Creative defiance wins at the class of 2020 virtual fashion degree shows

A group of Leeds Arts University fashion students found new creative energy when they decided to stay together during lockdown to create their final collections, writes Stephanie Smith. Pictures by Simon Hulme.

Design by Taz Dorodi modelled by Simmy Kanda. Picture by Simon Hulme
Design by Taz Dorodi modelled by Simmy Kanda. Picture by Simon Hulme

It’s been a tough year for the graduate class of 2020, many having to return to their family homes, missing their final months at university and their friends while negotiating a whole new landscape for exams and assessments. For fashion and art graduates, it has also meant missing out on an event they have been working towards throughout their entire three-year degree - their graduate shows when they present their final collections and projects.

But the show must go on, and if that means online, so be it. One group of seven Leeds students - Beth Midgley, Jess Coulson Morley, Ella Liversidge, Charli Senior, Joe Harris, Sarah Robinson and Lily Susser, six in their final year of degrees in Fashion and Fine Art - decided to stay together in their student house in Headingley to complete their final term and prepare for the online Leeds Arts University Show 2020. It was a situation that came out of necessity as the house included those with family homes in Australia, America and France as well as Yorkshire, but the experience turned into an invaluable extended module in collaboration, resourcefulness and creativity under challenging circumstances.

Lockdown prevented access to the university buildings and its equipment, including industry-standard sewing machines, professional photography studios and woodwork, metal and print workshops. Materials were also hard to come by, but the students met the challenges by adapting their house - the living room became a sewing room, the basement was turned into a photography studio and bedrooms doubled as workrooms and studios. They shared equipment borrowed from the university.

Design by Emi Talaga modelled by Oliver James Campbell. Picture by Simon Hulme

“Once we got over the initial hurdle of accepting what was happening and the disappointment that the end of year show wouldn’t take place in the University, we decided to embrace the new situation and really go for it,” said final year BA (Hons) Fashion student Bethany Midgley. “The impact of the support and encouragement of everyone in the house has been a major positive with collaboration across courses that is unlikely to have happened otherwise.”

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Fellow graduating Fashion student Charli Senior added that there had been some surprising benefits, such as having the time to learn new skills. “I’ve learnt to crochet, for example. And, we have been able to refine design ideas and think more deeply about the details in our designs without the pressure of making as many garments as we would have in the University.”

Nicola Knight, course leader, BA Hons Fashion at Leeds Arts University said: “We are extremely proud of how our students have adapted to complete their studies in these unprecedented times. They have demonstrated outstanding commitment, creative thinking and resilience to find new solutions and outcomes for their work. Fashion industry employers recognise the importance of resourcefulness and innovation and the unexpected challenges met by the class of 2020 will be of great benefit to their future careers.

Design by Ella Liversidge modelled by herself. Picture by Simon Hulme

“The fashion industry has also been incredibly generous in its support of this year’s graduating students. We partnered with the Graduate Fashion Foundation and the British Fashion Council Colleges Council to secure student opportunities, such as online industry portfolio days, press opportunities and access to paid graduate and residency schemes with major brands.”

The designs of some of the house-mates feature here alongside those of other graduating fashion students in a special fashion shoot by Simon Hulme staged exclusively for the Yorkshire Post Magazine at St George’s Fields in Leeds. With thanks to Jeanette Ward.

*Since publishing in print, we have learned that all the students did well in their degrees, with five firsts and two 2:1s. Well done, all.

Find the graduate student work in the Leeds Arts University Show 2020, https://www.leeds-art.ac.uk/2020-show/. There is a selection of graduate portfolios on https://www.britishfashioncouncil.co.uk/colleges_council/3711/Leeds-Art-University

Design by Beth Midgley modelled by Brad Elliot. Picture by Simon Hulme

Stephanie Smith Instagram @yorkshirestyleQ

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THE LAU 2020 FASHION GRADUATES

Emi Talaga

The Leeds Arts University class of 2020 in their Headingley house: L-R Beth Midgley (L6 Fashion), Ella Liversidge (L6 Fashion), Joe Harris (L6 Fashion), Charli Senior (L6 Fashion), Jess Couldon Morley (L6 Fashion), Lily Susser (L5 Fine Art).

Instagram: @emi.talaga @canvas.clothing

For her project Emi created Canvas, a durable, gender-neutral clothing brand. Swing tags give an insight into the thought process behind each piece to encourage the wearer to connect and treasure it. A social media campaign #ShareYourCanvas asks wearers to upload a photo with a short caption describing how they connect with their garment. “By guiding the consumer into being open and honest on social media, no matter how sensitive their caption is, Canvas aims towards making a small change in hopefully making social media a sincerer place, where consumers can feel included and welcome,” said Emi.

Charli Senior

Instagram: charlisenior_/

Charli Senior’s collection is called Women of the Future. She explores themes of sustainability and innovation in her efforts to reject fast fashion and seasonal trends. She works entirely with plant fibres, focusing on the issues of water pollution, experimenting with bioplastic to create compostable buttons and exploring the use of bacterial pigment dyeing. Slow fashion is the key design principle throughout, combined with her interest in Japanese design and the exploration of unconventional femininity.

Jess Coulson Morley

Design by Lydia Claxton modelled by Harley Roberts. Picture by Simon Hulme

Instagram: @jesscoulsondesign

Jess Coulson Morley’s eclectic collection Signs of the Times was inspired by her Yorkshire and Scottish heritage. She aims to celebrate the culture and migration that made her family heritage and today’s society. A lively approach to fabrics, textures and prints combines with elements of Harajuku influence. Photo-journalist Martin Parr’s documentation of British culture and homes in the early 1990s was an important point of research, reflected in the collection’s name.

Taz Dorodi

Instagram: @tazzidesign.studio

“Growing up as a girl in Iran, fashion was always a form of protest,” said Taz Dorodi. “Women who make fashion statements can break the law and risk their lives. I was initially drawn to the idea of restriction and how social inequality between men and women is reflected. I also explored a technique I have called the ‘vanishing scarf’. The aim was to explore the shifting meaning of fashion particularly in relation to empowering women.”

Lydia Claxton

Instagram: @lrc.fdp

Lydia Claxton’s collection is called Future Commuter a/w21. She specialises in menswear design, using sustainable resources and materials, mixing traditional wool and tailoring fabrics with smart and technical materials and finishes. It addresses the accelerated need for clothing protecting against extreme elements due to climate change and the negative impacts the fashion industry has. Sustainable fabrics used include deadstock wools and recycled nylons. The collection offers a futuristic exploration of high-performing business wear that protects against the elements.

Beth Midgley

Instagram: bethmidgleydesign/

Beth Midgley’s collection 140BPM has been heavily influenced by the grime music industry and culture, aiming to change perspective of the genre, the people involved and the clothes they wear. Embroidery is a key design detail throughout the collection and the tower blocks embroidered on the back of several garments represents grime’s origins in East London, first airing on pirate radio stations from these blocks of flats in the early 2000s.

Ella Liversidge

Instagram: @ella.liversidge.designs

Ella’s collection Not Just A Pretty Face was inspired by her love of dance since childhood, marrying fashion and ballet. Besotted with Swan Lake and the juxtaposition of virginal and erotic characters became the focus of the collection. “Swan Lake represented two different sides to a woman persona visually through colour palette and silhouette,” she said. “Making women feel sexy, powerful and hyper-feminine are key values of the brand. Volume and silhouette are core to the brand’s identity, taking copious amounts of fabric and hugging the body.”

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Design by Beth Midgley modelled by Samir Moulaoui .Picture by Simon Hulme
Design by Jess Coulson Morley modelled by Ella Liversidge. Picture by Simon Hulme
Design by Charli Senior modelled by Anya Machin. Picture by Simon Hulme
Design by Taz Dorodi modelled by Simmy Kanda. Picture by Simon Hulme