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Our Journal

Students revisit fashion history in collaborative exhibition with The Box

Exploring Plymouth’s fashion past and future, students have responded with zines, costumes and garments

Alumni and students from Plymouth College of Art’s BA (Hons) Fashion Communication, BA (Hons) Costume Production and Pre-Degree campus have collaborated with The Box in an exhibition exploring Plymouth’s fashion past and future. The exhibition, displayed on the first floor of The Box, runs from Saturday 2 April until Sunday 4 September 2022.

Dress Code: Fashion Stories from The Box is the city’s first exhibition dedicated to fashion, with highlights from The Box’s costume and textile collection being displayed alongside paintings, drawings, film and archival material to tell important local and international stories about fashion and clothing. Spanning from the 1700s to today, the exhibition speaks to contemporary conversations about identity, sustainability, shopping, design, making and craft. Working closely with Terah Walkup, art curator at The Box, Plymouth College of Art students have been responding to the exhibition with zines, costumes and garments.

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BA (Hons) Costume Production students explore garments from history

Since the beginning of the academic year, second-year students from BA (Hons) Costume Production researched and constructed a variety of underpinnings from original garments from The Box’s archives, as well as replicating two garments from their vast collection; an 18th century gown and a 19th century day dress. These replicas bring the originals one step closer to the audience, adding to the immersive experience of the exhibition and showcasing that historical garment making is still pioneered within the city.

From studying the details of original historical dress first hand to employing bespoke techniques, the students engaged with the fine craft of costume mounting to meticulously bring dress items back to life and ensure that the practice of historical costume making remains part of the city’s future.

BA (Hons) Costume Production student Rosemary Kean said, “Working with The Box was an amazing and unique opportunity. To be able to work side by side with expert curators who are passionate about historical garments, focussing on Plymouth’s manufacturing history from the 18th century to today, was incredible! I never realised how far back in time the archival material extended until we saw the garments and learnt how to handle them.”

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BA (Hons) Costume Production students explore garments from history

BA (Hons) Costume Production student Holly Barker said, “It was an absolute pleasure and a great challenge to work for The Box in a professional role this year. Overall, it was an excellent chance to apply historical interpretation skills and to understand how to archive historical garments. I’m really proud of the period replications and undergarments that we have produced as a year group and thrilled to be included in the upcoming exhibition!”

Marie Dunaway, Subject Leader on BA (Hons) Costume Production, said, “We are thrilled to have had the chance to continue our relationship with The Box, having worked with them on exciting costume projects in the past. The Dress Code exhibition introduced a new way of approaching the study of historical dress, allowing the costume students to take an active role in the inner workings of a museum collection. The work produced closely follows museum exhibition standards with all the historical items they created.”

“What you will witness in the exhibition is the culmination of several months of research informed garments and underpinnings that demonstrate a true dedication and genuine excitement for historical dress that Terah Walkup and her team have facilitated with amazing support.”

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After a visit to The Box’s archive at the beginning of the academic year, students from the BA (Hons) Fashion Communication degree and students from across the A-Level-equivalent Extended Diploma courses studied garments in the exhibition that spoke to their emerging professional practice and created responsive zines offering new voices and interpretations. Given a list of artefacts to respond to, students took inspiration from items such as a 1960s disposable paper dress, linking it to modern day ideas of fast fashion and sustainability. With paper provided by G.F Smith, a selection of the student zines will be printed and displayed alongside the garments in the exhibition.

Second-year BA (Hons) Fashion Communication Martha Mitchell responded to the artefacts with an article where she garnered reactions and quotes from her cohort. Fellow student Corey Hyne said, “Having a personal insight into some of the garments was a really interesting and amazing opportunity to experience the items first hand. The ability to have control over the zine and how to link it to the chosen artefact was such a creative method to showcase these garments.”

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Curator Terah Walkup with items from The Box's archive

BA (Hons) Fashion Communication student Megan Rich said, “The project was so interesting and I particularly enjoyed having the ability to bring your own touch and interests to the artefacts.” while her peer Lucy Timberell was “really grateful for the opportunity to have access to the artefacts and then to bring our own personal modern twist to them.”

Extended Diploma in Creative Practice: Fashion & Textiles student Chloe Shaw said, “The experience at The Box was so great as it gave me a chance to use my skills in a professional setting.” Katie Baxter, from the same course, said, “My favourite area was that I gained lots of experience and it pushed me to take part in more projects like this.”

Milly Brown, Subject Leader on BA (Hons) Fashion Communication, said, “On the Fashion Communication degree, we are lucky to work with big fashion brands such as Size? and Vans every year, but this project was an excitingly different proposition and we are so pleased The Box was such a willing and generous partner! Students used the artefacts which The Box shared with us from their impressive archive to create personal publications. These individual, solely produced publications, or ‘perzines’, allowed students to hone their media and publishing skills and also allowed them to consider the importance of fashion archives and how these can inspire contemporary conversations around the enduring importance of individual style, subcultures and personal identity.”

Alumni from the college have also taken part in the exhibition. BA (Hons) Commercial Photography graduate Jon Cooney, BA (Hons) Fashion Design graduates Jenni Moorby and Rowena Murphy, and BA (Hons) Fine Art graduate Ash Franceschi, have also assisted in the collaborative process of Dress Code, using skills realised during their degrees. Ash, who also works at The Box, has been working closely with Terah behind the scenes, assisting in garment sewing and preparation.

Ash Franceschi said, "I've been working as part of the Operations Team at The Box since it reopened. Recently, I've been assisting Terah Walkup, the Curator, in editing the text for the Dress Code exhibition alongside padding, sculpting and soft mounting historical, vintage and contemporary costumes. I've worked on a 1940's dress and a skirt and jacket set from the 1800s, as well as a dress by the artist Maurizio Anzeri made of synthetic hair. I'm especially in love with the shoes, in particular, a pair of court shoes from the 17th century and a magnificent pair of 70's platforms mules. They both have gorgeous forms, it must have felt amazing to wear them!"

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Curator Terah Walkup with items from The Box's archive

Terah Walkup, Art Curator at The Box, said, “Working with students from Plymouth College of Art in the development of this exhibition has been an absolute joy. The students offered fresh new perspectives that engage museum collections with contemporary conversations about identity, sustainability and the fashion industry. Visitors are going to love, and like me, be very impressed by the skill shown in the replica garments. My thanks go to Milly, Marie and Jerry for their constant support and sharing of their extensive knowledge.”

“I am especially indebted to Caitlin Glazsher, a Pre-Degree student on the Extended Diploma in Creative Practice: Fashion & Textiles at Plymouth College of Art’s Palace Court campus, who has worked alongside me since the start of the exhibition and given upwards of over 100 hours of volunteer time. Her expertise, creativity, enthusiasm and passion for fashion history and social justice are at the heart of the exhibition.”

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A close up of one of The Box's archival fashion items

Dress Code is one of a number of ongoing collaborations between Plymouth College of Art and The Box, which sit adjacent to each other in Plymouth’s cultural quarter. Another Crossing - Artists Revisit the Mayflower Voyage is on display in The Box until Sunday 5 June 2022, developed in partnership between Plymouth College of Art, The Box and Fuller Craft Museum, Massachusetts. The Box also recently hosted a trade show organised by BA (Hons) Interior Design & Styling students from the college.

Dress Code: Fashion Stories from The Box is on display on the first floor of The Box and is running from Saturday 2 April 2022 to Sunday 4 September 2022.