The Collaborative Unit is a unique opportunity for LCF postgraduate students to collaborate across disciplines and work closely with industry partners. In this interview, we hear from both sides about what it's like to take part in the Collaborative Unit: Karolina Laskowska and Lorraine Smith share their industry perspective as members of The Underpinnings Museum, and LCF MA Fashion Media Production graduate Sarah Hardcastle talks about her involvement in the project from a student point of view.
Photos by Tigz Rice from The Underpinnings Museum collection.
Hi Lorraine. Can you start by explaining how the opportunity to partner with LCF's Collaborative Unit came up?
L: The idea came about after one of our team members had a discussion with Susanne Baldwin — course leader for MA Pattern and Garment Technology — about The Underpinnings Museum's kickstarter campaign. She was fascinated by the objects in our collections and thought that a collaboration might be of mutual benefit. We then set up a meeting with her and the Collaborative Unit coordinator, Tiff Radmore, to discuss the possibilities further.
Why did you decide to involve students in this project?
L: The motivation from our side was the chance to share objects from our collections directly with MA students and see how they responded to them. We collaborated with students from MA Fashion Curation, MA Fashion Media Production and MA Pattern and Garment Technology, and we were delighted to share their outcomes on the museum's website and social media channels, increasing engagement with our collections via their hard work and creativity.
What were the requirements for students to participate?
L: After the meeting with Susanne and Tiff, we came up with 3 briefs that the students could choose from: a technical one (object analysis and re-creation in garment and pattern form); a curatorial one (object analysis, background stories and exhibition design); and a business one (focusing on promotion of the museum and opportunities for growth).
Sarah, after reading the briefs, what made you choose this project?
S: The Underpinnings Museum project really just piqued my personal interests. A lot of my own work at the time revolved around the female form and the act of dressing and being undressed, so working with beautiful antique lingerie seemed like a really fun way to explore that in a completely different way than I normally would. I have also been a lifelong visitor of historical fashion archives, and thought it would be really interesting to see the work that goes into them behind the scenes.
What was your role in it?
S: I worked with one other student, Gill, and the two of us were responsible for creating an exhibition for the Underpinnings Museum. Gill curated and organised a physical exhibition and I made an online counterpart, making short films about the collection of garments we chose to focus on.
Karolina, what do you think was the most challenging part of this project?
K: Each brief had very different challenges; I suspect that our ‘technical’ brief had the biggest ones. As part of their brief, the students had to recreate existing garments from our collection. In many instances, these garments were created using materials, components and machinery that are no longer manufactured or easily accessible. Students really had to think outside the box to create their garments. The best example is the one who was replicating an overwire bra, and they had to collaborate with a jewellery designer to create a custom wire from scratch!
Sarah, what the biggest challenge for you and your team?
S: Karolina and Lori, who also works for the museum, were using their personal time to work with us, so that was something we always had to be conscious of. Personally, I had a few technical difficulties with sound on my filming day, the only day I’d managed to pin down with Karolina, and I remember we were both ill too! But we persevered and with a little post-production magic I don’t think the final outcome was affected too much!
And how did you find the experience of working alongside students from other courses?
S: I had a really positive experience. Though Gill and I came from total opposite creative practices we both had a personal interest in the Underpinnings Museum and I think that really helped our ideas flow. We managed to find an outcome that showcased both our skills.
Lorraine, what did you think about the final result?
L: We had extremely dedicated and talented students working hard to produce garment recreations, social media video content, and a small exhibition at LCF's John Prince's Street site.
We were incredibly impressed with how these students responded to the brief, how they engaged with the project throughout, and with the end results. All have been showcased on our site and have been enthusiastically received by visitors to the museum.
Which key skills should students bring into a collaborative working environment?
K: Enthusiasm, open mindedness and willingness to work with others. The most successful projects from our three briefs came from the students willing to work as a team and who were genuinely excited about the projects.
S: An open mind and a willingness to participate. If you have a personal interest in the subject matter of your chosen project, that can make working on it a pleasure.
Karolina, from an industry perspective, how do you think students can benefit from these types of opportunities?
K: It gives you the chance to work on projects and access sides of the industry that you’d otherwise never get the opportunity for. It’s a chance to push and expand on your existing skills, and to learn incredibly valuable new ones. Whilst I doubt some of our students will be rushing to make such challenging bras again any time soon, the construction techniques they learned will be invaluable in their technical repertoire.
What piece of advice would you give to students who take part in the Collaborative Unit?
K: Only apply for a project if it’s something you’re actually enthusiastic about! Just ‘settling’ for a project isn’t fair for the students working alongside you, nor your industry partner. If there’s genuine excitement there then you’re much more likely to learn and create something you can be proud of.
S: Forget your ego, relax and have fun with it! Listen to others and try new things. Think about how you can use your skills to elevate someone else, rather than trying to take over something. If you do that you’ll still stand out and people will always want to work with you.
Sometimes if collaboration feels forced it can seem torturous, so try and find something that you’re interested in and can contribute to, rather than just choosing something that seems prestigious. You’ll get way more out of it.
What are the plans for The Underpinnings Museum in the next few years?
K: Our website currently showcases nearly 300 archival objects, we have 6 digital exhibitions — including 3 courtesy of LCF students — under our belt and a Twitter conference. We hope to expand on all of that, as well as explore the possibilities of more ‘real life’ events and exhibitions.