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royal college of art fashion graduate art show 2018
RCA Fashion 2018Photography Eeva Rinne

The RCA’s 2018 MA show was an avant-garde, immersive performance

Featuring inflatable sculptures inspired by the feminine form, garments for interplanetary travel, and a virtual reality experience

Over the course of the last few weeks, as part of the 2018 graduate shows, we’ve seen Central Saint Martins students imagine their own death and send a procession of knitted vegetables down the runway, an independent, off-schedule event organised in Shoreditch by LCF menswear collective Burn The Man, and Westminster grads explore sustainability and overconsumption, gender, and 90s techno. Following on from these, last week was the Royal College of Art’s showcase which took the form of an immersive experience at 180 The Strand.  

Opening the show as guests filed in through the front entrance of the building was Sinéad O’Dwyer’s group of models. Wearing moulded silicone and fibreglass torsos covered with silk, the sculptural garments enhanced and exaggerated their breasts, thighs, and bottoms. The collection was a statement on the toxic representation of the female form in fashion and beauty that O’Dwyer grew up with: “It made me hyper-aware of the lack of space for the body in the fashion industry,” she explained. “I aimed to make space for the body within a system that’s supposed to clothe it, and also to demonstrate the vulnerability of our bodies.”

Moving through the space, Alice Potts presented a fully-formed concept entitled PERSPIRE, in which she explored how, in the future, our bodies will secrete their own accessories. The designer had created a series of garments, including ballet slippers and a sports jersey, which were encased in crystals formed from human sweat in an attempt to harness the body’s own technology – and while the premise may sound unpleasant, the results were actually strikingly beautiful. “Every human is unique, and so is the sweat they produce, encapsulating our health, wellbeing and identity,” Potts said. “In the future I’m keen to develop the idea and use it to explore sustainable processes within fashion.”

Anna Talvi took the floor to outline a conceptual collection which imagined a future of interplanetary travel and what humankind might wear on our further ventures into space, while Alice V Robinson furthered the argument of the importance of making informed choices as to the clothing you buy. The designer bought a sheep – Number 11458, from which her collection took its name – and documented its life leading up to the moment she took it to the abattoir for slaughter, before creating a line of accessories utilising every single inch of its body: the leather was crafted into a bag and shoes, its wool spun and knitted into gloves, and its bones dipped in silver and fashioned into jewellery. Not even the meat went to waste – family, friends, and press present at the show were served what remained of Number 11458 in the form of mini lamb burgers.   

Also on the ‘catwalk’, MA Menswear student and dancer Saul Nash presented a series of streetwear informed silhouettes that allowed the models to move dynamically across the floor, and John-Paul Trang showcased ABYSS VISION  – a live-streamed ‘Uncanny Reality’ experience, which saw the wearers rigged up with a camera that offered a third person view via a virtual reality headset. Trang, who has previously worked as a menswear designer for Thom Browne and Ralph Lauren, cited “novelist and comic book artist Warren Ellis’s mythophysics, Satoshi Nakamoto’s blockchain database, and Massimo Osti’s all-round excellence” as just a few of his influences.

Elsewhere, Matic Veier’s imposing yellow sculptures – which we wouldn’t be suprised to see Björk wearing in a hot minute – drew on the designer’s obsession with Christmas and the magic that surrounds it: “ever since childhood I’ve imagined how marvellous it must be to inhabit the body of a miniature person and live inside a Christmas tree,” Veier explained, while Marie Lüder offered up a collection which portrayed the heteronormative man as a minority in Western society and encompassed its own scent – as blown through the venue by a highly impressive vape artist.

Rounding things off was Seohee Kim’s deconstructed underwear, as worn by models performing a languid interpretive dance which echoed the soft lines and muted palette of the collection, and Alex Po’s dreamlike inflatable sculptures, which were inspired by balloons. “I found them quite sexual, but, of course, at the same time they’re a toy for children,” Po explained. “The rubbery feeling and the shape reminds me of a woman’s breasts. This led me to create a collection inspired by sex, but in a soft, comfortable way.”

As part of a show that turned the traditional runway format on its head, in opening up the floor the Royal College of Art expanded the realms of what the students were able to create, as they pushed existing boundaries with their work, and invited the audience to be part of it as opposed to spectating passively. Who knows what next year holds.