Meet the Visionary Directors of Leeds RAG Fashion Show
A behind-the-scenes interview with Michail Marinakis, General Director, and Magda Kormpaki, Creative Director, of the 2024 Leeds RAG Fashion Show—the second biggest student-led fashion show in the UK.
I’m in the Gryphon office, ‘GPTing’ about ‘what to ask a director in an interview’ (extremely professional of me, I know), when in walks Michail and Magda. After a brief introduction at the launch party the night before, it was obvious they were the people for the job. Though it wasn’t until Magda walked in, looking as though Audrey Hepburn had met Miranda Priestly (and stolen her coat) in some cinematic collision, that I realised we had very different perceptions of the meaning of ‘oh, this, I just threw it on…’. Michail follows, in a navy Ralph Lauren jumper, modest but equally tasteful; and I made the executive decision to not eat for the foreseeable future and instead buy a new wardrobe.
Michail, a third-year Business Management and Marketing student, attended last year’s show and says he “just knew we could make it brighter, bolder, bigger”. Magda chimes in, “he saw a vision,” and judging from the 6-kilo inflatable moon they had installed in the Belgrave Music Hall the night before, I knew they were not lying. Though materialism aside, Michail’s three B objectives clearly lie deeper than aesthetics. “We give an opportunity to students to put something on their CVs and portfolios; it’s all about creating opportunities for the student community, whether you’re from the Uni of, or Leeds Arts, or Computer Science, or French, there’s a space for you in every team,” he continues. “There’s a lot of talent in Leeds; we create a platform to help students realise that”.
Magda, who has lived in Leeds for five years now after migrating from Greece, is a recent graduate from the University’s Fashion Marketing course and evidently shares Michail’s vision. “I see a lot of individuality and originality in people on the streets—how they dress, how they behave, how they express themselves”. It is obvious that Magda’s muse is people. She goes on to tell me about her inspiration for the theme: ‘Eclipse.’
Stemming from an urban legend, the story entails a requited love between the sun and the moon, destined to be apart but yearning for what little time they have to embrace their love—defying cosmic laws to form what we title an eclipse.
“I read this story when I was very little. I was inspired by the eclipse. We wanted to pull away from the female-male symbolism and make it a bit broader. What is the sun? The sun is who you are in the daylight, who you present yourself to be, who people see when they look at you. And during the night, when the moon comes out, this is who you truly are, your real self, you know. You go home, take off your makeup, take off your clothes—this is who you truly are. And then it’s all about bringing together those two sides of who you are… it’s about embracing both sides really, because we all have a bright and a dark side – the theme is an allegory for humans in society,” explains Magda.
Michail and Magda at the Leeds RAGS Fashion Show Launch Party/12.04.2023/Photo credits to Eleanor Reilly/6-kilo inflatable balloon at LRFS launch party/Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen/Photo credits to Britta Carlson
In aid of this theme, the chosen charities are an embodiment of this personal challenge of defining your own self: Ditch the Label, an anti-bullying charity supporting 12–25-year-olds; Leeds Nightline, a listening and information service operating at LUU; and Yorkshire Mesmac, a sexual and mental health organisation.
Magda also highlights her priority for sustainability, “It was the first thing I said to Michail: I want everything on the show to be made from existing waste. If possible, we want every piece of clothing to be recycled or upcycled. We don’t want to buy new fabrics; we want to use what’s already out there”. Michail adds, “We are working on installing collection boxes around the Uni campus and the union for students to bring us their clothes, and in partnership with Oxfam, we’re going to donate what we don’t use”.
They are also planning to make the show the first carbon-neutral event at the University. “For example, the banners do not have a date on them, so we will use them in the following years. Every poster we make is general, with a changeable QR code, and they are all made with eco-friendly inks. Everything we are doing is circular” discloses Michail.
Despite feeling disadvantaged by the University—through a lack of funding and challenges such as a £12,000 quote for hosting the show in the Parkinson Building (my jaw dropped)—and a rejection of a three-day show which had the potential to raise a significant amount more for the chosen charities, Magda and Michail seem to be defying all odds.
Magda states midway through our conversation, “You need the attitude and the guts to start somewhere. All I see now is the same people, still in power, representing what the youth believes”. In that one sentence, I believe she has epitomised the quintessence of this project—to make ‘something people will remember’.