It is a significant event. The school’s MA menswear and womenswear programmes have a strong track record, having previously produced designers such as Erdem, Eudon Choi and Aitor Throup. Its annual graduate show is an established opportunity for the Royal College’s students to present their work to the industry and attract attention to their design.
This year’s show presents an additional point of interest however. It will mark the retirement of Wendy Dagworthy, the dean of the RCA’s School of Material. Dagworthy will be a significant loss. She arrived at the school in 1998, having previously led Central Saint Martins’ BA fashion course, and in 2001 was promoted to become head of the institute's School of Fashion and Textiles.
In 2011 Dagworthy was appointed Dean of the RCA's newly-formed School of Material, a department that united the institute's School of Applied Art with its School of Fashion and Textiles. In explanation of her retirement, Dagworthy said, "I think you just know when the time is right to take it a bit more easy and do things you can’t do normally whilst working.”
This year’s graduate show is therefore a chance for the school to say goodbye to Dagworthy. To mark the occasion, Disegno spoke to six of the school’s graduating MA designers, questioning them about their design processes and aesthetics as they finish preparing their collections for presentation.
ZOE WATERS – WOMENSWEAR
Zoe Waters’ collection is called Obnoxious. Combine this name with the oversized silhouettes and heavy layering evident in the collection, and you begin to understand the ostentation of the aesthetic Waters has moulded for herself. "The name Obnoxious came about when I was discussing what I wanted it to be,” she says. “I kept using it in my vocabulary and it naturally kept coming out when I was talking about what I wanted to achieve.”
In designing the collection Waters took inspiration from relaxed-look items like leather biker or bomber jackets, pairing these with construction techniques she explored in her BA studies. ““My BA collection was constructed through cardboard boxes and translated straight to jersey," she says. "For my MA, I've used a heavy material to hold the shape together for some pieces, but for others I've used lambskin that drapes really beautifully. So it's that exploration of it being the same shape over and over whilst constantly exploring the material.”
LOUISE BENNETTS – WOMENSWEAR
Bennetts describes her aesthetic as something that lies “between being strung together and falling apart,” and it combines fashion, architecture and the dynamism of dance through a method she likes to call “mid-construction". Black-stained steel is the core material of the collection – or its scaffolding – and each piece is suspended from the next with transparent rubber thread.
Bennetts is focused on the inherent engineering of her garments. “I was influenced by contemporary themes of product hacking and fixing, imperfections and transparent narratives,” she says. “I wanted to create pieces that, whilst being ostensibly new, carried the same sense of storytelling, revealing in their very structure the process by which they came to be and how they might adapt in the future.” The collection is titled Phosphorescent, its name derived from In Praise of Shadows, an essay about Japanese architecture and aesthetics by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki.
Bennetts has previously worked as a costume designer for dance productions, and it's not just the industrial solidarity of architecture that she brings to her collection – the dynamism of dance is also evident. “Working as a costume designer is a really exciting area to work within, because you realise that it's not just about how the garment looks, it's about how it behaves in collaboration with the body," she says. "This has really influenced my current collection, as the pieces themselves could be perceived as quite hard - sharp lines, metal edges, glossy black finish - but in combination with the flashes of skin and softness of the body, the resultant look is tough, strong, but distinctly feminine.”
MARTA JAKUBOWSKI – WOMENSWEAR
“There's no other way for me to work than emotionally driven," says Marta Jakubowski. "That is what excites me - personal concept.” Jakubowski sees her work as a means of expression and fashion design as a way to channel emotion. Jakubowski’s graduate collection was born from the change in perspective she experienced after losing her mother the summer before starting her MA in 2012. Creating short films as a method of encapsulating her feelings and as a form of self-therapy, she slowly started to introduce material and silhouette to them. Before long, they became the starting point of her design work.
The resultant collection combines a number of different fabrics as a means to create narrative. The lightness of jersey and crepe are combined with the heaviness of scuba jersey to create striking pieces that focus on form and fabric. “There's a lot of fabric since they all connect within each other,” explains Jakubowski. “A trouser connects through a loop into a tailored coat with a long train, which connects to the next look.” Head-pieces are also prominent in the collection, which are inspired by old head braces that Jakubowski wore as a child and her surprise that someone would be “willing to correct a little thing with something that looks so incorrect.” It is a touch that not only emphasises how personal Jakubowski's work is, but also highlights the beauty that she finds in imperfection.
KATHERINE ROBERTS-WOOD – WOMENSWEAR
Repetition was the basis of Katherine Roberts-Wood’s graduate collection, which explores whether there is “some natural instinctive evolutionary reason to be attracted to recurring forms.” Roberts-Wood has produced visually complex structures, built up from recurring structures that occupy a space between the conceptual and the wearable. “I aim to balance complexity with a simple rule such as repetition,” she says. “To create an aesthetic that engages the wearer or viewer, with a focus on creating texture through structure in a way that is intriguing, curious and plays with senses and perceptions.”
Experimenting with bonded fabrics to obtain the stiffness, flexibility and structural properties needed for her vision, the designer says that choice of texture was vital throughout. Roberts-Wood studied medicine before entering fashion and there are strong elements of science and nature in her work. “The natural and the mathematical or scientific are rather inextricably linked,” she says. “With growth structures and fractals, an apparently natural and organic form is governed by precise mathematic rules. There's something really interesting about a single structure being assembled and repeated to create something fantastical and unexpected.”
NATALIJA MENCEJ – MENSWEAR
Approaching a man's body “as a frame in which to build a silhouette upon” is the basis of Natalija Mencej's MA collection. It is a body of work inspired by Japanese Dekotora trucks, a subculture that revolves around extravagant and highly decorated trucks. The elaborate designs of the Dekotora trucks, the pride and masculinity of their drivers, and the sense of Japanese sensuality within the movement was what gave birth to Mencej's pieces.
Mencej’s creative process typically begins from an image or specific fabric and her MA collection marries the two. “The image sets the mood, yet fabric creates the form,” she says, “before the usual process begins of not too much sketching and more 3D work.” Taking the Dekotora driver as her image, Mencej combined this with a fabric used in Sashiko embroidery and traditional Japanese block-quilting. “I also wanted to take the emotion and sensuality of a Kimono,” she says. "Using their simple shapes and craft and applying it to something that opposes it: the idea of this hard, truck driver, and therefore rigid lines, to create something interesting.”
JUNG SUN KIM – MENSWEAR
Jung Sun Kim's MA collection has a diverse set of inspirations. It draws on Giorgio de Chirico’s artwork The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, Paul Strand's Chair photography and Man Ray’s film Le Retour à la Raison (Return to Reason), all artworks that make heavy use of shadows. The collection is based around the relationship between light and dark, and Kim’s work is informed by the treatment of these issues in her reference artworks. “It was these masterpieces that brought about the idea of shadow and illusion,” she says. “So I developed these ideas onto my garments through the panelling of different fabrics, which give an almost optical effect to the clothes.”
Kim chose to explore her theme through heavy use of patchwork. “It was quite hard to make the shape look as natural as that of a shadow,” she says. “I didn't want them to look too obvious so I had to draw over and over to achieve the right shadow shape.” This interplay of light and shadow is further emphasised by Kim's choice of material. The designer opted to replicate the warmth and softness that she perceives in light through cashmere wool, organic cotton and knotting, all coloured used in varying tones of white, grey and navy.