The next generation of fashion designers set to shake up the industry

Images via Infringement, Say Goodbye to the Wind, And I Strongly Suggest You Wear Sensible Shoes
Words by Maki Morita

Class of 2019.

As our climate heats up, gender norms shift, and new iPhone models are released, fashion also evolves. The future of the industry looks like it will be brave and borderless, interdisciplinary and sustainable, and may be found in the very capable hands of graduate fashion designers.

With designers like Charles Jeffrey stepping straight out of fashion school and establishing a highly successful label, fashion graduates are definitely worth keeping an eye on. They have big dreams, compelling design philosophies, and don’t care much for Victoria’s Secret-style catwalks (which frankly, we’re bored of).

Graduate fashion shows are the turning point for student designers, where they get to showcase their four years of hard work to family, friends, teachers, and industry professionals. Held in carparks and warehouses, and favouring performative shows over traditional catwalks, the 2019 round-up of RMIT fashion grad shows was a glorious peek into what the future of the industry might hold. It’s an emotional and adrenaline-fuelled night for the students, who have poured their hearts into the process of putting it all together. The euphoria of the experience is “a feeling you want to chase”, muses graduate designer Katherine Nolan.

For the creatives behind Say Goodbye to the Wind (Phoebe Pendergast-Jones, Jackie Wu, Michelle Li and Christine Zhou), it was a surreal experience to watch their vision unravel before their eyes. A narrative-based show that invited their guests to enter a ‘dreamscape’, Say Goodbye to the Wind formed a space where “the line between what is real and what is imagined has become foggy and uncertain,” Phoebe explains. The show involved thunderclaps and wildflowers, shimmering green body paint and models walking through a thick haze of smoke – making for a theatrical sensory experience for audiences.

Another grad show we fawned over was The Leisure Class, which transformed Second Story Studios into an exhibition space filled with beautifully curated sets for the models. Inspired by Thorstein Veblen’s theory of ‘The Leisure Class’, Katherine established the concept for the show based on the exploration of feminine archetypes in her graduate collection. Katherine’s designs poke fun at outdated gender norms by exaggerating and deconstructing 18th century women’s fashion.

The exploration of gender is a recurring theme throughout 2019 graduate collections. While ‘unisex’ is most definitely a thing in mainstream fashion, clothes, haircuts, makeup, and jewellery still seem inevitably attached to labels of ‘men’s’ or ‘women’s’ – leaving little space for gender fluidity. However, the tides are changing and the next generation of young designers is making waves in the realm of gender, too.

Take Jackie Wu, who created a line of menswear for their graduate collection that sexually liberates and empowers the wearer. By combining masculine and feminine design elements, Jackie critiques the hegemonic concept of masculinity – which I’m sure many of us are very done with.

As gender merges, so do creative mediums. Fashion design is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, as Michelle Li’s graduate collection shows us. Sparked by an interest in contact improvisation – an art form that relies on the interplay between the actions and reactions of its participants – Michelle allowed chance to play a key role in her design outcomes. Inspired by dance and movement, Michelle used hidden magnets to line the garments of her final pieces so that they take on new shapes each time they’re worn.

The influence of performance art was also clear in the graduate show And I Strongly Suggest You Wear Sensible Shoes, which showcased the students’ designs through a three-act performance that incorporated theatre and contemporary dance.

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For the next generation of fashion designers stepping into the industry, sustainability is a central concern. “Sustainability is the biggest change that the entire industry needs to get on board with… we can’t go on with business as usual,” Katherine explains. Amidst a nightmarish bushfire season that has amplified voices calling for climate action, the need for designers to respond to unethical fashion production has become increasingly urgent.

Graduate designer Nadya Kusumo mentions Arnsdorf and A.BCH as examples of sustainable labels leading this generation in the right direction. For the designers behind Say Goodbye to the Wind, the solution lies in a “slow-fashion framework”, where collections are produced slow and small rather than fast and in overabundance.

Now that they’ve finished their studies, exciting opportunities and pathways have presented themselves to the graduates. Nadya has been inundated with custom orders for her ‘binary set’, and is eager to take her first steps as a professional practitioner in the industry.

Travelling, internships, and postgraduate degrees are on the minds of many graduates, like Jackie – who wishes to gain fresh inspiration by travelling around Asia and Europe, and strengthen their identity as an emerging designer by developing another collection.

Professional opportunities have appeared quickly for Michelle and Katherine, who will be brushing up their final collections to showcase at independent runways in VAMFF this March. It’s not all fashion, however, as some graduates aim to merge their design practice with a myriad of other interests as they move forward. Phoebe seeks to incorporate visual storytelling mediums such as photography and performance with her design work, while Christine wants to experiment with how digital media and material engineering might collide with fashion.

It’s a time of new beginnings for the graduates as they make their way into the local and international fashion industry. With stellar final collections under their belt and innovative design philosophies to work from, the next gen of fashion has a promising future.

We can’t wait to see what they get up to this year and in the years to come.

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