Featured Student: Paul Bench

Tell us about your background.

I have a BA in womenswear design and continue to work as a freelance designer for a UK womenswear high-street supplier. I also have several years experience in luxury fashion and furniture retail and have personally produced and showed 3 menswear collections.

Why Fashion?

I have been interested in fashion for as long as I can remember, from the perspectives of a maker, designer and consumer alongside a questioning interest in why and how fashion occurs. Fashion in terms of the garment-product has always been part of a far broader spectrum of my interest that incorporates specifically fine art and photography.  I have always been attracted to the visual and to the narrative offered by historical contextualisation.

Why did you join this MA

For some time I had been developing my interest in fashion, art and history through general reading and avid attendance of exhibitions. I had thought about returning to study for several years but it wasn’t until I found this MA that I realised it exactly fitted my interests and what I wanted to achieve. It was the right option at a significant personal juncture. In addition to the course structure I felt that the course leader specifically, both in his work and management of the course were likely to parallel my expectations of it and would be relevant in propelling my future development and direction.

Give us an example of a particular project you have enjoyed working on during the course.

Whilst each assignment has specific outcomes and is obviously directed by the lectures that precede it in each unit, there is a high degree of flexibility in terms of the subject choice. Students are encourage to develop specific areas of interest that may lead to final dissertation and can use assignments to build a knowledge and develop an understanding of approaches and analytical tools. I was therefore able to focus on the inter-war period from a largely UK perspective and in some cases the specific figures that will now dominate my dissertation. However, the project that was perhaps most pleasurable to write and research was a visual and comparative analysis of two paintings from this period. Through this process I realised how significant the visual is for my practice and the value of this form of analysis.

What extra curricular activities have you been involved with?

I have been able to attend lectures relating to ‘Fashion in Film’ and ‘Luxury Fashion in the twentieth century’. These were additional and not part of the course but were free to attend and expanded my general knowledge base. I have also been able to work at the Norman Parkinson Archive throughout the course where I have been involved with the cataloguing and inventory of this legacy. I have also written several review pieces for the course blog, which has been a useful exercise in both writing and analysis whilst making my broad interest in the arts and cultural events productive. External lectures about Cecil Beaton have also been formative in the development of my dissertation.

Where do you hope to be in two years time?

I hope to still be writing about and investigating the things that excite me in fashion and visual cultures.


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