Fashion with hearts: Interview with Stephanie Issacs and Emma Pellegrini

Earlier this year, fashion students from Heriot Watt University, Galashiels, showcased their talent in a British Heart Foundation fashion show. By transforming charity shop finds into “catwalk chic,” the students showed their designs and were able to help out a local charity.

We talk to Emma Pellegrini and Stephanie Isaacs about their role in the show, raising money for the British Heart Foundation, university and life as aspiring young designers.

Have you done projects like this before?

Stephanie: No, this is the first time our class has had the opportunity to be involved in something to this large scale, we’re all really excited to participate in a ‘live project’ that’s giving us the opportunity to work outside of our classrooms, travel up to Edinburgh and meet other people who are involved and interested in the project.

What got you into fashion in the first place, and why did you choose this particular course?
Emma: I always just liked doodling clothes when I was at school and it was something that always interested me in art. I chose this course ‘cause of the variety of subjects it covers as it isn’t pure fashion or textile design. You also get to learn the business side of the industry and things like marketing and adverting which is the path I’d like to take my career down in the future. I’m quite interested in Fashion PR and Events Management rather than becoming a fashion designer so this course is perfect. It’s also the only one in Scotland that combines so many subjects.

S: For me, fashion was a natural progression. For as long as I can remember I was always interested in art and design and I’ve always loved clothes. I chose to study at Heriot Watt’s School of Textile and Design in Galashiels because of its international reputation and excellent facilities. Textile and Fashion Design Management as a course covers some really great modules that tie in with what I want to pursue after my degree (journalism and fashion styling) as well as teaching us the fundamentals of the fashion industry; it’s a great mix of practical and lecture based classes.

Where do you take inspiration from? Anything or anyone in particular?

E: I find inspiration always varies from project to project but it’s so easy to be inspired just by the people and things around you. I’m from the west coast and I always feel inspired by the sea. Designer-wise I love Vivienne Westwood, Balmain, Chanel and of course the late Alexander McQueen.

S: I love to read mainstream fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle amongst others and I check out daily various blogs and websites to see what’s happening worldwide. I take inspiration from what’s going on around me: the place I’m in, the films I’m watching, the people I’m hanging out with. I admire Anna Wintour for her role in the fashion industry as well as Grace Coddington because she is a creative genius; Fashion Houses that I pay particular attention to include Balenciaga, Chanel, Lanvin and Gucci, but I also drool over Alexander Wang, Ralph Lauren and Balmain. I’m also jealous of Ashley Olsen, Emma Watson and Alexa Chung, they must have the most amazing wardrobes!

Tell us about the project, how did it come about?

E: The project all started when the BHF got in contact with the university. They were looking for someone to provide them with clothes for their fashion show and as me and Steph had been complaining about wanting bigger projects for our class, our course director Dr Alex Fortheringham decided it would be perfect for us. From there, the BHF came to visit us and gave us a talk about what they wanted.

S: Well our course had been encouraging our tutors to give us a more challenging project within our modules, something that we could really sink our teeth into and prove exactly what we could do with what we’ve learnt so far at university. Coincidently, the BHF got in touch with the university, enquiring whether we would like to be involved in creating the garments and outfits for a fashion show to raise funds for their Heart Nurse Appeal in Edinburgh and the Lothians. Our course director then jumped at the chance for us to get involved. As class reps, Emma and I were extremely enthusiastic for us all to be involved in a live project, as its such a great opportunity to show off our talented fellow students as well as raising money for a great cause. The BHF were really keen for us to enjoy the project and have fun with the garments, so everyone is really pleased with the outcome.

What has been entailed in this project?
S: After a briefing from the BHF, the class arranged themselves into 6 groups to cover 5 themes/situations being depicted in the fashion show; a dodgeball game, a ceilidh, a shopping experience; an engagement and a wedding (being split into bride and groom parties). We were then told all garments were to be from BHF charity shops and adapted/altered, customised or completely changed from their original state to become complete outfits following the groups given theme.
Explain the narrative and the different themes of the story.

E: The narrative basically tells the story of how the BHF helps those who suffer from heart conditions and how it helps the families.

S: I think it is to follow real life situations, projects and encounters that tie in with the themes we were given (like the dodgeball game, the BHF supports the sport in schools around the country promoting exercise and healthy hearts, as well as day to day activities like shopping and more special occasions such as weddings).

What is your theme and how did you tackle it?

E: Myself and Steph were in the shop group and we chose to look at how easy it is to customise clothes into something more everyday or something for a fancy dress night. So we have two military outfits, two masquerade outfits, a flapper girl, a 1920s gangster style outfit, a gypsy and a pirate. Things that can be very easily put together.

S: We thought we would sub-theme the category and play upon the idea of dressing up as shops, especially charity shops, are treasure troves in finding amazing garments for your day to day wardrobe as well as for many, being the first stop in finding outfits for themed parties

What was it like designing your outfits and when looking in the BHF charity shops did you have a rough idea of what you wanted your finished piece to look like?

S: It has been really fun designing our final outfits and great collaborating with other group members in order to get the overall style to suit our theme. We wanted our 8 final ideas to work as a collection, so we’ve been working closely together to ensure this; tailoring and embellishment work really well throughout our garments. Initially, when we were raking around the shops, we had an idea of what we wanted but you’re never guaranteed anything when it comes to charity shops, which I suppose was our main challenge; to find garments that could be re-invented into something that will inspire and encourage others to shop in the BHF.
Emma and I have also been heavily involved in the organisation and running of the fashion show which has been a great opportunity for both of us, we’ve both really enjoyed the experience and challenges that have come up over the last few weeks, we are now really excited to see everything finalised and finished on the night, it’ll be fantastic I’m sure!

E: It’s been quite fun doing the outfits although I personally haven’t done as much as I’d have liked as I’ve ended up being quite heavily involved in the organisation of the show which was never really meant to happen but has been fun all the same. You had to really go in with an open mind. You had some ideas of what you wanted but really you just had to use your imagination. It’s amazing what you can find. One of the groups found an unworn Christian Dior suit!!

What projects do you have coming up in the future?

E: After this we are doing some more fundraising events for the BHF as part of our Events Management course and we will be doing a mini advertising project.

S: Our class have also been fundraising in our groups for the BHF as part of our Events Management Module which has been great in giving everyone the opportunity to take part in organising events and encouraging a little ‘friendly competition’. Everyone has done really different activities including soup sales, trips to cities, comedy nights, pop up shops as well as blind-dates and ladies nights, all of which are taking place throughout the term. Other than this we’ve got coursework from other modules that we’re all working on and a fashion advertising project coming up too, we’re also starting to think of our scary 4th year dissertations too!

Words by Suzanne Bargon


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