Fashion Storytelling at it’s Finest: Leeds RAG Fashion Show 2023

By March 11, 2023

Fashion. Leeds.


Alongside this review we are publishing a podcast, “in conversation with… Directors of Leeds RAG Fashion Show”  available soon. In the podcast recorded before the show, we discussed what it meant to them, how the show comes together and the importance of talking about mental health. Check out last years review here.

All images taken by Millie Bentley (@photo.millie) for The State of the Arts.


Once again I find myself inside the famed Refectory of Leeds University Union. The venue has hosted the likes of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and the greatest Who gig ever recorded. But the future is now. And now, Leeds RAG Fashion Show takes centre-stage.

Last year’s show was a marvel, anticipation was high – would this year live up to the spectacular theatrics?

For those unfamiliar with LFRS, it is organised by the Raising and Giving (RAG) Society of Leeds University with wider community and student involvement. Passion and commitment are the only two things needed to join the 50+ team making the show happen.

This year the show raised £20,000 by end-of-show on the closing night. The charities chosen were Young Minds and Leeds Survivor Led Crisis Service in honour of the main theme of the show: mental health. An impressive feat given their candid acknowledgements of financial struggles amplified by sponsorship issues and the cost of living crisis.

Nevertheless LFRS powered on, the spirit and determination of the entire team is commendable, so without further adieu, Leeds RAG Fashion Show 2023 – a review:

Split into five scenes, the show aimed to tell the story of mental health recovery. The five stages were Sadness, Lost, Anger, Found and Hope. Each scene brought with it performative models bringing the corresponding outfits to life.

Scene one, “Sadness”, featured solemn black clothing; models seemingly in their own lonely wedding. Fragile steps slowly down the catwalk preceded theatrical gestures of sadness and pain. The garments matching in their fragility and material, carefully sewn on decorations of draping tulle and carefully layered monotones. As the models closed the scene in a parade, emotions were palpable. Everybody in the audience could empathise with the raw sadness on display.


Scene two dramatically changed the tone. Distorted and disjointed experimental hip-hop beats filled the room. “Lost” had just begun. Ego-loss. The scene burst alive with chaotic energy in direct contrast to the solemness of, not even, one minute ago. Spaced-out models filed in with abstract clothes, mostly ripped and erratic in style. Dresses with dinosaur-like spines and metal wire wrapped around the body came onto the floor. The sheer talent in the garment-makers is obvious. The mould of “charity fashion show” is being broken outfit after outfit, we are seeing Haute Couture in the heart of the North.

The third scene represented a climactic point in the show. “Anger” shifted the tone once more, this time to aggression. Dark reds, and blacks dominated the scene; punk inspired outfits worn by equally floor-stomping punk models. Attitude filled the floor, red smoke filled the air. The storytelling of the show became abundantly clear. During the entire show, not a single word was spoken. Not in the music, not by the models. This was a theatrical exploration of mental health through the medium of fashion.

After a short break enter: scene four, “Found”. Our journey takes a more positive route. Maybe it’s a message in itself that there had been more “negative” scenes than “positive” ones, maybe that is the brutal truth of a mental health journey. The darks had been swapped out for whites, golds and pinks. Models finally smiling, a more relaxed setting came into place, a beautiful meadow scene accompanied them down the catwalk. Again, the wedding motif appeared, this time in traditional white styles and plenty of satin. Additional earthen tones represented a calmer atmosphere bringing us back to earth from the spaced-out anger of the previous scenes.

As we arrive to our final scene “Hope”, the main theme is inner peace. Flowy garments sweeped onto the stage, reminiscent of woodstock era hippies. This scene served as direct juxtaposition to scene one (Sadness), our journey coming to a close. This was a scene for celebration, a celebration of everybody who has ever struggled with mental health. A chance to show every journey can have a positive resolution. The highlight of this scene was the unreal audience reaction, everybody knew they had just witnessed something special.

Leeds RAG Fashion Show 2023 was by all accounts, a huge success. Raising £20,000 for the cause of mental health is a feat that deserves the utmost credit. Huge respect to all the team that put this together, the models and everybody who contributed to that total. It’s a testament to how we as as a society value mental health services.

A fashion show and a social message is the core point of LFRS, this show is fast-becoming a must not miss. Fashion lover or not, this show is a theatrical spectacle. It’s all for a great cause every year, keep your eyes peeled for next year. We will let you know its coming up via our instagram @tsotarts or the LRFS instagram @leedsragfashionshow!