Little did we know as young art students what lay ahead of us. Thanks to the wonders of the interweb and social networking we can not only reflect on our own paths into adult hood but also upon those of our college peers. I have been very humbled and inspired by becoming reacquainted with my former flatmates. In some cases there has been a gap of twenty years, but what is time? Those varied mad cap characters I found myself thrown in with during the mid 1980’s became a strange new family, all of us different- Each one has gone on to do amazing things.
I asked my Friend and former flatmate Alison Harm, who now runs Psychomoda Ladies Clothing and the Montague Bar in Edinburgh to fill me in a little about how she got where she is now- despite the ‘un-constructive’ experiences we all had at Edinburgh College of Art.
Alison tells us;
“I came to Edinburgh by accident, I was supposed to go to kingston on Thames, but got waylayed by love , my then boyfriend applied to Edinburgh, so did I, so we could be together.(it didn’t last, of course!)
I always knew i was going to be a fashion designer, from around age of 5 or 6, I did a diploma in fashion after my A levels at South Sheilds Marine and tech. I did very well on this course, so transferred directly to 2nd year at Edinburgh.
I had a terrible time at Edinburgh college of art. The tutor was terrible, she never looked at or marked my work, and when I complained I was labelled as a trouble maker, and then constructively expelled.if it happened today, I would take them to court. I was entangled in a bureaucratic nightmare that was nothing to do with me, and duly scapegoated for it. College entirely prepared me for the real world, the backstabbing, the bitching, the nepotism, it’s all there , and my biggest lesson from college was how to give it a wide berth in the future.
When I left the college I was very low in confidence, but I was given a job in knitwear by an ex tutor who had seen first hand my experiences at the college, but who recognised that I had a talent for my subject. I thank her Helen Baber, from “Bill Baber Knitwear”, in the Grassmarket , Edinburgh. one of the best knitwear designers I have ever seen.and an altogether wonderful person.
I set up my own knitwear design company about a year after leaving college, and had a great deal of success selling at craft fairs and markets. there was no Internet then , or I would have probably gone down that line
after a few years, I grew tired of knitwear and returned to fashion design taking advantage of a growing re-cycling market, and continued at the markets with this product. It was immensely successful, I was returning home with empty bags after a days trading, so I opened a shop.
My first shop in 1992 was very re-cycling orientated, even the decor and fittings were re-created from junk. the clothes mainly made from old curtains, grunge was in style, and it sold well. after a few years, I moved to a better location, where I have been ever since. The market for re-cycled garments dropped off, so I started with the new fashion , which at the time was club and resort wear. after a few years of this, it swung to Hollywood style evening wear, and now burlesque. Right now we have come full circle and re-cycled and re-worked vintage as well as reproduction vintage, and eco friendly fabrics and yarns are in fashion.
sometimes people say “oh your stuff has changed” and my reply is “so does fashion” that’s the point!
my work is massively inspired by Vivienne Westwood, and the late great Alexander Mcqueen, as well as a whole host of other designers, things that go on around me in the world, and inspiration from the street up are important, new technology in fabrics always challenges, and inspires, re-using and re-cycling, and recently the availability of new generation eco products, especially in knitted fibres, which i have made a return to.
My work is eclectic and varied. It is customer orientated -as in- I design and advise around the customers requirements rather than impose my taste on to them.
My idealism is about empowering women, and helping them to feel confident in their given situations. So many women have so many things about their bodies that they are embarrassed about or ashamed of, this leads to them being under confident in social situations. If a dress has been made to measure taking your own body shape into consideration, it can make you feel so much better about yourself, and able take it all on.
I make a full time living from my work, and employ an assistant. My husband and I also run The Montague bar, and I work in that, as well as being a mum. At the moment I am working on vintage remodelling, to sell on the rails, and on my new online shop . I always have made to measure orders on the go, including wedding dresses and evening wear.
In an ideal world, I would still do this, but make more money from it !!!!
my biggest frustration as a designer is women not believing in themselves, and imposing design “rules” on their wardrobe, e.g, ” I can’t wear red, I had my colours done, and she said you cant wear red ” what a load of rubbish.!!!
or, “I am too young/old/fat/thin/short/tall/black/white to wear that” sometimes its true, but usually not and just down to their own misconceptions about their bodies, and social rules they adhere to. Women are their own worst enemies when it comes to this.
my new online shop is called “Angelic Upstart” as I like to give a kick in the pants to convention now and again. there is also a strong underlying original punk element to my work , which rears its head from time to time.
My biggest pleasure, work – wise is when an under confident woman steps out of my fitting room looking like a movie star with a big grin on her face- That’s what its all about. I also love my “life long” customers ( prom dress/ graduation dress/ wedding dress/ etc) because that’s my confirmation that I have hit the nail on the head.
I would advise aspiring designers, to avoid art college like the plague, get an apprenticeship, learn to sew (its amazing how many don’t) explore your medium, start young, don’t take any gap years (competition is too hot) practise on anyone you can get to stand still long enough, don’t get ideas above yourself, you are not Gods gift to fashion, don’t charge by the hour (you will be slow to start with, and you will price-out) don’t try to make people into your dream, rather, shape your dream around their requirements, try to create a continuity in your collections, and let them evolve from one year to the next rather than try to come up with a totally new and original idea every season.Break new ideas in gently…and most of all, stay in fashion !!! if you go too far ahead, the buying public will not understand it. they want what they have seen down the shops only with slight differences. Cater for large sizes.”
You can see more of Alison’s work at;
Many Thanks for sharing that with us Alison!
Now the rest of you get down there & lets re-claim our right to dress up & feel good about ourselves!