Featured Student : Helen Spencer

How old are you?

Can you tell us about your background?
I am a trained fashion designer, having previously studied womenswear at LCF. Whilst studying and after graduating, I have undertaken a variety of roles working for a range of companies, both large and small. Something I have always been aware of is the importance of just being in the environment and soaking everything in, that doesn’t always mean being employed in your dream role. It is about being patient, and making the most of the opportunities available to you.

Retrospectively, I can see that I was trying to figure out my place amongst it all, which isn’t always clean cut, nor is it straight forward. I remember a tutorial at the end of my BA with my course director, where she told me that I needed to pursue a career in research and writing. I left her office with a list of theorists to research and what felt like a million unanswered questions. Some conversations never quite leave your head, this was one. It had awakened something in me, a realisation perhaps that there was more to fashion than being a designer as I had thought for many years.

Why did you join this MA?
Following on from the last question, I found that the more I immersed myself in the industry, the more disillusioned I became and the more I questioned its ethics and morals. I came to the realisation that I did see fashion differently, I wasn’t interested in trends, but more the subtle narratives that were going on beneath the surface. I finally begun to understand what my course director had been explaining, so I begun researching MA courses and found this one, which seemed like a perfect fit.

I hoped on this MA that I would meet like-minded people who thought about fashion in a similar way to me. I wanted something that would be mentally stimulating and challenging and relished the prospect of classroom debates. Also I wanted to rediscover my love for fashion and clothing, something I had lost working within the industry. I hoped through this MA, I would explore and question my own beliefs, whilst developing a stronger sense of my own identity. I have always found studying to be an environment in which it as much about academic learning and growing as it is personal. Studying is not an easy process, but one that is very rewarding, where you learn about yourself holistically – if you allow it.

Approaching the last few months of the course, I’ve become somewhat reflective. Looking back at the path I have taken, it all makes sense, but at the time it felt like I was lost in the dark. I now see how my formative design training has really informed my approach to research, and allows me to look at design in a way practioners wouldn’t themselves. Also studying fashion history at 18 didn’t seem like as much fun as being a designer. It’s funny how perspectives change with age.

What extra-curricular activities were you involved in this past few months?
These past few months have been busy to say the least, but utterly enjoyable at the same time. I have been assisting on a few research projects, for example researching the history of London couture for a professor at LCF for a forthcoming publication. Another project has seen me investigate the material culture of ostrich eggshell beads within the African dress collection held at the Janie Lightfoot archive. I have also begun a role as contributing writer for a couture blog, exploring the history and construction practices of couture. Diverse I know, but the approach and research angle is the same. Additionally, I have been trying to attend as many conferences and lectures as possible alongside researching for my thesis and juggling a part-time job. Busy! However, I have always found that I see my own work more clearly by working with other people and other projects, perhaps it is being able to apply skills and methods to my own research. It does get a bit overwhelming at times, trying to juggle so many things and have some form of a social/personal life, but if you get the balance right, you feel utterly alive!

Where do you hope to be in two years from now?
That’s the big question. My career and future, after completing this course has never been far from my thoughts. If I have learnt anything it’s that anything can happen and it is not wise to plan too much, so you can stay open to opportunities that come your way. It’s finding a balance between having a direction and embracing the journey of research, and getting better at negotiating its ups and downs. What I do know is that I want to work within the field of curation. I have realised that it is a specialism, which will allow me to research, write and collaborate with both creatives and academics. After graduating, I hope I will be able to find research opportunities to continue my research on Cristobal Balenciaga’s innovative construction techniques and silhouettes. My thesis research has shown that there is a huge scope for further enquiry.


3 thoughts on “Featured Student : Helen Spencer

  1. Pingback: Q&A with Jane Holt | [In]Tangible: Redressing Fashion

  2. Pingback: Old Age Doesn’t Mean Beige – Interview with The Fabulous Fashionistas | [In]Tangible: Redressing Fashion

  3. Pingback: Fashion’s Age-Old Problem with Beauty | [In]Tangible: Redressing Fashion

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