A year after she was announced as the new head of fashion at the Royal College of Art, Broach discusses the highs and lows of being a fashion educator.
Earlier this month, Zowie Broach unveiled the final collections from her first group of students since joining the Royal College of Art (RCA) as its new head of fashion. Having co-founded the directional, boundary-blurring fashion label Boudicca, she has spent over 12 years as a fashion educator at the likes of Westminster, Parsons School of Design in New York, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. Between 2009 and 2011, she was designer in residence at the London College of Fashion.
You joined the RCA in October. How did it feel when you got the role?
Fantastic, an absolute honor and utterly terrifying! The RCA is one of the world’s leading fashion schools, and I was taking on a role that stretches back to the great Madge Garland [the famous fashion journalist who founded the RCA’s first fashion course in 1948].
What do you hope to bring to the RCA?
Honesty, integrity and a profound awareness that what my students do can – and does – make a difference.
What do you think is the most important part of your job as a fashion educator?
My role as a fashion educator, and that of my team here at the college, is to help our students realise the full extent of their talents, to help them bring to life their internal worlds. We are here to facilitate their truths. Give them confidence to be professional, elegant, strong and pure in expression.
What is the best and worst thing about working with university students?
Their energy. And their energy.
You studied at both Plymouth (Fine Art) and Middlesex (Fashion Textiles). What was the best thing about your university education?
The collision between different forms of learning and different ways of learning. Having a foundation in fine art proved the perfect route for me to fashion; there’s a philosophy, a beauty to be found in fine art that segued perfectly into the form of fashion.
What has changed since you were at university? Do you think it is better or worse now?
Money! It’s such an incredibly challenging route to a professional life, to finish your studies with the amounts of debt these guys have today. It means that their time spent at university has an urgency, a specificity that we didn’t have. We were able to play while studying, and I fear that time is now lost – possibly forever. And the world is less for it.
You recently showed the first collection from your first cohort of students since joining the RCA – how did it feel at that show?
I was so incredibly inspired – by the courageousness and dedication of their worlds. There was a perfection to the collections that one rarely sees nowadays. All the more impressive given what I’ve just said earlier.
You are the cofounder and designer of Boudicca – tell us about this! How did the brand come about?
By accident on a beach in Rimini. Long story!
What were your career highlights with Boudicca?
Being an invited member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture – and showing in the most amazing location we have shown, an opera theatre built in the basement of the Romanian embassy in Paris.
When and why did you make the move into fashion education?
I have been teaching for many years and I really love teaching, but it is not teaching per se. It is spending time with someone that you are possibly able to open up something inside of them that is true to that person’s very being and thinking. You are the ‘un-locker’ of imaginative thinking maybe. It is a responsibility I feel we all have to make the time to share, but it can also be a sharp reminder to make sure you also listen to what you offer. I listen in sometimes and it challenges me to make sure my own practice is being questioned and challenged as much.
What is the best advice you give people wanting to become fashion designers?
Be true to yourself. Be brave enough to share.
If you weren’t working in fashion, what would you be doing?
Running FIFA! No, I’d be doing something in the arts – dance maybe. It’s all I’ve ever known and it’s everything to me.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the fashion industry?
That we’re shallow, ephemeral. That fashion is inherently thoughtless. Just ain’t true, guys.
If you could only wear one outfit for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A Boudicca black couture sparkle wool trouser suit that hovers about the ghost of Bowie and Yves Saint Laurent, Helmut Newton and a cigarette at night in the street.
What is the most treasured item in your wardrobe?
My sock-inis – think bikini socks.