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Students have designs on diversity

If you’re not 6’ tall, can’t fit into a size six dress, don’t have upper arms like Cara Delevingne’s and you’re over 50, you might be convinced that today’s fashion, well even yesterday’s, isn’t really for you. Well, thanks to the pioneering work of All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, an initiative that challenges the fashion industry’s promotion of unrealistic body ideals, and Val Jacobs, Course Leader BA Hons Fashion and Textiles, at Colchester Institute, that’s about to change. Two weeks ago 14 men and women, all in their 50s and 60s, put on their couture clothes and struck a pose. This photographic shoot represented the culmination of the Silver Fox project, the brainchild of Jacobs, where she tasked her second year design students to create a capsule wardrobe for people old enough to remember where they were when JFK died.

Explaining the background to the project, Jacobs said: “Students tend to design for their own age group but I want the designers of tomorrow to be more empathetic to the needs of real people. By pairing each of them with a mature muse, they were able to develop their understanding of the connection between body image, confidence, fashion and diversity and how design practices can both influence and be influenced by these issues. Silver Fox was a way of making them step out of their comfort zone.”

But it wasn’t just the students who stepped out of their comfort zone, many of their muses – including me – decided that they wanted to give it a go too! Here’s what some of the muses and designers had to say:

Sharon Morrison, PR consultant (that’s me!)

“Unless I’m on summer holiday, my legs never see daylight and vice versa. It’s not that I don’t like my legs, I do, but it’s really convenient to wear trousers, jeggings and jeans in both the office and home. I just don’t get the opportunity to show my legs off and I’d quite like to now and then. I can’t say the same about my arms though. I HATE them. There’s no tone and they wobble long after I’ve finished waving and I wouldn’t risk a sleeveless dress unless I had a matching shrug. I thank heaven for shrugs. I jog four or five times a week and I thought that might be enough to give my arms definition, but it hasn’t happened. I told Jade, my designer, that I wanted to try something new; be braver about displaying my limbs after decades of covering them up. This dress manages to combine demure and daring and I feel completely at ease in it.”

Jade Spindler, undergraduate, designing for me

“Sharon’s a confident person, but not when it comes to her body. As she’s very active I wanted to explore a sporting theme for her; she feels comfortable in sportswear so I felt she could take more risks. The sport luxe trend is huge, global, but there’s little for women in their 50s. I wanted to try and fill this gap in the market by taking a simple A-line shape, giving it a sophisticated high neck and inset yoke and embellishing it with zips that reflect the stitching on sports balls. The length of the dress and the shape of the sleeves were measured and cut precisely to accentuate Sharon’s positives.”

Lin Malyon, volunteer in Fashion and Textiles at Colchester Institute

“I always wanted to go to art school but never had the opportunity. Then, in 2011, at the age of 66, I graduated with a degree in Fashion and Textiles from Colchester Institute. And I’m still there, four years on, mentoring undergraduates. It’s strange that I work with so much colour yet always wear black. I feel happy in black; black will take you anywhere, it’s a blank canvas. I don’t like fitted clothes either because I don’t want to feel exposed. I rarely wear dresses, but I loved this design -even the colour! It’s good to be in a dress again.”

Chandni Patel, undergraduate, from Felixstowe, designing for Lin

“I knew that Lin found it hard to find a dress to flatter her shape, but I also felt she was hiding in black. She has such a bubbly personality I wanted to celebrate it. This design is very much ‘East meets West’. I used Japanese cutting techniques to create fluidity with the fabric and bought the tassels and handmade headband when I was in India this Christmas to accessorise the garment. I chose a vibrant pink to complement Lin’s complexion. It was Lin who wanted wild hair, and it was the right decision. This has been a great learning experience; in my first year I didn’t think about designing for an actual person and Silver Fox made me think again.”     

Sue Bailey, Career Adviser

“I’m happy in my own skin and have a strong sense of what works for me. In truth I always make an effort not to stand out – I like to blend, so earthy tones with a dash of colour work for me. I told my designer that I’m interested in nature and she used this as her inspiration for the design which really impressed me. Working with Christina gave me an insight into the depth of research and the degree of professionalism that goes into one design. I found the developmental side of things fascinating and I trusted my designer completely. At the end of it all I believe that fashion can make you be whatever you want to be.”

Christina Welsh, undergraduate, designing for Sue

“Sue likes to feel safe in clothing and doesn’t like to experiment with colour or print, but she wishes she had the confidence to be more adventurous. When she told me she liked wildlife I decided to use exotic birds as the theme for her garment. My research into this area helped to inform my design in terms of shape and structure. Sue’s conscious of her pear shape so I used the panels to create a strong, lengthening effect. As far as colour is concerned, the vibrancy of the coral suited her beautifully and she really rocked this look.”

Biddy Stanford, vintage clothes dealer

“I grew up watching Hollywood musicals and deep down I always wanted to be a starlet. I love the glamour of it all. My favourite eras are the 40s and 50s. Because I am so rigid about my look I bombarded my designer with lots of visual references. I must confess that I was a little frightened by the outfit at first, but then I saw the cartoon humour in the clothes and I loved the bright colours. It reminded me of utility chic, the look from the WWII era where fabric was in short supply so skirts weren’t so full and panels were added to effect a repair.”

Sophie McGlade, undergraduate, designing for Biddy

“When I first met Biddy I was a little worried. She’s got a very distinct style based on her love of vintage fashion. If she’s not wearing vintage, she wears what she makes herself. And she won’t go near dark colours – which was a relief really. How was I going to take her out of her comfort zone? From our discussions I knew that she liked novelty print and that gave me the idea to explore British seaside cues from the 1950s. My research opened up a world of colour, fun fairs and carousel horses. Using appliqué and embroidery on the skirt, I brought the story to life and made Biddy feel confident in the design.”

Fashion and Textiles staff will now select three designs which will be entered into the national All Walks Beyond the Catwalk Diversity NOW!2015 competition. The winners and finalists will be announced during Graduate Fashion Week (30 May – 2 June 2015) which is held at The Old Truman Brewery in East London.


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