Alexander McQueen in Wales
Sorcha Ní Cheallaigh finds out about more the new book documenting the London fashion House's outreach in Wales
“This record of what we all learned together last year is a testament to what transformative things can happen everywhere when empowering equal access to creative ideas.” – Sarah Burton
During the summer of 2020, as U.K. society emerged for a brief moment to relish the company of family and friends, Alexander McQueen travelled to Blaenau Gwent in the valleys of South Wales to start a creative educational project in the very landscape that inspired the fashion house’s acclaimed Autumn Winter 2020 collection. In partnership with Ffasiwn Stiwdio’s Charlotte James, Clémentine Schneidermann and youth worker Michelle Hurter at Blaina Community Centre, McQueen’s creative youth collaboration focused on providing a local group aged between 12 and 17-years-old with a series of workshops built to encourage their own unique vision. Participants were immersed in a range of creative skills across fashion, photography and embroidery over months of on-off restrictions. When unable to travel, the project continued remotely, ensuring that the crucial access to creative education endured despite the ongoing yet unpredictable pandemic uncertainty.
The project focused on creating a local creative network for young people alongside distinguished institutional connections within Alexander McQueen. “Community values,” writes creative director Sarah Burton, “and the belief in offering creative opportunities to young people are at the heart of what we believe at Alexander McQueen”. James, Schneidermann and Hurter embodied those McQueen ideal of community values. James – a Merthyr Tydfil native – alongside Schneider had worked with most of the collective’s young people, as well as their families and youth workers, for as long as six years. Hurter’s work in the community has lasted for over a decade. As the project’s education period concluded, the McQueen atelier conducted a fitting to prepare the participants for a four-day location shoot by Schneidermann and James around local areas such as Brynmawr and Ogmore-by-Sea, honouring the participants’ own experiences and landscapes.
Last Summer in Wales: The diary of an Alexander McQueen creative youth collaboration was published a year on by the fashion house and documents the entire project. Participant’s sketches, writings, familial research, modelling and embroidery appears in a beautifully curated exploration of personal heritage. Delicately embroidered hearts and the words “be kind” appear around the image of two young girls in lilac dresses. One striking photograph of two participants wearing intricate McQueen-style bodices while buried up to the waist in sand sculpted fishtails, is accompanied by a hand-drawn depiction. “I’m very proud of my brother Sammy being a merboy with me” is written in black marker alongside the sketch. “We had a brill day”.
It’s hard not to feel filled with optimism when leafing through the work of the participants and collaborators. As notes of Burton’s own inspirations appear throughout in the shape of youthful hand-drawn oxblood heart motifs and Welsh love spoons, it’s clear just how much the future of fashion will continue to grow through McQueen’s dedication to outreach and education.
The Alexander McQueen in Wales book publishes today.
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