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Students prove that fashion can be a load of rubbish
Feature: 3/3/2006

ENLARGE click hereIf you think that all fashion shows are a waste of resources, then think again - the annual Recycled Fashion Show in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, sees local students aged between four and 20 turning bin bags into glad rags in an effort to impress a panel of expert judges.

CDs, lollipop sticks, envelopes, plastic bags and many more discarded items find themselves being cleaned up and used for themed clothing by the students, who then model them on a catwalk to the sound of live music.

The show, now in its eleventh year, was the brainchild of Emma Semple, head of art at St Christopher School in Letchworth.

She said: "In my first year at this school, we came across another fashion show somewhere else, where kids were making ball gowns and similar clothing.

"I thought that idea had a bit of mileage here, but I had to make the topic broader to appeal to boys as well - although the majority of our models will be girls, we have a lot of boy designers so we had to make it interesting for them.

"The show teaches kids to think about the waste that we produce every day and reconsider the idea of things being 'useless'. Of course, it helps them stretch their creative wings as well."

ENLARGE click hereAll singing all dancing

Since then, the show has grown into a popular annual event, attracting budding designers from neighbouring schools and raising large amounts of money for children's charities from its paying audience.

As a result, the show has had to become an almost professional affair. Emma said: "We always have a live band who write original music for each show, to go along with each year's theme.

"Then, when the judges go off to judge - which can take about an hour - we have an interval which is another event in itself and features dancers and music. Then, at the end, we have a final parade.

"Running the show can be quite scary, because you don't know who you're going to get. You can be quite prepared, but on the day you've got all these kids from various different schools waiting to get up on the catwalk so you're flying on a wing and a prayer."

Ruff stuff

But the event this year was certainly a success - especially for 18-year-old Austin Hanslip of St Christopher School, who was voted best of the bunch in the sixth-form category by the judging panel.

The theme this year was 'the circus', so Austin's drew on the traditional French character of the Harlequin for inspiration, transforming his black-and-white chequerboard costume into an elaborate dress made out of dozens of old tennis racquet covers.

ENLARGE click hereAustin said: "A lot of my previous years' designs were far too complicated, with way too many colours and things going on, so I looked at the Harlequin design, which was really simple idea.

"I liked the idea of the ruff around the neck and I started out thinking I could make the whole piece a big ruff-type shape. That changed along the way because I realised that the model wouldn't be able to walk," he laughed.

"So I decided for a simpler design and brought in a third colour because I like making things over the top, and two colours were a little too simple for me. 

"I kept telling myself, 'only one colour, Austin, only one colour,' and I chose red, so I took it from there. The red reflects the joker in a pack of cards."

"I really wanted to use pom-poms, so I kept telling myself, 'only one colour, Austin, only one colour,' and I chose red, so I took it from there. The red reflects the joker in a pack of cards."

Austin's final design added a ruff of melted black bin liners and a corset made almost entirely of zips to the tennis racquet cover dress, with a jester's hat and staff to finish it off.

The whole ensemble was enough to impress a panel of expert judges that included Graham Obrart, fashion designer and managing director of Malro Ltd; Cindy Dawood, fashion designer for Kookai; and Mike Wright, artist and lecturer of fine arts at the University of Hertfordshire - they voted it the best in show.

But despite his talents, Austin's not sure if his future lies in clothing. He said: "In the long run, I want to get involved in charity work; I can't pinpoint it down to fashion at the moment.

"At Christmas we went to Pakistan with our school and it was just amazing going to another country and seeing how other people live - that sounds really clichéd but that's how I feel," he joked.

ENLARGE click hereThe ring mistress

Austin's classmate, Jamie Harrison, 17, also entered; his costume was a modern take on the circus ringmaster.

He said: "This is my first year of entry and it's my last year as well. In past years I found it quite frustrating working with recycled materials, but this year I was a bit more mature and open to the idea.

"I added a modern twist by making the ringmaster female, then I tried to give an impression of power by using big puffy shoulders and a metal corset made of copper mesh and tinfoil. I also added a whip. There was an element of kinkiness, I suppose - it's quite a sexy spin on the traditional ringmaster."

Unlike Austin, Jamie is more certain about taking up a career in fashion - but it seems that despite his knack for design, he's not afraid to tackle the less glamorous jobs.


"My ideal job would be designing ready to wear clothing rather than haute couture," he said, "but I wouldn't mind the business side of it either, say the buying side. I think both aspects would interest me to an extent."


Past tents 

The younger pupils' entries were just as impressive. Alice Nee, 13, of St Christopher School, looked to the big top for her inspiration.

She captured the colour and glamour of the circus tent with a dress made out of embroidery cuttings, colourful plastic and shiny wrapping paper, while a pair of pointed lampshades were bound up in gold wrapping to transform them into a hat that represented the very peak of the big top. That was finished off with a flag made out of socks 'blowing' on a chopstick flagpole.
ENLARGE click here
But the most impressive part of the costume was an enormous cloak that Alice had knitted out of red, yellow and gold plastic. Big enough to cover her whole body, it took over 20 hours to complete.

Alice said: "The cloak took me forever! But I've always enjoyed knitting and I tend to put a knitted piece in all of my costumes. I knitted my own scarf when I was little and I've been doing it ever since then."

As if that doesn't sound like hard enough work, the rest of her dress was sewn together using a 1920s hand-powered sewing machine that Anne found on the eBay auction site.

"It's brilliant," she said, "it would have been easier to make the costume with an electric one, but I really enjoyed making it so I don't mind."

Kids in control

While Alice was spinning her sewing wheel, St Christopher School's juniors were getting a little help from their friends and parents - but just a little; they are adamant that it was mostly their own work.

Kitty Leigh, 11, and Jenny Wall, 10, teamed up to make their costumes. Kitty said: "We went to each other's houses every week and then in the last week we had a lot to do, but we did it on our own."

"Well, our parents helped us out a little bit," Jenny admits, "but we were the ones in charge."

ENLARGE click hereTheir hard work produced two fine costumes: Jenny went as an elephant tamer, clothed in a colourful dress made out of hundreds of strips of fabric, while Kitty went as The Smallest Elephant in the World, with a trunk made out of grey socks - washed, of course - and an Indian-style purple headdress decorated with beads and shiny foil.

The mane event

They weren't the only ones with an animal theme. Rafaella Hutchinson and Lydia Crook - both 11 - respectively went as a fierce lion and her tamer.

The tamer came complete with an enormous black top hat, a corset made from a popcorn box and dozens of sparkling jewels made from buttons and beads.

Meanwhile, the lion had a thick mane made from straw, corks and pipe cleaners, and fur made from potato sacks.

Rafaella said that her costume wasn't meant to be 100 percent realistic: "It was kind of representing a lion, rather than being a lion costume," she said, "I didn't get down on all fours or anything."

Sister act

The Selkirk sisters, Kitty, 11, and Polly, 9, also worked together to make their clown costume, with shiny Christmas crackers, colourful clippings from Dandy comics and sturdy newspaper coming ENLARGE click heretogether to make a dazzling ensemble.

But being sisters, their partnership wasn't always easy. When asked how they got along, Kitty said: "We enjoyed working together."

Grinning, Polly interjected: "But you said I couldn't work with you next year."

"You can't," replied Kitty, "I liked making the costume but I'm still not working with you next year."

Sibling friction aside, the event proved to be a success for all concerned. Particularly impressed was judge Graham Obrart the fashion designer and managing director of clothing company Malro Ltd.

He said: "I have been fortunate to have been one of the judges at this most professional event for the past three years.

"The talent and creativity of these kids is amazing, and I can clearly recognise great potential for future fashion designers."

Selected costumes from the event are now on free display to the public at Letchworth Museum.






ENLARGE click here ENLARGE click here  ENLARGE click here


Author: James Wilkinson
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