Lydia Varney reviews the twelfth Leeds RAG Fashion show, talking all things fashion, showbiz and authentic climate action.
The room is immersed in darkness, the sense of anticipation heavy in the air. The crowd, dressed and glammed up as if they themselves are part of the show, fall quiet. The room pauses, stretches. Then, suddenly, lights. Lights, cameras, flashes, fire.
The opening scene of LRFS is difficult to describe without launching into a novel-worthy extract about how the room exploded from expectant silence to a loud, whirlwind of energy, light and … well, orange. Elysian was a clearly structured show; set into five distinct parts, the five elements. It would take less than a second to work out which was which to even the untrained eye. Certainly, the show began with ‘Fire’ embodied across a range of outfits, varying from hardly subtle to unmistakably obvious uses of the theme. This is certainly not a criticism, in fact for the opening scene, it created an unrivalled impact; each of the twelve designers in this section were tied together so seamlessly that the pieces were intertwined, caught up in a moment of fiery blaze.
Scene two transported the crowd away from the noise and heat of ‘Fire’ and into a serene, blue calm: ‘Water’. Where before models had strutted out one by one, the stage to themselves, the space was now shared between a line up of models draped in hues of blues, teals and turquoises, perfectly encompassing the liquid theme. Hazy blue lights panned across to a dancer in a hoop, central in the tranquil display. The scene was set; the models then flowed down the catwalk, finally allowing for the glorious details of each outfit to be taken in. A particular highlight at this point was a statement tier skirt, set with clashing blue prints dropped against one another. There was also an impressive amount of unusual layering and silhouette’s; baggy knits thrown together with bikini bottoms, finished with the most spectacular over-the-knee boots I have ever seen (seriously, I want a pair right now).
Air, the third of the five elements, was a free-flowing whirlwind of white, distinguished by a beautiful set of dancers who populated the catwalk. In some ways, this seemed to detract from the pieces on display, as the dancers were so enchanting it was difficult to focus not solely on them. However as ‘Air’ encompassed a more subtle selection of outfits characterised by delicate details and gentle shapes, I personally felt that the dancers were essential in creating impact in the scene. After all, a fashion show is not merely about the outfits on display, but equally the display itself. The Elysian team, for sure, cannot be faulted on their ability to create a show; there was drama, suspense and jaw-dropping moments throughout.
Three elements in, half time called. At this point, there was an overwhelming sense all round that what the crowd was witnessing was totally exceeding all expectations. Yes, LRFS has a city-wide reputation that has been built through years of hard work. But, at the same time, it was safe to say this year’s show by far exceeded that. We were, quite simply, in awe. A quick trip to Northern Bloc’s ice cream stand, a fresh glass of G&T, and we were straight back to our seats, eagerly awaiting the final two scenes.
Void was, as could be imagined, a dark chapter of bold, black pieces storming down the runway, models boldly decorated with blackened eyes and lips. I think at this point it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the makeup genius that was so essential in tying this show together. With all artists volunteering their time for charity, it could be easy to presume that the standard may be something less than professional. However this could not have been further from the truth- from start to finish, both hair and makeup was a sensation; it was creative, unique and edgy, yet also so suited to each scene that it perfectly complimented the clothes on show. It was, excuse the cliché, the icing on the cake.
The final scene of Elysian, ‘Earth’, was bittersweet only in that as an audience we knew the show was coming to an end. For me personally, this scene was the best of the best. Up to this point, whilst I had loved the unity across each of the other elements, I had also been aware of the danger that such distinct themes could have on creating quite clichéd looks. In some ways, it was a triumph that each episode was so recognisable. In other ways, I wondered if it had meant some designers had been so pulled into sticking to a theme that it could have restricted creativity. Yet once the ‘Earth’ scene was complete, it seemed to pull the entire show together. ‘Earth’ was a mash of colourful creativity, crazy combinations and everything in between. Here was a display of wonder; a chance for fun and playfulness. I had perhaps assumed ‘Earth’ would include only natural hues, a woodland-esque episode. Instead, the runway was lit up with dancing, from the models (who were, from start to finish, absolutely sensational) who seemed to be having the time of their lives. There seemed a reflection here of combining differences to create something beautiful- Earth is, after all, so dramatically beautiful because it is so dramatically different from place to place, culture to culture. It was amazing to see some model diversity at this point and throughout the show, however it may have been better yet to have seen more plus-size or other alternative models throughout.
All in all, Elysian was a masterpiece. Our team could not have been more impressed with the dedicated of the models, stylists, designers and rest of the team on putting on a show that was so professional and sleek, yet also a burst of fun and creativity. It is not exaggeration to say that the audience were lit up with smiles from start to finish. However, for me, what made LRFS 2020 so unique is the authenticity behind the showbiz, and the passion the team showed about raising money to help protect our planet. This year, records were broken as a staggering £27,600 was raised towards two fantastic charities, Plastic Oceans UK and Hubbub, both who work to promote a more sustainable future. Beyond this impressive figure, what struck me was how dedicated the team were throughout. It was evident, through speeches given and small changes the committee had made (using QR codes to scan details about charities to reduce paper wastage, calculating and offsetting their own carbon emission), that there was a genuine, authentic care for the planet and a real desire to bring about positive change. It all tied together beautifully; a show, celebrating the beauty of our planet, perfectly set up to raise money to preserve this very beauty – Elysian was a sensation, and a real privilege to see.