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Abbie Stirrup RCA
Abbie Stirrup

Earth mothers, astro girls and latex slime: RCA’s MA show

The last of the graduate shows packed a powerfully creative punch

Under the tutelage of Zowie Broach, the fashion courses at London’s Royal College of Art have gone from strength to strength over the last few years. That was cemented at the end of last week with the MA 2017 graduate show – an immersive evening of collections that challenged you to forget the political uncertainty of the world outside and give yourself over to the universes created by the 48 students. It was a welcome proposition.

The venue was a many-storied house in Shoreditch – the same one FKA twigs transformed last year for her immersive Widow Series event, placing performers in every room in increasingly surreal scenarios. As well as two runway shows, guests were invited to explore the venue itself, which housed installations and presentations. On the top floor balcony a group of models, some conjoined with stretch fabric, twisted their bodies like smoke, cigarettes in hand – the work of Binbin Hu. In the kitchen, which had been transformed into an overgrown country garden thanks to plants and flowers salvaged from the Chelsea Flower Show, womenswear student Rosie Danford-Phillips discussed how her parents’ gardening careers informed her psychedelic Earth Mother collection. Meanwhile, in the basement, one model could be glimpsed through a window, sitting with her feet in a pond, while the slime obsessed Abbie Stirrup dripped liquid latex and paint over the nude body of a model, creating a technicolour bodysuit before the audience’s eyes.

When it came to the runway shows, gone was the one look per designer system of last year. But that didn’t mean it was a straightforward, walking up and down affair either – the first designer Zahra Hosseini kicked things off with a performance, where three women unfurled the skirt of a fourth into a prayer mat and fell to prostrations. Then there was Ellie Rousseau’s group of ravery nu lads who staged a tribute to the victims of the Manchester bombing to rallying cheers, while a clear highlight came in the form of the brilliantly crazed space age universe of Aubrey Wang. We’re talking men in panda masks and silk shirts, futuristic divas stomping around yapping on cell phones, and the pièce de résistance: an astro girl who was pushed in laid out on a table like a prize pig, getting fattened up on the Oreos that were placed on an automated belt that made a path straight through her bubble helmet and into her mouth. 

“What was most impressive was the sheer variety and originality of the students’ output. No one expected to see three men in suits wheeling a giant apple on the stage...”

While some graduate designers find it tricky to break away from what’s already out there, what was most impressive here was the sheer variety and originality of the RCA students’ output. No one expected to see three men in suits wheeling a giant apple on the stage (the work of Jing Tang), or be invited to play in a room full of plastic see-through balloons by milliner Ting Ting Zhang. The enthusiasm of Jennifer Koch – whose group of boys ran frenetically around the show space, tossing fortune cookies in the air – was completely infectious. 

A further mention must also go to the graceful beauty of Bianca Saunders, whose cast of men of colour paced the space quietly and purposefully, before lifting one of their own above them, carrying him off in a moment that felt almost spiritual. Then there was Pippa Harries, who gave a girl an iron to drag around behind her, and Fabian Kis-Juhasz, who took the phrase killer heels to a whole new level by inserting kitchen knives into the backs of mules. 

All in all, the MA show pulled you in, grabbed your attention, and made you totally forget the fact that Britain felt like it was on the verge of voting for a leader who was running on a platform of Hard Brexit and terrible shoes. Of course, showmanship isn’t everything, and some designers prefer to whisper than to shout – performance isn’t for everyone. But it was great to see these young designers clearly so free to explore and create, to define their own points of view. Congrats, class of 2017!