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Gallery: Fashion students from Colchester challenge our perception of beauty

17:00 19 February 2014

Tenisha Cooley

Tenisha Cooley

Colchester students were asked to question images of fashion ‘perfection’ that leave women of all ages feeling inferior about their body shapes and look. They believe the designs they created show that all women are beautiful. Do you agree? Liz Nice reports.

Is beauty Sylvie, a woman in her 70s who feels that fashion isn’t designed with her in mind any more? Is it Megan, who is 6ft tall, with size 10 feet? Is it Janice, who after several health issues, is afraid of looking like a ‘granny’? Or is it Lois, who can never find clothes to fit her curves and her smaller frame, in shops that assume one size fits all?

These were the questions asked of students on the Fashion and Textiles degree at Colchester School of Art, Colchester Institute, by a national competition to create a new future for fashion.

The Diversity NOW! 14 competition asked students to create designs which step beyond stereotypes and celebrate a wider range of beauty and body ideals in age, size and race than are currently seen in the media.

Val Jacobs, Course Leader, BA Hons Fashion and Textiles, said the project really opened her students’ eyes to how biased the fashion industry can be towards certain body types, skin tones and looks:

“We become immune to it because we are bombarded with images but so many people have issues and we wanted to celebrate difference,” Val said. “Our models felt really empowered by the clothes. They had previously felt excluded by fashion but this was about creating a fashion future where everyone is beautiful.”

The students picked their own muses, mainly from friends and family, and Hayley Bennett, who designed for her Aunt Janice, was delighted with the results:

“I choose my Aunt because I think she’s beautiful. She’s always been glamorous and fashion conscious but she’s been through a lot of health stuff over the last ten years and I think she was afraid she’d have to dress like a granny. But I wanted to make the point that she is still very beautiful.”

“Besides, I think older models look great. I began designing to hide to the things she didn’t want visible. However, I soon realised it was about celebrating what was good about her, rather than hiding what wasn’t. And she has amazing legs!”

Student Melissa Faux designed a party dress for five months’ pregnant, Kate. It has an adaptable back so that Kate will still be able to wear it after she has given birth. Melissa said:“This project has shown me that, as future designers, we need to be more aware of the diverse body shapes out there. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of working on a range of maternity clothing”.

Faye O Brien selected her mother Dawn, who is a size 24 and 5ft 2. Dawn wanted to feel well dressed, smart and confident so Faye designed a classic jacket in black suede and bronze leather, featuring vertical panels to elongate the body.

“Dawn said that she felt empowered,” said Val. “All our models did. It gave them so much self confidence.”

The competition is run by All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, a voluntary organisation founded by Caryn Franklin, Erin O’Connor and Debra Bourne.

Franklin, who visited the College recently, said: “Consumers are a diverse mix and this should be reflected in what we do. Many students I met agreed that fashion affects how women, and increasingly men, feel about themselves psychologically and wanted to use their creativity to positively influence the self-esteem of their consumers.”

Competition winners will be showcased in the June 2014 online edition of i-D Magazine and the All Walks Beyond the Catwalk website. They also have a chance of featuring in a catwalk show at Graduate Fashion Week 2014.

The students’ projects can be viewed at the Waiting Room, St-Botolph’s, Colchester, from 22nd February 2014. For more details and opening times visit:

www.st-botolphs.org www.diversity-now.allwalks.org

n Colchester Institute is still accepting degree applications for September through UCAS. Also there are a few degrees accepting ‘second semester starts’ this February. For more information call (01206) 712000.

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