect lilac suits, nodding to the family history of a fellow Japanese student whose ancestors developed one of the first synthetic colours, in 1876 – a kind of light purple. “I would love to have that family on stage in four of the exactly same silhouettes,” says Gautier.