The women behind the success of DUCFS 2017

By Emma Denison

When thinking about an event as successful and extensive as this year’s Durham University Charity Fashion Show, it may be easy to forget that the event was organised by students. Under the leadership of President Rowena Soons and Vice-President Georgia Gogarty the executive team’s hard work had already begun ten months ago.

Both fourth-year students, Soons (Theology) and Gogarty (French & Italian), credit their year abroad last year as having “massively” impacted their roles in making the fashion show what it became. Although they recognise last year as providing a drive to keep busy upon their return to Durham, it was the break from the academic rigmarole that Soons credits as giving her the time to “realise what I wanted to do.”

Appointed in May, Soons and Gogarty shortly selected their team and set out the planning for what was to become the most successful student charity event in history. They both highlight the diligent work over last summer as crucial; the sponsorship team reached out to supporters in novel ways and managed to raise an impressive £20,000; the creatives worked closely with the PR-team to develop the aesthetic of the show; the venue coordinators secured a site to hold more guest than ever before. Without this drive and passion, it certainly seems doubtful that the show would have achieved nearly as much success as it did.

The choice of supporting the International Rescue Committee – a charity noted for their global ‘VISION not Victim Project’ – was a clear and unanimous decision from the start. As shrewdly noted by both Soons and Gogarty, it could appear bad taste to be hosting a black tie event – something of a juxtaposition to the lives that the event is raising to help – where the money raised is simply given in to those in need in a “patronising” hand off.

Not only is the IRC big enough to be ‘financially transparent’ and to have their own PR campaign that DUCFS could utilise – but its work is concentrated on sustainability. As seen in the prior noted ‘VISION not Victim Project’ that consists of raising awareness through photos of young girls from around the world dressed as what they wanted to be when they were older, IRC concentrates on helping the communities become self-sufficient and building sustainable futures. In a reflective moment, Soons also commented that the amazing response to the charity and cause is especially “heartening in [a time] where Donald Trump is signing executive orders banning refugees.”

The desire to keep the charity at the forefront can also be seen in the way it tied into the theme of the event. Although ‘Mavericks to Movements’ had started as “Rowena’s brain child”, the idea of movement and change in fashion became fully fledged with the contribution of Gogarty and the rest of the DUCFS team. Rarely touched upon in a university fashion show setting, it was an inspired choice to reflect “on fashion […] as a creative outlet which you can trace the contours of social and political change.” The theme in this manner went “hand in hand with the charity”, allowing the show to “celebrate the idea of change, disruption, followers and movement” without being patronising.

The theme of the show was prominent, as each walk represented a new movement and period of change, meaning DUCFS 2017 managed to place a firm grasp on both the past and the present. Each walk represented “how a single fashion icon can transpire into a [phenomenon]” and this notion is undoubtedly just as prominent in fashion in the past as it is today, in a generation infiltrated by social media superstardom. The eminence and successful impact of the social media campaign for this year’s fashion show, cleverly took advantage of this with their effective “#whodoyoufollow” tagline.

Soons and Gogarty were touched that “the student community [wanted] to get involved in ‘the dialogue’ of helping” in such a prominent period of political change.

With tickets selling out in record time and the active reaction to the prominent social media campaign – credited by the pair to the tireless and inspired work of Luciana Di Mascio and the PR-team – Soons and Gogarty were touched that “the student community [wanted] to get involved in ‘the dialogue’ of helping” in such a prominent period of political change.

In acknowledgement of what could be a source of controversy that would take away from the theme and charity, both Soons and Gogarty were “very vocal about casting from the beginning.” With a charity and theme that focused on inclusivity and acceptance, the aim to be representative was at the forefront their minds. Instead of it being a ‘popularity contest’, the team were passionate about simply looking for striking individuals “who make the clothes shine.”

With a charity and theme that focused on inclusivity and acceptance, the aim to be representative was at the forefront their minds.

A section which often comes under fire for ascribing to a fixed body image is the underwear walk. However, with Soons and Gogarty also determined to “represent different body shapes”, the walk they was in line with the theme again instead a celebration of a variety of body shapes, thus ensuring the show celebrated our differences as well as our similarities.

As an endnote both Soons and Gogarty cannot acknowledge enough that the event would not be what it was without the support and hard work of the team around them, as well as the co-operation of the DSU. They concurrently reflected rather insightfully on the Durham University ethos of that your degree and time at university should be more than your academic commitments. They expressed that the success of the show and the jobs awaiting them after graduation, can not only be accredited to the hard work of the team who they would now consider “friends for life” but to being fortunate enough to attend a university where the involvement in these scale of events is not only encouraged, but also fully supported.

Photograph: Mike Dennison 

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