Valleys youth groups feature in project with leading fashion house
For over a year, young people from the South Wales Valleys have been taking part in a project with global fashion house Alexander McQueen.
Since the summer of 2020 members of the McQueen team have been travelling to Wales, collaborating with a group of young people based around Merthyr Tydfil and Brynmawr, on a series of workshops in fashion, photography, and embroidery.
Today, a book, Alexander McQueen in Wales, a short documentary, and a fashion film have been released, and their achievements featured in Vogue.
The project began when designer Sarah Burton from Alexander McQueen came to Wales for inspiration for her 2020 collection and met up with Welsh film makers and artists, Charlotte James and Clémentine Schneidermann from Ffasiwn who have been working with Welsh youth clubs for several years.
It is an extension of the fashion house’s commitment to fashion education which began in 2019, offering open-access installations and study programmes to school-age, college, and university students across the UK, aiming to inspire and bring insight into fashion and the creative arts.
The team helped the young people explore their own vision and gain hands-on experience of making clothes and images, gaining inspiration from the Welsh landscape, crafts, literature and poetry.
Over the course of the year, they engaged in one-to-one tutorials learning a range of techniques to create pieces embroidered with personal messages and motifs.
The workshops were co-ordinated by Michelle Hunter, a youth worker based at Blaina Community centre and the project, using sketches, Polaroids, family research and newly acquired crafting skills, culminated in a four-day location shoot around Brynmawr, Abertillery Park, Blaina, Keeper’s Pond Blaenavon, and Ogmore-by-Sea.
The fashion film draws on elements of Celtic folklore such as the Lady of the Lake and the myth of Mermen, as well as the realities of growing up in a small Valleys community.
The young people joined a digital workshop with Burton and McQueen’s casting director Jess Hallett who encouraged them to choose a friend or family member as an inspiration for their roles in the film.
Burton said the participation was a “testament to the transformative nature of things that can happen everywhere, when empowering equal access is given to creative ideas.”
Prior to the project, during her visit to Wales, Burton went to St Fagans National Museum of History where she saw the Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt.
It was started in 1842 by a tailor who made uniforms by day and saved the woollen scraps, taking over 10 years to complete.
Describing the powerful object as “a narrative of someone’s life,” Burton designed “sharp-seamed, graphic tailoring” using upcycled wool flannels from previous McQueen seasons which had been woven in British mills.
Burton and her team also found inspiration in traditional Welsh blankets, love spoons and in the quilt collection of dealer Jen Jones, including items made from scraps of traditional men’s fabrics and intricately stitched petticoats worn by Welsh women under their utilitarian skirts.