Appointed as the Head of Fashion at London’s Royal College of Art back in 2014, designer Zowie Broach, a graduate of Plymouth College of Art and Middlesex University, first received acclaim for co-founding experimental fashion brand Boudicca. Set-up in 1997 with her partner Ben Kirkby, the line became recognised for its non-conformist approach, both in regards to design and commerce. In 2001, the BFC asked Boudicca to join London Fashion Week and in 2007 they became one of few labels to ever be invited by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Traversing the realms of fashion and art, Broach’s work has been exhibited at London’s V&A, as well as the Art Institute of Chicago.
Broach has been closely involved in fashion education for over a decade, teaching for eight years at the University of Westminster in London, Parsons The New School for Design in New York, SIAC in Chicago and Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. As the Head of Fashion at the RCA, Broach has placed a decided focus on experimentation, propelling the fashion school’s reputation as a forward-thinking institution.
Zowie Broach shares her thoughts with us on the changing face of London’s burgeoning menswear scene.
Something Curated: What do you think has influenced the surge in menswear designers emerging from London universities in recent years?
Zowie Broach: The space between education and industry is closer than most practices, defining and critical. The place in menswear had need for the new, men were prepared for the new and so this all established a strong growth in young menswear designers and some of them came straight from universities. Identity and the design of this had been ruled by a few for a long time and the classical requirement of most men was kept narrow. I think the growth of the internet into online shopping has to be of some influence here – no need to go out to shop to try new ways of dressing – and of course the debate and the exchange of ideas. So did this open up the imagination and possibility that seemed to connect to the position of the young designer coming through and offering new dynamic voices in design?
The RCA has added to the LFW Men’s with Aitor Throup, James Long, Astrid Anderson, Mathew Miller, Christopher Raeburn, Katy Eary, Ka Wa Key, Liam Hodges, Alex Mullins, Lou Dalton and more recently with Per Gotesson at MAN, One by Me at New Gen, Kang Huk Choi in Korean Fashion week, Bianca Saunders new line at LNCC and then Luke Steven’s critical design work, during the Seoul Biennale. They all offer a wide variety of guise style and make, new worlds, new tribes and vision for the man of today and very often not limiting that to just menswear.
Absorption of the aesthetics of womenswear history has been re offered to men’s in a faster cycle of acceptance, growth and desire. A freedom that moves across all ages and cultures has created an excitement in men’s wear for a long time that shows up womenswear to appear bored, on repeat. And sports as identity, queues outside Supreme, tailoring and a spectrum of colours has offered up an excitement and a magnificent array of guises and identities for the modern man.
SC: What can be done to further London’s position as a global centre for menswear fashion?
ZB: Education now needs stronger links to industry partners where knowledge exchange can occur in new ways. Support form Brioni over a period of 10 years has shown a wonderful relation towards tailoring the often-extreme ideas and innovative work coming from RCA menswear students. A trip for the finalists from the RCA menswear to visit Penne and work with the young tailors from Brioni is a great example of the exchange between tradition and innovation.
Could this occur in other ways where trips to see and understand materiality whether from the legacy of Massimo Osti at Stone Island, the new cycling rhythms of Rapha, the hills of Austria to view Loden wools or the cool new identities driven by the likes of Acronym? Or is this more about a dual expression where we see a lead towards extremes in what it means to dress whether gender led, body shape or the state of our mental health? These areas need space to be debated and expressed.
And as we look to a future we can see the need for systems to change dramatically if we wish for all our young designers to compete and survive. That means new ways of making, manufacture and to have a business model that can remain true to design but offer individualism.
The systems need examining, support for change and radical shifts if we are to truly look for a new global position for fashion as design. Here we can look at sports companies where they are investing in research to design in ways that, direct-fashion maybe has not. Ateliers of new machinery, investment in the maths and yet poetry of who we are not just as sexes but as people existing in a world we have a desire to evolve within and with respectfully. Our knowledge and abilities today needs support to assist design to move forward with these new technologies – whether in body motion, new materials, neuroscience, data we own ourselves, and a real drive to find new structures to survive and yet beholden to the skills we have in designing our identities. Who we are is more than a global market place.
Feature image via Royal College of Art