“Whenever we tell people that we work as fashion curators, they’re always like: so you mean catwalks?”
Last month we visited White Line Projects – a curatorial and creative studio, set up and run by MA Fashion Curation alumnas Xenia Capacete Caballero and Fiona McKay. After graduating they worked on several projects together, collaborating with institutions such as the National Gallery as well as working on an exhibition in China before setting up their own business.
Ahead of the opening of their new exhibition at the Roca London Gallery on Friday 1 July, we met with Xenia and Fiona in a coffee shop next to their Hackney-based studio to discuss their work and their time at LCF.
What does Fashion Curation mean to you?
Xenia: I suppose that nowadays it’s a hot topic – what is curation and is everything curated? I’m quite conservative in that sense – for me, something like a catwalk is not curated, it’s designed to be desired so it’s more of an an event but its not really curated. That’s from my quite conservative view about it though. It’s a hard question!
Fiona: It’s everywhere right now – just after we graduated three years ago everyone was like ‘oh we’ve curated this window display’ and things like that. We wanted to use that to our advantage and broaden out the field a bit beyond museums. We’ve taken that ethos but at the same time there’s a limit and it can get ridiculous – if someone has curated a party or something like that for example, then it’s too far! You have to have a balance where you are thinking outside the box, but still know that you’ve been trained to do certain things.
How do you think the role of a curator has evolved?
Xenia: I think there needs to be a balance – for me, I cannot just design exhibitions around what people want because otherwise you don’t challenge people if you don’t come up with topics that they didn’t think that they would be interested in. At the same time you also have to really think about the design process, and about people and what they want to see – this can dictate how the designs are going to be and how people will interact with them.
Fiona: From the experiential aspect I think its nice to know how to challenge audiences with unexpected subjects matters. That’s part of the beauty of the work of a curator as well – one of the most interesting things about what we do, is uncovering things and showing them in a way that awakens wider realms.
Tell us about your most recent exhibition…
Fiona: We’ve been working on an exhibition at the Roca London Gallery in Chelsea Harbour. They normally do more design and architecture exhibitions. We’ve curated an exhibition which looks at adaptability in fashion, and explores some of the leading ideas being championed by emerging and established fashion designers today, questioning issues of desirability, functionality and sustainability in clothing.
Xenia: It’s really interesting because its the first time they are having a fashion exhibition in the gallery. We have been looking at different designers and merging the more established ones with newer ones. We are looking at adaptability to things like environmental changes, body changes and things like unisex garments, or multi-functional garments that can transform and become different things.
Fiona: We’re also looking at fabric innovation as well, and materials that respond to kind of external elements like heat, sports treatments, cold weather – even the mood of the wearer. They do a lot of exhibitions into sustainability and we have used that as a starting point and tried to identify what’s happening in fashion, and also challenge the notion of the system.
Why did you choose to base White Line Projects in East London?
Fiona: It was local – we wanted a studio that was convenient to get to – it’s a bonus, that there’s so much going on around East London.
Xenia: At the same time, I think that when it comes to art and design, things have affected local retail and a lot of artists have left already East London, but we’ll see what happens as it evolves.
Did you enjoy studying MA Fashion Curation at LCF? Why did you choose this course?
Xenia: I chose this course because there wasn’t any other course like it. I was very clear that I wanted to do fashion curation so that was it. I did my BA at Wimbledon so I’ve been with the UAL for quite a few years now. Whilst I was doing my BA, which was about performing art, I did a lot of costume making. When I was in my second year I was reading a book and the preface by a woman who was talking about her experience as an archivist and as a curator – a fashion curator. I was so amazed that I started to research what that role was about. From that I did a work placement at the V&A, in the conservation department – I liked it so much I wanted to try and get as much experience within the field. When I came across the MA Fashion Curation course I actually contacted Amy De La Haye directly.
Fiona: I did a BA in Art History, and I worked for a bit in fashion and art galleries and ended up in architecture. I had wanted to do the course for a long time but it was just about going for it and finding the confidence to do it. I did a foundation at Central St Martins – after working for years I went back to studying and working part time. After the foundation I had to make a decision of what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go – whether to do fashion design or not, but actually I kind of came back to fashion curation. It converged all my interests and skills. I went to see Shaun Cole who gave me a place and then it went from there – it changed my life in some ways.
What were the highlights and challenges?
Fiona: Because you’re based in London you get to go to all these places you just wouldn’t normally have access to and meet people you wouldn’t have access to either. I loved just being able to immerse myself in something I love, and I guess because its kind of niche but open at the same time, you could really explore which area you wanted to go in. I also loved meeting people from different backgrounds – all over Europe and the world, and also meeting Judith Clarke and Amy De La Haye who I was idolising for years before I did the course.
The challenge for me was that I actually had a proposal in my mind – an idea for a website. I didn’t want to do a dissertation so I almost had to fight to do a proposal for the website whereas I think now a days because there are people accepting that online exhibitions are ‘a thing’ it would probably be easier for students to do it now.
Xenia: I would add to highlights, the access to resources from the university for example the discovery of the digital lab, for me was the highlight. In terms of challenges, adding to what Fiona was saying, I had the same trouble with my dissertation and it was an independent journey.
What advice would you give to prospective or current MA Fashion Curation students?
Fiona: Start planting seeds – the course is a perfect networking opportunity and gives you access to people that you could find might shut the door on you when asking for a job, so just starting to build those relationships is important – it will serve you well when you leave.
Xenia: Some advice for everybody is that because the course is quite short to get as much experience during the course and after. I would add to that, collaborate as much as possible from the beginning with different people, even from other courses for more of an interdisciplinary approach – I think that that’s really crucial. But then also try to be innovative and think out of the box – experiment. I think that’s another thing that we really need – because its a very new field there are still things to experiment with.
What are your plans for the future?
Fiona: We’re going to continue building White Line Projects and expanding it – hopefully start hiring people and getting more studio space and just developing the size of the business in terms of commissions and archives. We will also continue researching to be at the forefront of what we do – not just within digital technologies but innovative practices and curation too.
Xenia: In the longer term we would also really like to have a gallery and our own journal. We have an online blog at the moment, which features interviews with people, discovering new designers, exhibitions and and things like that, so we want to really expand on that too.