The Royal College of Art has been instrumental in defining the landscape of global fashion. It has forged new creative paths with a rigorous degree programme that has counted Ossie Clark, Philip Treacy, Julien MacDonald and Christopher Bailey among its most illustrious alumni.
The college’s incredible photographic archives are emblematic of fashion’s ever-changing face, but there are undeniable parallels that seem to permeate the decades. “You see this echo; some things are very different, others stay the same,” says Zowie Broach, Head of Fashion. “I feel that the RCA has a very strong, invisible history, and every history is a family… we stare in the same way, and hold fabric and move with similar intensity. You can layer these images up on top of each other and see this oscillation between themes and tendencies.”
Since its inception in the late 1940s the course has always demanded innovation, and this archive offers a glimpse into the nascent creativity that has since shaped the industry. Beyond the catwalk shots there are also more candid images that encapsulate the frisson of the workrooms, as well as showing just how important the fundamental principles of design remain.
“Even now, we still have cutting tables, we still have mannequins; we still have an old Victorian sewing machine and an iron. Except now we have VR headsets and wide, open spaces where we merge disciplines, because there aren’t such binary systems anymore. Fashion has a suggestibility and alchemy. It is open to so many possibilities and has such strength and drive. It can be seen as such a negative thing, but in fact it is a phenomenal driving force, and I see that amazing creativity in my students.”
As the 2017 show gets under way it is timely to reflect on the college’s important heritage, while also looking forward in a time of ongoing uncertainty. “When I first saw these photographs it was such a lovely moment.” Broach adds, “I feel like I’ve found the past and am hopefully opening the door to something new, while still remembering where we’ve all come from.”