The Expedition was from the Highlands of Scotland to The Strand in London for the Royal College of Art Graduation Show billed as “The Walk without a Cat“. It was the culmination of two years hard graft for our super talented daughter-in-law, Tabitha.
The Girl Who Wanted to Design Shoes
As long as she can remember, shoe design has always been the goal of this young lady from Maidstone. It was whilst studying for her GCSEs that our son, Sam, brought her “home for tea” and we have been part of her story ever since. Following art based A Levels and a variety of exciting design workshops she took up her place on a footwear degree at Leicester De Montfort University. Impressively, the students do not just design, she learnt how to use lasts, stitch leather, make heels, soles, basically everything to take her shoe design from paper to the finished, wearable final product. Towards the end of her course she took part in a competition to design a shoe for Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge. She was runner-up and although I am completely biased, the shoes were more wearable than the winning ones.
The shoes of the 6 finalists went on display in Harrods shop window, then went on tour around the world and were never seen again. Although I understand the winning shoe ended up in a museum in Northampton.
Tabitha’s first full-time posts in the footwear industry were with River Island and New Look. Trips to China, India, Hong Kong and beyond to talk to suppliers and source accessories followed. Long hours, eating strange food and little sleep seem to be the theme but the experience gained was invaluable.
In the summer of 2015, shortly after we began JWalking, Tabitha and Sam were married in the fairytale location of Lake Bled, Slovenia. Perfect! (Of course she designed and hand made her own wedding shoes.) Sam and Tabitha’s Wedding at Lake Bled.
Tabitha Ringwood BA (Hons) MA
Having met some fierce competition for one of only three places on the MA Footwear course at the Royal College of Art, her two years of study started in September 2016. Hours and hours sourcing unusual materials, burning the midnight (and early hours) oil, attending workshops and lectures on other disciplines such as millinery, accessories and 18 months later her dream of achieving a Masters has been achieved. Sam and Tabitha’s flat has become an extension of the University workshops – not that I mind – I love watching her work and looking through her materials. It’s like Aladdin’s Cave for me, crystals, threads, swatches of all sorts of fabrics and materials.
Disruptive Storm Hector
So this is how I ended up on the 9.25am Virgin East Coast train from the Highlands to Kings Cross for the evening Graduation Show. The previous day the line around Perth had been closed due to Storm Hector bringing down trees across the tracks. Thankfully this had all been resolved overnight and I arrived at the venue around 4.45pm.
Jonno had decided that fashion was not his bag (forgive the pun) so stayed manning the dusters, hoover and strimmer back in Scotland. My hero! Apart from seeing Tabitha at the show, I also got to see Sam, Tabitha’s parents (Patsy and Nigel), our eldest son Shaun and his wife Katie. Katie was helping model the shoes but not in the way you think.
The Walk without a Cat
The Press Release from the RCA which I managed to read through said that the Show was going to be a distinct departure from the traditional catwalk. It had a futuristic feel and the students had experimented with virtual reality, science, electronics and sustainable materials. Garments for space tourists, accessories grown from human sweat and seamless clothing were just some of the highlights.
Tabitha‘s installation was one of only two from Footwear. She and Sam had gone to huge trouble to hang what was a very heavy latex curtain as the back drop for her shoe collection. She had three plinths all with shoes on and one bar stool. Two of her three assistants lifted the shoes from behind the latex curtain to show them to the passing guests. It seriously looked like they were floating around.
The final assistant sat behind the curtain on the bar stool and let her legs protrude through. She was wearing black latex tights (there is another whole story to be told about Sam buying those) and modelling black ankle boots. The whole collection was called Bonded. Although latex has a certain reputation it is a very tangible and tactile material and should perhaps be used more in mainstream fashion.
The evening was a mix of touring the various students’ installations interspursed with presentations and other features in a central arena. It was a visual feast but I felt I needed to know more. It is similar to when you are in an art gallery and you need that little extra bit of background information to say whose work it is and where the inspiration or motivation came from.
After a tiring evening the poor students had to dismantle everything and pack it into vans for transit back to the University. For some this meant folding their garments up and putting them in bags, for Tabitha it meant removing screws, filing holes and repainting in a few places. Seemed a bit unfair on the students as some relatives had flown in from other countries to be there and couldn’t spend the evening together.
As for me, I was just so pleased to be able to see Tabitha showcase her work and was bursting with pride. Pride also in Sam whose support has been relentless despite his own heavy work schedule. Now it is time for them to enjoy the Graduation Day, a day when there will be no vans to pack and they can head off to celebrate together with a few glasses of bubbles.
15/06 – 16/06/2018