Costume students' archive dress recreations featured at prestigious international conference

Costume conference main image

Last month Birmingham City University hosted the highly prestigious International Costume Conference. Featuring the interactive Cabinets of Costume exhibition, the multidisciplinary event welcomed a host of industry experts, including fashion and art historians to jewellery professionals.

School of Fashion and Textiles blog

Read more about the exhibition

Organised by staff across the Schools of Fashion and Textiles and Visual Communication, the Costume Conference was a great way for students and staff alike to work with industry professionals and external speakers.

The conference had an interesting start as guest keynote speaker, Dierdre Murphy, Senior Curator, Historic Royal Palaces (pictured below left), opened with an engaging presentation on the costumes of Queen Victoria.

Dierdre told us why she thinks it important that the University is involved with such an event:

Costume conference presentation
Anne Boultwood profile

Dr A M Boultwood, Reader in the Psychology of Fashion at BCU (pictured top right) orchestrated the conference and commented:

“The conference attracted delegates from all over the world, and we’ve had very positive feedback on its success. It has helped to promote the University’s reputation internationally, and the exhibition provided an excellent showcase for our students’ work.”

Alongside the Conference was the interactive Cabinets of Costume exhibition, created, designed, and built by a selection of Visual Communication students.  The exhibition was filled with meticulous recreations of dresses from the University’s archive, some dating back as far as the 19th Century.

Cabinets of culture interior
Cabinets of culture exterior

Louise Chapman, Lecturer (pictured below), explained a little more about the students’ involvement;

Louise Chapman- profile “With dresses featured from the Regency to the late Victorian era, students were asked to forget their contemporary pattern making knowledge and instead rely on their eyes and creative skills to study each garment and visually unpick them to reconstruct the ‘Ghosts’ of the dresses to be featured within the exhibition.  

Students working on the dresses had to consider at all times their historical integrity in order to retain their authenticity.”

Grace Bentley, a second year BA (Hons) Fashion Design student, who recreated a dress from 1845 told us why she thought the experience was too good to miss;

Even though Louise was quick to tell us that the project would be a big commitment to juggle around our course work and that we’d have to dedicate a lot of serious hours to it, there was no way I could turn such a great opportunity down so I volunteered straight away. Since being at university, I’ve really learned to just go for things. It’s the best way to make sure you don’t look back and feel you missed out – and my confidence is growing so much since the beginning of my first year.”

Read how our Fashion and Textiles students got to handle dresses from the University's archive and reproduce the 1845 Honeysuckle dress.

Building the Exhibition space that housed these wonderful student creations was not an easy task, yet two Design for Performance students took time out from putting the finishing touches together, to tell us about their involvement.

Allesia Mallardo explains how the project will have a huge impact on her final year of the course;

“Cabinets of Costume is part of our Final Major Project. Since January, in collaboration with Rachel, we have researched, developed, sourced and constructed all the visual elements within the exhibition. After the opening, we have a further three weeks until our Final Major Project deadline, in which I’ll be working towards completing the remainder of the project, as part of my development as a designer.”

Her co-creator, Rachel Shore, explains how taking advantage of the live projects the university has to offer, can be a great boost not only to your portfolio, but to your confidence after you graduate;

Working on such a huge project, seen by hundreds of people, including influential industry professionals, Rachel says can be a daunting yet rewarding experience;

“I would advise other students to think carefully about getting involved in projects like these. The rewards are invaluable, and I think I will come to appreciate that more and more following my graduation.

However, you really have to be really passionate about what you're doing, have a great deal of motivation and be prepared to work incredibly hard and for incredibly long hours. There's a lot of pressure involved but the pride and achievement at the end pays off.” 

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