By Arjun Seth
We meet at Whitechurch, the popular coffee-stop connecting the hill colleges to Church St and down to the Bailey. As Eleanor later points out, this is quite fitting given that we’re discussing Durham University Charity Fashion Show, DUCFS, the confluence where creativity meets charity, and together form part of the spectacular showpiece that leaves many vying for a last-minute ticket on Overheard.
I begin by asking Eleanor about the importance of the fashion show to which she is quick to highlight how it fills the vacuum of creativity left by the university’s lack of art-related degrees.
“I think for me its importance is bolstered at universities which do not offer creative degrees such as Fine Art and History of Art, where students can really express themselves in an arguably non-academic way. It combines two great things: charity and creativity and enables like-minded people to come together. Moreover, fashion touches everybody and is meant to make us all feel empowered and valued. It is right that we celebrate this here at Durham.”
“This year we had 32 exec committee members, and I was one of three fashion directors serving under a creative president. The creative president decided the direction of each of the 8 catwalks and as fashion directors, we were tasked with bringing each one of those visions for the walk to life by sourcing the clothes and communicating with designers.”
Sourcing the garments for such a large event is no easy task, which leads me to ask Eleanor how she went about selecting the outfits.
“I began simply by looking through Instagram, which is a great way to find new work. Central St. Martin’s (an art college in London), did a white show recently, so I was getting in touch with designers from there.”
I then ask whether any DU designers of our own had their work showcased, to which Eleanor is pleased to talk about alumni from her own college, Trev’s.
“Yes! We were lucky to be able to promote a few student designers. From Durham, we had DemooJeans, run by former Trevs’ students who set up the brand during their time at college, they loaned us some jeans for the show. To be able to communicate with budding designers at other universities — in particular Central St. Martin and Edinburgh, was a great thing to do. We were able to give them a platform and showcase their work. To have their garments worn by models must have been amazing.”
Eleanor then tells me that she has her own sustainable jewellery brand, Felt Fancy along with a blog, prompting me to ask how her interest in fashion arose.
“For me, it first began when I was looking at sustainability and materials when studying GCSE Textiles. At this point I was already blogging about beauty and when I was learning about fashion, I realised that there was much more to it than just Urban Outfitters! Instead, it is more like a process both for the wearer but also the creator.”
“Designers craft our clothes. The clothes are often like works of art. Doing the show, it was wonderful to appreciate and celebrate this by showcasing the empowerment that fashion ultimately makes people feel. Both for the wearer and the creator. Fashion touches everyone. I want fashion to make everybody feel empowered and valued. I don’t think it should be restricted to size, ethnicity, age or gender. It should celebrate everybody!”
She recalls in detail the moment when a model was deeply overwhelmed when trying on a dress.
“I remember she was just ephemeral. We could see the impact that it had on her and it was those moments of pure joy for the models that showed how fashion can make us all feel so positive and good about ourselves.”
It is no secret that Durham Charity Fashion Show has been mired in controversy in recent years, as it failed to broaden its appeal and be more inclusive. This has often led to criticism, however fortunately Eleanor feels that now things have started to change.
“This year, we were very keen to celebrate diversity at Durham, as unfortunately it has not been done enough. Many members of the exec were from international backgrounds. Up until this year, there have not been enough ranges in sizes, which is partly due to the industry itself. Having brands restrict themselves from 6 to 8 is not especially inclusive!”
“There have been issues in the past that the show has not been as diverse as it should be. But this year felt different, I felt a real sense of unity between the Exec, models and hopefully wider student body too.”
Furthermore, Eleanor feels that DUCFS was able to perhaps at last establish a cohesive Durham community.
“I’d also argue that this year’s show helped to bridge the divide between students and locals too. We were able to include drag queens from the local area too – not just the university! We had some from Durham and even Newcastle. It was great to see a rare integration and establishment of wider ‘Durham community’ of students and locals participating in an event together.”
DUCFS have raised a phenomenal haul of £205,000 for Teenage Cancer Trust this year. A fantastic total that will help to recruit more cancer nurses for the North-East.
You can follow Felt Fancy on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/feltfancy/
As well as checking out Eleanor’s blog at www.eleanorclaudie.com
Photo credits: Ivanovgood via Pixabay