From mythical digital fantasies to monstrous inflatables, these MA designers are rewriting the rules of fashion for future, post-human, utopias
GISELE ZIXUAN HE
Gisele grew up in what she describes as “a patriarchal Asian family,” helmed by a grandfather, who, despite being retired, would rarely be seen without a suit. It “represents male chauvinism,” she says, and as such, the designer is on a mission to soften the edges of manhood by reforming the traditional codes of menswear. Within her final project, deep, aubergine lycra is draped and ruched in panels across bodyform sports tops, careening with elegance around exposed pecs, while unfurling into a scarf-dress below. Shirts are made playful with exaggerated, candy-coloured collars and sturdy suit trousers have been slashed, with rogue layers wrapping around in skirt-like waves. As the collection’s title can attest, it’s about inverting masculinity – from the Tough to Tender.
JUNGNA NANA PARK
Jungna’s sinuous knitwear exorcises the designer’s relationship with her self-image, confronting prescribed notions of beauty through unexpected cut-outs and chaotically organised layers of sheer knits, which compress the flesh and distort the silhouette. “The collection intends to reflect my experience and embrace imperfections,” she says, with ruffled fabric spilling out of intentional gaps in her bodysuits. These creations sit somewhere between lingerie and ready to wear, though any delicate straps have been replaced by hefty ropes, which are lassoed around the figure like poison ivy. It’s intentionally confusing to look at, plastered with all the twisted, venemous expectations assigned to women’s bodies.
LINXI ZHU & PANNY YU
Though technically two graduates, Linxi Zhu and Panny Yu collaborated on their thesis project – a virtual fashion house, Formless. As part of the RCA showcase, the digital laboratory presented a series of creations, dubbed Paradise Materials, free from the constraints of physics and earthly matter. Show-stopping dresses had been constructed with a new, bristly, breathing fur, while luminescent dots encircled the body like deep sea plankton. Together, Linxi and Panny hope to push digital fashion’s materiality, though they understand that this cannot be at the expense of emotion and feeling. As part of their graduate collection, the designers made tinsel-like headpieces instantly available on Instagram filters. It’s all about creating new “wearable” materials which can be presented through unbridled, virtual fantasy-scapes.
Yufei Liu has one mission: to take up space. And her graduate collection does just that – and quite literally, too – considering all her pieces inflate to monstrous proportions. A headscarf explodes into gargantuan, cubic dice, while a colossal hello kitty balloons from beneath a trench coat (taking up the best part of tube carriage in Liu’s accompanying lookbook). “I am tired of being pushed back,” the designer says, reflecting on the way in which women are made to feel small by assimilating into the patriarchy. “The bigger the clothes inflate, the larger the space I occupy”. And although these creations may seem like the pinnacle of whacky graduate fashion, Liu insists that every piece is “functional and comfortable when worn.”
Many people over the past year, namely self-professed introverts, have relished the solitude of lockdown. No plans, no obligations, no small talk. Being cooped up at home has, perhaps, been a “comfortable trap”. And it’s these contradictory feelings of security and crisis, which Jie Hu sought to explore in her graduate collection. Unusual dresses and two piece knits are inspired by the swamping silhouettes of a Venus Flytrap. Soft, cosy yarns are woven around detachable, cyclical structures which both restrict and protect the wearer, while plaited vines hang from opposite corners, poised to provide support or asphyxiation, alike. “We sometimes feel unprotected, even when we’re enjoying something,” the designer says. “This is a story about finding a comfortable trap and gradually accepting its disappearance”.