Van Mildert Charity Fashion Show: a look behind the curtain

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The overall laidback attitude to Van Mildert Charity Fashion Show manifested itself in a message I received a few weeks before the event, asking if I would be willing to compere it. I replied double-checking that I wouldn’t be doing it on my own, and they replied asking me to source a partner. Luckily, my friend Matty was up to the challenge, despite also being signed up for the swimwear walk, meaning the latter half of his segments were spent in a half-tux, half-trunks get up.

Unlike most other college fashion shows, Mildert operates with the mindset that the more models, the better, running sign-ups rather than auditions. The models then select an item of clothing from a large wardrobe, and are encouraged to style it with pieces they already own. Swimwear and underwear models (reserved for second and third years respectively, an almost rite of passage for Mildert students) either choose items from their own wardrobes, or are encouraged to purchase something to suit their tastes, therefore encouraging the pieces to be worn again. I was struck by the event’s focus on sustainability and creativity, as it gave the models a large degree of creative control over their outfits with the knowledge that nothing was going to waste.

Unlike most other college fashion shows, Mildert operates with the mindset that the more models, the better, running sign-ups rather than auditions.

After spending a few days working on a vague script, not entirely knowing what I was getting myself into, I arrived at the run through taking place the day of the show itself. Models were still working on their walks, many of which seemed to last longer than the songs they had selected. However, from my perspective at least, there was no doubt that this was a well-oiled machine, and that the creases of the performances would be ironed out come 8pm that night. 

A sure advantage of holding the fashion show in Mildert’s college dining room was the large, if not unconventional, backstage areas for the models to get ready in. Before the show, the atmosphere in the girls changing room (a large conference-style room typically used for panels or talks, whilst the boys camped out in the college gym) was, in one word, wholesome. VM Dance practiced in one corner, clothing models made final alternations to their outfits in another, whilst underwear models decided on their group pose at the end of their walk. With the addition of a UE Boom speaker and some drinks, it felt more like a pres for a night out backstage than a fashion show. 

Being someone with minimal work to do compared to everyone else (you’d be surprised by how easy it is to get an inebriated crowd to clap, cheer, or laugh if you talk loudly enough into a microphone), I was fortunate enough to take a backseat for the majority of the operation. Yet still, every time I came off stage, I still received high fives and congratulations from the next walk, excited to get on stage. Due to the number of models involved, most people typically only walk once or twice, so the novelty of being on stage never truly wears off. 

The walks themselves were brilliantly fun, featuring the college’s first international walk that celebrated the diversity student body amongst others. I was reminded of the opening scene of the film Triangle of Sadness, where a group of models working on a shoot alternated between ‘H&M’ (smiling and relaxed) and ‘Balenciaga’ (straight-faced and stifled). It was clear there was no interest in Balenciaga faces here; everyone was simply too happy to be involved.

It was clear there was no interest in Balenciaga faces here; everyone was simply too happy to be involved.

The whole event felt very much in the spirit of Van Mildert in that no one took themselves too seriously. From the outset of the show, it was clear that fun was the priority. Every walk was met with raucous applause from the crowd, with almost every guest having at least one friend involved in the show.  Fundraising for YPP, Mildert’s outreach scheme for schoolchildren in the local area, the chosen charity could not have reflected the college’s ethos more. It truly felt like a worthwhile cause.  

Luckily enough, and to the surprise of no one, the show was a triumph, and I feel so lucky to have been an (admittedly small) part of it. It is a complete credit to the team behind it that everything ran so smoothly whilst ensuring everyone participating and watching had an incredible time. 

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