Wednesday, 8 June 2011
The Big Issue
That's Not My Age strongly believes that you don't have to have youth to have style. Which you've probably gathered already, as I spend my mid-life banging on about individuality in the over-forties. I always try to use inspirational imagery, friendly language and give realistic advice. My place in the blogosphere may be the size of a newly-formed follicle on Wayne Rooney's pate, but one small step for womankind and all that. Over at Graduate Fashion Week yesterday, age, race and size were on the agenda as the very first educational Centre for Diversity was launched by the Minister for Equalities, Lynne Featherstone. Hooray! This latest project from All Walks Beyond The Catwalk reaches designers at the start of their careers and encourages them to embrace diversity by designing for ordinary bodies rather than the usual size 8 mannequins or skinny young models.
All Walks was founded back in 2009 by fashion commentator Caryn Franklin, PR expert Debra Bourne and model Erin O'Connor. The team that inspired knitwear designer Mark Fast to use size 12-14 catwalk models (causing the stylist to walk out and the spring 2010 collection to sell out) and worked with Rankin on the Snapped exhibition, at the National Portrait Gallery earlier this year, has created the Centre for Diversity in conjunction with the fashion department at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). In order to 'Celebrate & Educate,' second year students have been paired up with 'icons,' or real women in a range of different ages, sizes and shapes. Course leader, Mal Burkinshaw gave a heartfelt talk on how the experience had deeply affected the students, how once they got to know their real-life models he saw behaviour and attitudes change. Realising that the people they were designing for had needs and feelings, the ECA students gradually became 'emotionally considerate' and by the time it came to the catwalk show, were treating their icons like family.
More colleges are expected to follow, and Anne Chaisty from the Arts University College Bournemouth and Philip Clarke at Southampton Solent University have already incorporated body shape projects into the curriculum.
After today's presentation, I had a very quick chat with Caryn Franklin, and asked her how ageism in fashion could be properly addressed, when really we still only see Twiggy and a couple of other older models in the media:
'Research from Cambridge University PhD student, Ben Berry - who monitors female consumer responses to fashion - says that when women see adverts with models who are similar to themselves, they buy. So accountants and CEOs for the major retailers will take notice because by doing this they'll improve their profits and improve customer wellbeing at the same time. It's a win-win situation.'
And what about the latest cover of Italian Vogue isn't showing plus size models in their underwear a bit of a cop-out?
'It's great as long as it's not tokenism - though obviously if the models aren't wearing clothes, maybe there weren't any samples available?! The magazine needs to tell designers that they want to run another cover in three months time, and that they need to make some larger size samples. That's what we do.'
Franca Sozzani, take note.
What are your thoughts on diversity in the fashion industry?
Photos from All Walks and How to Look Good