Ten days ago I went to my first ever catwalk show. It was my daughter Anna’s finale at Bristol School of Art, Media & Design, where she has been studying fashion design for the last three years.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that her collection would be technically accomplished – she’s been scoring high marks all the way through the course – but would I like it? And what about the 39 other young designers who would be exhibiting?
It turned out to be an exhilarating two-and-a-half hours. The whole thing was staged to a high degree of professionalism, from the catwalk and lighting to the small army of models, the music and pace, the seamless and seemingly endless succession of collections. Each change of music and mood had us on the edge of our seats, wondering what would emerge next.
I’m not really competent to describe in detail what we saw, but I do know that where many seemed to me whimsical, theatrical or simply light-hearted, Anna’s collection had a certain gravitas. She had chosen the six tallest models. Draped in the shades of wild natural places, they stepped in stately procession down the catwalk like Caryatids come to life. I was as proud as only a parent can be.
In the best tradition of the catwalk, many of the collections we saw, including Anna’s, are not immediately destined for the high street, or even the salon. They’re more akin to experiments in fashion, blending form with function to create something essentially artistic and expressive. But only by pushing the boundaries of self-expression, and overcoming the technical challenges that result, can one learn the techniques necessary to perfect a more practical and wearable approach.
Jonathan Ive, the newly-knighted designer of the iPod, iPhone and iPad, was speaking on Radio Four yesterday morning. He described how he discovered at an early age that he loved to draw, ‘but not for the sake of drawing itself, rather so I could explore and develop ideas that I could then go on to build.’ The best of design, he said is ‘part fine art, part engineering’.
Apple’s goal has always been clear, he said. It’s not to make money but to design the very best products they can. If they achieve that, the money follows. And the whole point, he added, ‘is not to design for ourselves but for other people.’ I recently heard someone else endorse this thought in a slightly different way. Apple’s success, they said, is down to its absolute focus on the user interface. What does it feel like to use this device? they constantly ask themselves. What emotions does it arouse?
There’s another word for all this: empathy. It’s the mantra on Dark Angels courses. Only if you can take that imaginative step that allows you to be your audience, will you really connect. For audience, substitute fashion shopper or iPhone user. But as with Anna and her young fellow designers, as with Sir Jonathan Ive and his early drawings, so with Dark Angels: the starting point, we show people, must be to push your own creative boundaries so you know how far you can go.
Now the literary quiz. Connie Cullen was the first person to send in a set of correct answers. A copy of Room 121 is on its way, Connie! And the answers:
IIATU / PAP It is a truth universally… Pride and Prejudice
MAMDO / HPATPS Mr and Mrs Dursley, of… Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
CWBCW / LW Christmas won’t be Christmas without… Little Women
WWSAB / FALILV We were somewhere around Barstow… Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
LNIDI / ? Last night I dreamt I… Rebecca
Thanks to the excellent Hurley Books. If you’re ever in Mevagissey, do drop in and see them. They’re right by the harbour.