In the summer of 2020, at Ogmore-by-Sea on the south coast of Wales, a group of children played dress up. Not with musty, moth-eaten hand-me-downs but cotton and silk faille frocks with puffy sleeves and nipped-in waists made just for them. While they frolicked, some of their peers snapped Polaroids. “I tried to take pictures of the models from different angles to capture the best lighting,” observed one 15-year-old photographer in the making. 

Costume sketches by Isobel, a local pupil
Costume sketches by Isobel, a local pupil

The assignment was part of an initiative by Alexander McQueen to give school-age children a glimpse into the inner workings of the fashion industry, and nurture an appreciation for different atelier skills. It was held in tandem with Ffasiwn Studio, founded by Welsh creative director Charlotte James and French photographer Clémentine Schneidermann, who work on fashion-image making with youth organisations in The Valleys.

“The original idea was to invite the children to the show in Paris, but then Covid happened,” says creative director Sarah Burton, “so we decided to do something more in-depth.” Burton chose a lilac dress from her AW20 collection, inspired by the folklore and traditions of Wales, which was reinvented and refitted by the McQueen atelier. The children then sketched customisations and styled themselves, and took part in casting and photography.

The lilac dress the children customised was inspired by the folklore and traditions of Wales
The lilac dress the children customised was inspired by the folklore and traditions of Wales © Clémentine Schneidermann

The fruits of their labour will be the subject of a new documentary and book that Burton hopes will serve to inspire free self-expression outside school and home. “I want to demystify fashion, and open up that whole world to show students that there are so many roles that you can play and how exciting it is to be part of a creative community,” adds Burton.

Costume sketches by Melody
Costume sketches by Melody
The initiative aims to nurture an appreciation for different atelier skills among pupils
The initiative aims to nurture an appreciation for different atelier skills among pupils © Clémentine Schneidermann

Alexander McQueen has a long history of supporting the creative arts, a legacy started by the brand’s late founder Lee Alexander McQueen through his charity Sarabande, and carried on through Burton. The top floor of the brand’s Old Bond Street store is reserved as an installation and workshop space designed to inspire and educate students, while the brand regularly donates surplus fabric and off-cuts to schools around the UK. In November McQueen also announced its support of A Team Arts Education, a community organisation that helps young people build their creative portfolios in London’s Tower Hamlets, where many schools have had to cut such classes in favour of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

Alexander McQueen creative director Sarah Burton is hoping the initiative will inspire free-expression among participants
Alexander McQueen creative director Sarah Burton is hoping the initiative will inspire free-expression among participants © Clémentine Schneidermann

“Quite often at school the arts are seen as lesser subjects,” says Burton. “Not only are creative skills emotionally good for people as a way of expressing themselves and communicating, but it’s also misunderstood that there are very few jobs in the arts. By removing the possibility for a child to learn creative skills so early on, it closes opportunities to them. Huge amounts of people are employed in creative arts in this country alone.” 

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