Disruptors in Fashion Education: Rob Phillips From London College of Fashion
Photo by: Kasia Wozniak
The pandemic has had an immense impact on the fashion industry. How do you see it recovering?
The Covid-19 lockdown has been a massive catalyst for deep reflection, ideation, and future possibility planning.
It’s impossible for the fashion industry to stay as we know it. I believe we will integrate much of our new daily rituals practices into our outputs as designers and artists.
So much of what I’m seeing out there and from the many conversations I am having boil down to a focus on relevance, purpose, authenticity, and originality. For example, an image is no longer enough, people want to know the whole story through spoken and written word, multiple perspectives, film, sound, animation, and more. I see a need for more holistically told stories rather than momentary ones.
We have long known that aspects of fashion, such as shows and even printed magazines are questionably relevant today. So, we are now trying to create much deeper worth, form thorough connections through multiple ways of communicating.
How do you anticipate fashion programs within universities will change?
At the moment it’s really important to fully reflect on what’s happened, to question what we are doing and what came before in order to redefine the future. Research, practice examples, people’s stories and experiences all need to be collated and examined before long term plans are created.
How has your role as an educator adapted as a result of working remotely?
My career and professional practice has always been somewhat blended, utilizing physical and digital methods of creation and communication. From conversing, commissioning, ideating, teaching, guiding, writing, film making, social communication and animation, I have always integrated all of this into my role at London College of Fashion, UAL.
Multi-perspective portfolios, award-winning BFC films, online publications, multimedia fashion shows have all been at forefront of my work. As an educator for fashion, I believe it’s my responsibility to think about the future and bring it in, no matter how blue the sky, into what we teach and what we show. Adapting to this situation has come quite naturally. It’s been a really positive experience to share my knowledge and expertise with the LCF community and help guide them through these unprecedented times.
How do you work to push the boundaries of the creative process within the landscape of London College of Fashion?
The foundation of everything we do is education. We are the only fashion education establishment in the world that offers courses across so many disciplines. We are trying to stimulate the student to think beyond the present and so I tell them, ‘in order to push a boundary, you must firstly know what the boundary is.' That goes for everything we do here at LCF, it’s not just about design and skill, it’s about exploring your imagination and environment. For me it’s important to get the student to visualise the outcome of the project and its potential impact first, even if they are nowhere near finishing.
Let’s use diversity as an example. It is one of the hardest subjects to approach and get students to have confidence in; but we have to question why - because the media perpetuates a certain look. I concern myself with pushing the equality boundary, encouraging our talent to design for others the way that they are. It’s not about following what fashion does, it’s about asking ‘what can it become?’
Your artwork is a true encapsulation of creativity across mediums. How do you encourage students and emerging designers to think beyond their area of study to explore new disciplines? In what ways does a cross-disciplinary academic environment influence a student’s journey?
Any environment you are in will influence you and so it is key to question the world and your surroundings in order to make it better. My role as creative director is to encourage our students, but they also need to feel and believe in the work they are creating. It’s my responsibility to question, enabling them to think deeper and in turn become the best they can be.
If you are not critically evaluating yourself you are not growing as a person. We are in such a polarised world right now and it is vital to be broadminded and willing to educate yourself and others.
A cross-disciplinary environment further allows for our students to build something authentic, original, and with longevity.
How does your work as an artist influence the way in which you craft your course curriculum at London College of Fashion?
My artwork is a study of people, largely playing with gender and my perception of what genders mean - it’s all about questioning the self and addressing stereotypes.
I would not be able to produce the work that I do without practice. I have to underpin the visuals that I want to present to the world with technique and process. I encourage our talent to do the same - dream bigger than the present by exploring the reasoning and the skill that will enable them to create their own narrative and vision.
I often collaborate with other practitioners who inspire me to consider LCF’s curriculum and how I can apply and implement fresh ideas. Everything I do and everyone I meet allows me to build up conversations which lead to creating innovative projects.
How have you seen the political happenings and shifts in culture in London impact the work of students?
It’s never been more important for young people to engage with politics. Our students are focusing on the future and their careers but we also encourage them to consider the future around them which will enable them to do their work. All these things are affected by politics and culture.
Sustainability is becoming increasingly prominent across the sector – at LCF we have been championing teaching and learning in this area for over 10 years, pioneered by the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion. We have also embedded a unit for all first year undergraduates within the LCF curriculum through an initiative we call Better Lives - using fashion as a catalyst to drive change and build a sustainable future. Not just in terms of material but in wellbeing and welfare - questioning who makes the clothes as well as their environmental footprint.
It is our role as educators to give our students the opportunities to express their opinions and who they are and to make sure that they have an inclusive and supportive environment in which to explore their identity and politics. Fashion, at its best, is a way of expressing our politics – it speaks volumes about who we are and what we stand for. We encourage our students to think deeply about subjects which matter to them. When fashion is personal it is powerful. When fashion helps people have a voice it is powerful. Students must engage with current policies and make their voice heard. It is their future at stake. Everyday actions like reading the headlines and voting are so important!
In what ways do undergraduate shows prepare students for the realities of the industry? How does it spark the entrepreneurial spirit that underpins all creative endeavors?
Our undergraduate shows are built by the students. I start the year by having forums and meetings in order to challenge their perception of what a show should be. We have to be imaginative and present in different ways every year. I get them to think about the elements that make a show successful, which in turn they take with them into their practice.
At LCF we not only offer one-on-one career advice, but through our Student Enterprise Team we aim to nurture our student’s enterprising mind-set through mentoring and activities with other organisations, encouraging them to develop their networks.
How do you see the fashion students working to reshape the current fashion landscape?
Right now there are questions around gender and diversity. Students have never before explored this area so much, and that’s amazing. Practitioners have been trying to change the image of fashion for years but we’re now really starting to see that come through championed by young designers who are being inspired to raise their voice. I am seeing more and more work that challenges the status quo.
Social media has also reshaped the fashion landscape. We encourage students to think globally – our student body and our online community are not in one geographical place – so we need to adjust our mind-set and think outside our locality. Being informed, sharing ideas, and connecting with others obliterates barriers and enables people to build new opportunities.
As an advocate for the next generation of designers, what excites you the most about the future of fashion and the new voices that will work within it?
I really hope that the next generation will make radical changes to the system! The idea of fashion is to be free and individual, there’s a real beauty in that. Systems are homogenous and encourage trends which are unsustainable and damaging. The more people express their visual voice, the more diversity we see. I don’t just mean in terms of a model - I mean everything from the landscape and global position to the cost of clothing; everything can be diversified. Fashion doesn’t just have to be showing a seasonal collection, it can be anything. As long as you believe in it, people will believe in you. I’m really looking forward to how our graduates will break down these systems, reform them, and create their own.