Fashion is difficult to define. It is definitely not art, since its main purpose is commerce. However, it is not just a lucrative business either as it reflects changes in history as well as in personal identity. This year’s graduates of the Fashion Department of KABK, The Hague’s Royal Academy of Art, seem to be particularly interested in fashion’s complex and manifold nature. Instead of following commercial trends, the students investigated the socio-cultural meanings of fashion. Unsurprisingly, the four graduate collections turned out to be unconventional and highly experimental.
Yasmin Boomsma’s collection The Equal Rite was a critical response to Diaghilev’s ballet The Rite of Spring. The designer turned the victimised, docile heroine of the ballet into a fiercely feminine, powerful character. Boomsma’s garments, made of beige and black nylon, evoked the soft sculptures of British artist Sarah Lucas. Accessorised with hair, the clothes drew on the visual vocabulary of feminist art that traditionally plays with codes of intimacy and aversion. By celebrating the strong, non-conformist female, Boomsma not only presented a girl-power alternative to the misogyny of the Ballets Russes but also made a strong point: femininity can be multifaceted and doesn’t have to be pleasing.
In her collection That’s not possible Laura Snijders looked at the concept of change in fashion. The graduate imagined an alternative reality in which “people should change something about their clothes every time they enter a new social area during a walk through the city”. Snijders’s approach is ingenious: while it is universally accepted that fashion does, indeed, reflect social and class distinctions, her interpretation of demarcation lines in fashion is fun, democratic and empowering. After all, in Snijders’a imaginary world social identities are not fixed but fluctuant. However, the collection itself did have a somewhat dystopian aura. The succession of layered and voluminous looks was slightly monotonous, while the digits, printed onto fabrics, added a gloomily futuristic feel.
Timothy Scholte’s project was titled Become a Mary-Ann, Change Your Body for Desire and comprised of menswear garments finished with traditional elements of the female wardrobe; in other words, crinolines galore. The project was inspired by the story of Fanny and Stella —“two Victorian men who donned themselves as women to attract other men”. Scholte re-contextualised the Victorian references mixing them with contemporary garments like deconstructed denim jackets and stretched T-shirts. The collection served to criticise the conventional (and restricting) ideals of masculinity, and was, therefore, a welcome endeavour. However, one can’t help thinking that the designer’s take on gender codes in fashion was a little too straightforward.
Although Yuki Ito’s collection was undoubtedly the most wearable of the four, that is not to say it was the least conceptual. The designer attempted to challenge stereotypes associated with fabrics and garments. Titled False Perceptions, its saw the designer re-contextualise fabrics and thus question the cultural expectations imposed upon them. The neon-orange fabric of the lifejacket, for instance, or the quilted material of the sleeping bag, are used as everyday garments, and the result is a smart collection with a street-style edge.