Enjoy our three-part throwback series ‘Three heads of London Fashion Schools’ now in English! Kicking off the three part series is Royal College of Arts, Zowie Broach.
Head of Fashion at Royal College of Arts, Zowie Broach doesn’t believe that there’s such thing as teaching someone to be an artist. To be creative, there’s an instinct in it and it’s about understanding that you are creative. But what is the process of this? Zowie says it’s not just about drawing or reading but it’s about shapes, silhouettes and it’s a very physical thing. Craft is the real key at RCA and students need that space to be able to stand and go and not be squashed and forced into a mold.
Q: What do you think about the way the students view the outside world in the industry, do you encourage to go out there, see it, be part of it, intern?
A: We encourage all students to intern before they got here. Some of them intern between 1st and 2nd year.
Q: Is that compulsory?
A: No, it’s their call, it’s a Master’s Degree. MA has got to be the next stage. It is about working out where you are at this point and if climbing a mountain works for you to understand the functionality of clothing and that’s it. You have to do internships, because what you learn by working in a company is the kind of human social communicative strategic structural side of being in a business however small or large. We’re not a business school and they can’t be taught everything. It’s about pulling forward not just remaining the same.
Q: What should the purpose be of a MA course to the students?
A: To allow you to define yourself and have really great independent thinking. You need to have an opinion and experience allows you to have a contemporary say that you can express with material, through silhouette, and building a collection with a series of ideas. And secondly, you really have to be able to raise your own ambition about what it is to be a designer and be part of something that has an impact, that’s really powerful.
Q: For students looking at the RCA, what should they look at? What are the qualifications?
A: It’s about coming with a question. A question that can only drive what their 2 years could be and a kind of an enquiry that’s unique to you. The program at RCA is set in a building of a thousand phenomenal thinkers, international in the spectrum, that comes from design product to architecture, aesthetics, performance to photography, communications. You will have phenomenal conversations, potential collaborations, of something that doesn’t yet exist. We know what fashion is and you can look at fashion. You don’t come here for us to tell you about fashion, you come here to say ‘this is the world we live in’ so how does that sit, where’s your identity, what’s your relationship to that city to that world, people emotionally sexually politically, because that’s what clothes are.
Q: You’ve had your own fashion label which was an Haute Couture brand. Couture is more about technique and ready to wear is a different kind of technique, is that the way you look at it?
A: Ready to wear is product and couture is imagination, it’s like fine art fashion. Raising the ambition of what is possible depends on the label, the designer, and that moment in society and politics. What you’ve just described is an equation and as soon as you put equations and structures and rules around things, that’s not fashion, that’s just a system. And fashion, you’ve got to be prepared to fail, prepared to be ugly, if you look at early McQueen, people found it distasteful or they found it hard to understand – difficult to wear, showing all your bum – but it was exciting and he was trying to make different marks on the body. It’s about trying desperately to support the new but then if you cage it that’s not the right support.
Q: What can we expect at the MA show coming up, what are you expecting, what is to be seen?
A: There will be a show but also a presentation. Presentation is about spending time with the designer and getting to know the collection so well in depth. It is a quick access to your world and in a showroom atmosphere that happens in a stronger way. So that’s happening in the same location as the show and also after the night of the show, we’re doing something that I’m calling ‘avant-harde’. It’s an adaptation of what we did in the beginning of the year for a week, a play around performance, and some students wanted to present the performance involving music, dance, motion or static motion.
Q: What does that mean, ‘avant-harde’?
A: It’s something that came through a series of typos. No strict translations, just a crossway of language in time. It’s more about them having that place which is trying to break and try out things.
Q: Movement with clothes on? Will there be an audience?
A: Yes, it’s a place for them to try in between what is an official presentation and a showroom and those are the two things about the industry really. It’s a new place.
Q: Not everybody is designed or fit to become a designer, like you said. But for your MA course, you have a certain number of students entering the course. What is your goal for them after graduation? Are there other roles that you encourage them to go into?
A: Yes. Some people are great designers but they’re also great organisers and would be great in a creative team. They could go into production, all sorts of other things that’s all around the aesthetics in fashion and silhouette. Some people have a beautiful sense of line and mark and silhouette but in publishing it and printing and they translate it onto garments really beautifully. It’s about understanding where your skills are and you have to have an open conversation with people and make sure you feel confident. We need people who come through fashion and understand the power of how to express yourself. It is one of the most accessible and powerful things you can give to an individual.
Q: For the students who go out into the real world and explore and do these things have there been some successful cases? Are they able to find a living in those kinds of careers as well?
A: Students graduating our course have become assistant designers, senior designers at big brands like Lanvin, established their own namesake band, are creating fashion films. There have been many opportunities and we’re excited to see more. We will begin to see more of those changes and impact. What stays in them is what informs them at this significant point. It’s about supporting the immediate but also looking where they might end up and that impact is a longer term goal. Because everything from the environment will shift, transport and travel.
Q: You have many international students applying for the course including Korean students. Their local fashion industry may not yet be ready to accept new challenges because they want to play safe?
A: What makes you unique is not just your heritage but your reason and connection to it. And something that’s very individual in your life and how you’ve been formed. We all look at everything differently. And how we look at things is to do with what we’ve been exposed to. We offered our students a series of lectures and after that we encouraged them to all go out and have dialogues and debates. They have different opinions on it and you have that consistently happening here. So you’re really at a super hub of real electric thinking, collision, chaos, failure, beauty, genius and that’s why being here is amazing and then those sparks fly off and exit, and move on.
Q: What do you think about the fast speed of fashion and the high street giants that are really taking authority?
A: It used to be a more big distance of time. When I was a student it was 3 years before you saw the repeat of it on the high streets. And also when years ago, you would never engage with the high street. That was mass. So that’s what’s so different. You would’ve either made your own stuff, wore vintage, queued up at designer sales.
Q: But look at H&M, Uniqlo, and the big groups becoming powerful? They are very active in supporting young designers. Will they be able to do what Topshop has done so brilliantly many years ago? Where is all this going?
A: There should be a sense of reality and you need relationships that connect. As long as the exchange continues and support feeds down to allow growth so that new can blossom, and new ideas have space to breathe it can work effectively.
Q: Do you have open days?
A: Yes we do. We usually do open days in the end of the year and in the beginning of the year. Everyone can come and meet. What works well is for students to come and meet the students who are already here and meet the environment and talk to them. What do they feel, what are they going through, what’s the conversation in dialogue, what do they feel that the school is giving them? It’s about whether there’s a sense of spirit when you walk into a place. It’s like finding a new home. You know when it works for you.
Q: That really warms my heart.
A: Aren’t you the reason behind who you are? It’s not about the talent, it’s about your drive and curiosity. It’s not just about ticking all the boxes, you’ve just set your own rules and own paths so if they want it’s here, if it feels right it’ll be amazing.
Images/ Courtesy of Royal College of Art
This interview was conducted by Inhae Yeo for Dazed Korea. The article was first published in DAZED KOREA JULY 2016 ISSUE. The published Korean article is also available on OiKONOMOS.CLUB