Under Janey Ironside's professorship, fashion at the RCA becomes synonymous with the exuberance of Pop and the Swinging Sixties, as the College attracted and nurtured stars such as Ossie Clark, Foale & Tuffin, Bill Gibb and Antony Price
Janey’s brightest star, Raymond ‘Ossie’ Clark (graduated 1965), encapsulated swinging London: his student work featured angular Op Art patterns, and a coat trimmed with flashing lightbulbs (battery operated). Other significant students included Anne Tyrrell (1960), Sylvia Ayton (1961), Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin (1962), Pauline Denyer (1962), Alan and Valerie Couldridge (1963), Janice Wainwright (1964), Bill Gibb (who did not complete his course, having found extraordinary success while still a student) and Antony Price (1968). Price was highly skilled at cutting and tailoring, and equally adept at feminine classics and visionary menswear: in the next decade he would go on to design the spiral-cut skirt that was ubiquitous in the 1970s, as well as the look and ‘packaging’ of Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. In a neat encapsulation of the interdisciplinary nature of College life, the Graphic Design students, who were themselves pushing design boundaries, would often create the invitations and programmes for the annual Fashion shows. These would typically involve experimentation with paper stocks, colour, typography and even paper engineering.
Although Ironside’s tenure was a golden age for the School, her reign would end in public abdication as the decade entered its closing years. In 1967, amid much jubilation, the College received its Royal Charter, conferring university status and the power to grant its own degrees rather than the diplomas it had always offered. To stay ahead of the competition, the College also became a wholly postgraduate institution and introduced Master’s courses across the board, with one conspicuous exception. An advisory committee had recommended that Fashion would be kept down to diploma status - a discriminatory decision that caused uproar among the student cohort and in the fashion press. Although various justifications were offered, including Darwin’s suggestion that fashion was too ephemeral to merit the award, internal politicking may have been to blame. Janey Ironside’s position became untenable and she resigned, to be replaced by her assistant Joanne Brogden, just as Ironside herself had once superseded her predecessor. The waters closed quickly: the College relented and degree status was conferred just months later, but Janey Ironside’s time was over, just when the decade she had done so much to define was itself waning.
Text and selection:
Neil Parkinson, Archives & Collections Manager, Royal College of Art
Royal College of Art Special Collections
Nick Frayling, Henrietta Goodden, Virginia Ironside, Cathy Johns, Octavia Reeve, Simon Taylor
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Handley, Susannah. ‘Home Furnishers, Fashion Makers and Image Creators’, in: Christopher Frayling and Clare Catterall (eds.) Design of the Times: One Hundred Years of the Royal College of Art (London: Richard Dennis Publications/Royal College of Art, 1996).
McDowell, Colin, ‘Material Differences at the RCA’, in Octavia Reeve (ed.), The Perfect Place to Grow: 175 Years of the Royal College of Art (London: Royal College of Art, 2012).