The Brazilian designer presented a standout collection at the Royal College of Art’s 2019 MA fashion show
Imagine what it would be like to grow up seeing the aspects of our bodies we’re supposed to be ashamed of as things of beauty. Instead of piling on the layers to conceal our back rolls, or contorting ourselves into uncomfortable, restrictive, and wholly un-sexy shapewear to smooth our stomachs and hips, our lumps, bumps, and bulges were celebrated as another of the things that makes us unique: like having green eyes, or curly hair, or a characterful nose. Failing that, for them just to be accepted as normal would be a start. Which they are, of course – whatever the mainstream media might have drilled into us over the course of the last century.
Someone who already sees these folds of flesh in a positive way, and is keen to change the narrative surrounding this aspect of the female form, is Karoline Vitto Gomes, a rising Brazilian designer who’s about to graduate from the Royal College of Art’s MA fashion course. Working primarily with various metals to make unique, sculpted frames, Gomes then inserts these into clothing, like the simple, cut-out slip dress seen as part of her graduate collection. Subtly drawing the eye to a specific area of the body that’s usually hidden away, each piece creates a surprisingly sensual vignette, spotlighting the squish of fat under the arm pit, the curve beneath the breast, or the swell of flesh where the waist and the top of the hip meet.
Presenting her final collection as part of the RCA’s graduate show All At Once last week, instead of enlisting a model to wear her clothing, Gomes opted to wear it herself. Weaving through the assembled crowd, the designer paused at various points when the music stopped to allow attendees a closer look at her work – moving slowly and purposefully so the skin within the gold metal frame at her waist shifted and rearranged. The move made sense, given Gomes’ work comes from a deeply personal place. “I grew up in Brazil, where we have very strict beauty standards,” she explains. “Everyone goes to the gym, plastic surgery is everywhere – I always had a very complex relationship with my body.”
According to Gomes, it wasn’t until she left South America behind and moved to London to take her place on a fashion course at Central Saint Martins that her relationship with her body started to change. “Coming to the UK was very freeing in a sense,” she recalls. “It’s different for everyone, but for me my image was so attached to and influenced by where I lived. When I moved here, I perhaps didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, but when I started making these clothes it was like I’d embarked on a journey to self-loving, which then in turn complemented what I was doing and changed the energy surrounding it.”
When it comes to the designs themselves, Gomes explains that, as beauty standards evolve, eventually, we might actually seek out clothing which enhances or draws attention to areas conventionally considered troublesome – in much the same way we pick out a piece with a low-cut neckline to draw attention to our cleavage. One day, the creases on our back or elsewhere might be seen as beautiful, sexy, or desirable even. “And I’ll be ready for it!” she laughs.
“When I started making these clothes it was like I’d embarked on a journey to self-loving, which then in turn complemented what I was doing and changed the energy surrounding it” – Karoline Vitto Gomes
Interestingly, while plus-size models continue to be excluded from the London fashion scene (just four models above a size ten were cast for AW19, which, depressingly, was a record number for any season), Gomes is one of a growing number of RCA graduate designers – alongside fellow class of 2019 member Ellis Jaz – seeking to explore the vast horizons that lay beyond ‘sample size’.
Like Sinéad O´Dwyer before her, who laid out her plan to rehaul the fashion education system with larger bodies in mind, Gomes explains that, with the industry the way it has become – as celebrities and influencers are paid to sit front row, and viral moments constructed with the aim of securing column inches and social media coverage – she too feels a certain responsibility to shift the narrative surrounding body image with the upcoming generation in mind.
“What goes on in fashion is so much more visible now, with the internet and social media particularly - what the industry does is more in front of the teen masses than ever before,” she says. “I feel that we as designers have a vital role to play in representing everyone, because fashion as an industry has so much power and influence. I want to see more fat people, and old people, and non-binary people on the runway, and making that happen is really in mine and my fellow designers’ hands.”
Now, with her MA finished and her next moves to plan, Gomes has had some time to decompress and consider what she’s learnt over the course of the last few years – particularly when it comes to her body. “I’ve just come to realise how much of my time I spent worried about what other people would think of me,” she concludes. “But now, if you look at my portfolio, half of it is me naked and not giving a damn about it. The bottom line is that people are not going to remember you for your body – they’re going to remember you for the things you did, or what kind of impact you had on their lives. Your body is just a vessel, the best thing you have. Go out and use it.”