Featured Student: Lauren De’Ath

Tell us about your background.

I graduated with a BA in Fashion Journalism from LCF and spent the next few years involved in a number of projects. These ranged from launching my own anthropological magazine –ology (now defunct), freelance writing, assisting and styling, doing PR for immersive theatre company You Me Bum Bum Train and finally managing an artist’s studio called The Papered Parlour. Our first book came out last autumn. In that time I taught sewing and screenprinting, organised anniversary events for Laura Ashley, Pinterest and London Hat Week and consulted (and even presented!) for Channel 4 and E4 with their various shows that involved art and design (or in telly speak- ‘crafts’). I also did some illustration work for the British Library to promote their Online Archives. Jack of all trades!

Why fashion?

I grew up in a fairly dismal seaside town in Essex; heck Morrissey even wrote a song about it! We had a few ‘alternative’ clubs in the basement of a decaying hotel. They were attended by local boy photographer Dean Chalkley, The Horrors and even Hedi Slimane (for the briefest glimpse of a second, prior to his famous skinny-black jean season at Dior Homme in 2007) so there’s always been this connection at a subcultural level. It taught me the power of dress and also that even the seemingly everyday had something to say about the person.

Why did you join this MA?

I have always loved the past and being reflective more so than looking ahead which is why I fell out of love with fashion editorial, and in terms of dress this has permitted me to relive the past through actual, physical garments. Hidden stories lay in wait.

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

In the second term we were tasked with critically analysing a fashion garment or document. I am lucky enough to own some killer collectible vintage pieces in my wardrobe and amongst them is my pièce de resistance– a “1930s” silk qipao with floral hand embroidery. It has always fascinated me, however now I was presented with the chance to actually study it. The dress came from Toronto in Canada so I set about researching Chinese-Canadian communities in the early twentieth century. From initial research, it seemed strange that the dress could have ever existed prior to 1945 as from 1901 to after World War II, only a handful of women emigrated abroad  from China at all due to engrained gender issues and even worse, Canada had instigated the Chinese Exclusion Act that prohibited Chinese from setting foot on Canadian soil. Querying this lead me to interview local Chinese Toronto-ians about how they related to their cultural heritage through dress at a time when being visibly ‘ethnic’ was not only problematic but also dangerous. One woman sent me a three page email just recalling the texture and feeling of silk from her family’s Chinese tailoring business- the only one in North America in the 50s.  Inspiring stuff and certainly proof of how visceral and significant dress can be.

What extra-curricular activities have you been involved with?

I work at Westminster Archives classifying and cataloguing the Liberty Ltd. accession; some of which includes artefacts and ephemera that are hundreds of years old and haven’t been touched or sorted since their arrival at the archive in 1995. It had been sitting in a store cupboard of Liberty’s, so this project allows the public unbridled access to the history and heritage of one of this city’s best loved stores. With a superb team, Westminster Archive really is an indispensible asset to London and to budding historical researchers alike. Of course, Liberty’s was famed for its bringing Oriental goods to the London mass-market. My favourite find was unearthing a very old letter that described how Liberty’s had-or certainly used to have- its very own jade mine concession in Burma! Also, I am currently doing a 3-month stint for the V&A Exhibitions Department and look forward to being prospectively published in Film, Fashion and Popular Culture journal on ‘Democratising the Exhibition’, analysing how external socio-political events have powerful implications inside the museum and gallery.

Where do you hope to be in two years time?

I would love to publish a book on subjective Chinese dress history. I think there is so much to be done in promoting Chinese history and heritage within the West from an ontological perspective; we have to catch up with North America. They really are the invisible minority so in some way I hope to rectify that by either lecturing or writing and sharing what is an incredible story of the Chinese in Britain. Academia is making leaps and bounds here and I was fortunate enough to receive funding from the Costume Society and Warwick University to be able to complete research for my dissertation. On a variation of a theme, I would greatly enjoy returning to university to lecture in my initial degree of Fashion Journalism.

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