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Sinéad O'Dwyer sculpture fashion RCA
Sinéad O'Dwyer Final CollectionCourtesy of Sinéad O'Dwyer

Meet the RCA graduate moulding fashion around the female form

London-based designer Sinéad O´Dwyer’s designs celebrate bodies as they are – this week she’s launching a zine

We’ve all been there: you pick an item from a rail, take it to the changing room and try it on, only to find it’s impossible to wrestle past your hips or pull down over your chest – despite it being in your usual size. The wildly varying sizing of garments is a frequent topic of conversation when it comes to body confidence among young women, and the lasting damage experiences such as this – as well as the constant bombardment of what’s perceived to be ‘the perfect body’ by the media – has been proven time and time again in countless studies.

One designer, recent RCA graduate Sinéad O’Dwyer, took this as the foundation on which to base her final collection: “When I was growing up, the way the body was presented in fashion and the media definitely contributed to issues my friends and I had with our own figures, and the unhappiness we felt when we couldn’t fit into things,” she explains. “My collection started as an exploration of how you you perceive your body versus the reality of what it actually looks like, and ended with me creating pieces that fit the body, as opposed to forcing the body to squeeze into the garment, which is usually the case. I became a bit obsessed with the idea of inserting the body into fashion again in a way that I feel is kind of missing.”

Having spent time talking to her friends about the features of their bodies that they liked, O’Dwyer began her graduate collection by making a full plaster cast of her best friend Jade Bruce Linton’s body, before rendering it in the thinnest of fibreglass. It was, the designer says, a long and arduous process. “The first one was far too thick,” she explains. “It was at that point I was like ‘Shit! Have I taken on too much?’ It took me weeks to make one and I needed another ten in a pretty short space of time.”

Using tiny tubes to pipe silicone paint into the fibreglass moulds, the sculptural pieces were presented in a palette of pale, marbled hues, and featured the indentations of Jade’s body: the natural creases in her belly and abdomen, and the curves of her hips and breasts. And despite her reservations (and elevated stress levels), she managed to finish the collection in time. Guests attending the Royal College of Art’s immersive graduate show last month were confronted by a line-up of ten models with their bodies encased in her pieces, each one appearing soft and fragile and solid all at the same time – in much the same way as the body itself does.

Having worked with her girlfriend Ottilie Landmark (who photographed the collection) and her dad, a silversmith, who created the closures for the pieces, building a community of collaborators is something that’s important to O’Dwyer. Last summer, she spent a number of months at The Savage Ranch, a queer artist’s commune in the middle of the desert in Southern California, where she worked alongside artist and performer Love Bailey.

“It was an amazing experience, just being out in the middle of nowhere with Bailey and her mother, who I didn’t know before I arrived,” she explains. “Being so amongst nature, it was so intimate in this very intense way, and then, of course, we ended up collaborating on a piece, which was just incredible.” The piece in question was the red velvet conical-breasted corset that Ru Paul’s Drag Race crowned queen Aquaria wore to perform America in the penultimate episode of the 2018 competition.

“Initially, Bailey didn’t tell me who we were making this piece for,” O’Dwyer says. “It was more just like ‘Let’s work on something together!’ We were working outside all day on this little deck, with a domestic sewing machine and pattern pieces flying everywhere because of the wind. I’m used to being like ‘Okay, I have lots to do today, I’m going to get so much done’, and out there nature interfered, and it meant I had to go with the flow much more. It was really fun.” 

Now, expanding on the idea of forming a creative community, comes a new zine which accompanies the collection. Featuring photography by her girlfriend Landmark, words by writer Mahoro Seward and Jolien van Schagen (an artist with whom O’Dwyer has previously collaborated), and design by Monika Grūzīte, the zine expands on the themes presented in the collection and adds voices and experiences to her bodies. It’s also a means of furthering the conversation in terms of diversity when it comes to the body, another important aspect of the designer’s work.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s next for me now I’ve graduated from the RCA,” she says. “Of course I’m interested in exploring fashion, and collaboration and sculpture, but education is also something that’s on my mind, too. You know, in most institutions the fit models are all the same size, and what looks great on a size eight, when sized up, doesn’t look right. So I have my mother or my sister or my friends saying to me ‘Nothing fits me because I have a bad body’, and I’m like ‘no! It’s not you, it’s the clothes, and the patterns and the can one size fit all? It’s something I think needs to be addressed.”