Fashion and politics mix as York College fashion students make a statement with their end-of-year designs

Words: Maxine Gordon

Pictures: Frank Dwyer

OCEAN pollution, recycling and gun control are just some of the topical themes inspiring fashion students at York College.

As they prepare to reveal their final collections on the catwalk on Thursday, The Press enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at their designs.

Fashion often makes a statement because of its flamboyancy - but many York students are making a statement this year of a different nature.

Libby Mustill, 21, from Selby, has translated her concerns over plastics in the sea into her work. A full-length, billowing dress in light coral and grey is her response to worries over sea pollution first highlighted by the TV series Blue Planet. She said: "I went to Croatia and all the beaches were beautiful. Then I went to a beach at Filey and there was plastic and rubbish everywhere."

The grey colour, she added, represented the dying coral in the ocean, while the dots and stripes printed on the material mirror the micro plastics in the sea.

"This is a major issue. The grey represents dead coral which has been suffocated by suncream. The volume in the skirt comes from the buoyancy of the plastic bags floating in the sea and the gathering details are to show how plastic gets round the heads of sealife."

She said fashion could be used to publicise a cause. "It's a good way to get your message across to a different kind of audience, to someone who might not be thinking all the time about global issues."

Libby, from Selby, next wants to work as a garment technologist in the fashion industry.

Mature student Corinne Coolican, 37, from Leeds, focussed on recycling in her collection, titled Made In Britain with Little Money and Time, throwing the spotlight on the importance of recycling and zero-waste. Her outfit, modelled by Millie Nichols, was made out of old cardigans that she had woven together to make a new garment, edged in pieces of reclaimed denim. On the back was a working clock, with hands made of copper.

Corinne, who like Libby has just completed a BA (Hons) in Fashion Design and Production, wants to set up her own brand, Cooli, making one-off pieces from pre-loved fabrics. She said: "I always tend to recycle. It is good for the world, and from a creative process it is really challenging. I like to embellish my work and put some art into fashion. If you can buy a one-off piece, it will never go out of fashion."

Hannah Ryan, 21, from Selby is another graduate. Her work focusses on autism, inspired by her younger step-brother who has the condition. She has used bold, primary colours and textured fabrics, with designs featuring a Sixties flair.

Campaigners against gun crime grabbed the attention of Lauren Ward, 18, from York, who has included protest signs from the gun control movement in America into her designs. She said: "My idea is of the human society versus the humane society. I have used two different prints, one showing veins and the physical body, the second protest signs around humanitarian issues in the world."

Lauren's next move is to study fashion design at the University of Westminster.

Other themes tackled by the students included fashion inspired by the role of Queen Victoria and by the artist Jean Michel Basquiat.

Some students have also worked collaboratively in a project with the Marie Curie charity, using its signature colour yellow and images and photographs of the scientist and radium to influence their designs.

The students will be showing off their work at two catwalk shows at The Principal hotel, York on Thursday.

Marie Neal Smith, fashion tutor at York College, said this year’s fashion show was particularly exciting. “Degree student collections are inspired by broad-ranging contemporary themes."

She added: "Extended Diploma students have used Jean Michel Basquiat’s Boom for Real exhibition as the main source of inspiration for their final collections. Students have explored a wide variety of topics relating to Basquiat concepts and work, including slavery and using restrictive clothing to replicate having freedom taken away. The students have used unconventional materials to create their own fabric and their collections feature men’s, women’s and gender-neutral clothing.”

Tickets are still available for the matinee fashion show on Thursday (evening one is sold out) from the York College finance desk, telephone: 01904 770495.