Walking into Edinburgh’s architecturally beautiful and exquisitely decorated ‘Sistine Chapel’, decorated from the runway to its high ceiling with a nature and imagination-inspired theme, this venue felt like the perfect place for bringing together an outstanding collection of artistic talent to raise money for such a wonderful and important charity: Penumbra.
This year’s Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show took place in Mansfield Traquair; its walls embellished with paintings by Phoebe Traquair in the late 1800s depicting religious scenes inspired by Italian Renaissance art. For the show, the creative team at ECFS had transformed an already impressive venue into an imaginative dreamland; the runway itself was bordered by flowers and plants adding to the overall interior of a meadow. The harmony between the traditional building, mellow lighting, the nature-inspired set design and the soundtrack of soft, tranquil music created an immersive experience, which was a performance in its own right.
As we took our seats, the presenters of the show introduced this year’s theme: solstice. On one level, solstice is about bringing together different approaches to the creation of the fashion show combining art and music into one evening – a collaboration which was already visible from the setting: a unification of Phoebe Traquair’s ground-breaking art work and the imaginative set. But solstice is also about ‘letting the light back in’, which was the main message to be taken away from this year’s ECFS. Bringing light after a time of darkness, is in line with Penumbra’s aim as a mental health charity. They work to alleviate mental illness in adults and young people by providing a safe space, a support network and Scotland’s only 24-hour help line at the Edinburgh Crisis Centre.
Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK and one in three people are affected by mental health problems at some point in their life, meaning charities like Penumbra are crucial. ECFS not only raises money for Penumbra, it also raises awareness and helps to break the stigma surrounding mental health. This feels particularly important for a student-led event aimed at a student-dominated audience, as more and more students are suffering from problems with their mental health.
Not only did the event as a collective raise awareness for an increasing issue in modern society, but individual designers, whose work was on the runway, also use their art to make a statement about aspects of modern life. Poppy Camden, recent graduate of Glasgow School of Art, is a costume designer taking inspiration from politics and youth culture and Imogen Evans uses fashion to comment on women’s issues, such as the commodification of the female body and the effects of sexual violence on mental health.
For me, this was a welcome new perspective on the fashion industry after focusing on the devastating impact of fast fashion in today’s world. The forward-thinking designers at ECFS proved that fashion, as a progressive art form, can be used to promote changes in society by commenting on social issues and drawing inspiration from personal experience. The show highlighted to me the importance of our relationship to fashion. It felt very fitting to have the work of fashion progressives and talented students under one roof, bringing together interdisciplinary creative skills and ideas to support Penumbra.
Not only was Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show a lovely way to spend a Friday evening, but it was also inspiring to witness an innovative, collaborative project of artistic talent, led by hard-working, dedicated students, demonstrating the powerful impact students can have when they work together with a shared vision of helping others.