Inside the Most Fashionable Night of the Year: Leeds RAG Fashion Show 2019

Picture this: A fashion show which begins as though you are stuck in an eighteenth-century painting, with flowing sheer garments and lace as delicate as the ballerina’s who grace the runway. Just four collections later, however, the decadence of this era has dissolved, and the fashion has adapted to dress the contemporary day, where the models have turned the runway into a disco whose fierce textures and illuminous palette rival that of Pacha, a psychedelic club on the shores of Ibiza. It is a crazy thought, but this is a crazy show, and these thoughts are what this show drives you to. In vivid prints, miniskirts and a technicoloured dream coat which Joseph himself would be envious of, your stylish tour of art through the centuries is complete, without any time to come up for air, or a French Martini. This is a fashion show, after all. A showcase this fearless can surely only be the award-winning Leeds RAG Fashion Show, and last night (28th February) ‘The Refectory’ became an artistic time capsule to celebrate the shows 11th year. If 11.11 entitles you to make a wish, then let my one wish to be to return to the opening of this show. To witness this vibrantly daring spectacle one more time.

With a company of 100 models, Leeds RAG Fashion Show rightfully prides itself on promoting and embracing diversity, which was as evident in this year's event, as it has been for the past ten before it. The inclusive range of models who walk for RAG is indeed what makes this show so individually extraordinary. In casting 100 different types of people, this show has already made a bold statement in a way which any daring piece of clothing, powerful music or lighting could never  hope to replicate. The statement that anybody and every body has the potential to walk upon the runway, a proclamation of a radically beautiful message which all spectators will remember.


The theme of ‘The Collection’ was ‘inspired by ground-breaking, rebellious and subversive art movements’, and after witnessing the show, it is apparent that these dramatic changes were not the only evolutions which were prepared to shake up the world of art and fashion. In the same way which Romanticism, Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism and Pop Art broke through the medium, RAG broke through any expectation one can ever have when attending a fashion show. By immersing the audience in a thrilling expression of imagination and transportation, to eras which have already passed, but are presented futuristically, we can only gaze upon them in admiration and hope our future serves us with the same iconic looks. A fashion show which connects the art of Francisco Goya with the vibrant era of Andy Warhol and the string quartet tones of Allegra’s Miserere with Cardi B is a show which is certainly not afraid to shake up our sense of art, fashion and time. The transformation from the angelic aesthetic of an oil painting, right up to lipstick which is inspired by Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe is not instantaneous, it is a progression, a process, an evolution which spread over 160 years and the highlights of these were compressed last night, into just two hours.

The eleventh show was, for many reasons, nothing short of a stylistic phenomenon, but there is one reason which stands above all the others which determined the event's success. Multiply eleven by two, add another one, then multiply that by one thousand and you will come to the grand total raised for the RAG chosen charities. At the climax of the finale, this astounding figure which was raised in the run-up to, and throughout the event was announced. All of this funding will go towards Pancreatic Cancer Research and Behind Closed Doors, two incredibly deserving charities whose lifesaving work lay profoundly at the heart of the event. Fashion with a purpose is, and always will be, the best type of fashion, because not only are you dressing up to feel good, but you are doing good, and a great deal of good can be done with twenty-three thousand pounds.

Thank you RAG, for a journey through art in a time machine which Donatella Versace herself would most likely board if she were in Leeds. Thank you for showcasing upcoming pieces from local designers to the tune of September. Thank you for the continued diversity and for the fund-raising, allowing Leeds RAG Fashion Show 2019 to be the best year




[All photos author's own]