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Models wearing multicoloured clothing in multicoloured photoshoot

#UniMentalHealthDay: LCFMA20 grad Polina Gorkovenko on the relationship between fashion and mental wellbeing

Written by Jesse Tilley / Alexandra R. Cifre
Published date 05 March 2020

For University Mental Health Day, we are looking into how fashion can be used to support the common issues surrounding mental health, and whether fashion really can make a positive impact on people's lives. MA Womenswear graduate, Polina Gorkovenko, designed a collection stemming from her own personal experiences, named 'Power of Colours'. The extensive research behind this collection focuses on the idea of how specific colours can subconsciously influence moods and emotions. We caught up with Polina to hear more about her collection, personal experiences and the future of psychological fashion.

Thanks for meeting us, Polina! How is everything going after the MA show?

It’s all good, trying to keep up with everything! After the show I got contacted by different stylists who are interested in my collection. I’ve also been invited to participate in the Manchester Charity Fashion Show which aim to raise funds to support the Horsfall at 42nd Street charity focused on improvement of young people's mental health and wellbeing, which is amazing.

For those who’ve seen images of your collection but don’t know much about your research, how would you describe the idea behind it and how it all links to mental health?

Back home, in Saint Petersburg, I suffered from depression and it affected my work and my motivation. I knew I had a strong passion and that I wanted to carry on building my career as a designer, but I also wanted to understand why this was happening to me and why I was struggling so much, especially during winter time. I started looking into the causes of depression and I learned that more than 264 million people all over the world suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organisation — this was the starting point of my research. I wanted to find out what others are doing to overcome these issues, so I interviewed people who have been diagnosed with clinical depression, exploring what they decide to wear during the ‘bad times’ and how they attach their emotions to their garments.

During my research process I came across the concept of chromotherapy, an alternative therapy that uses different colours that can help to heal our minds and bodies. This was the actual trigger for the development of my collection, I wanted to use these colours in my garments to influence different moods; for example, I hope if someone is feeling down, they could feel better wearing one of my pink garments. My MA final collection is just the beginning, and this is definitely an area that I want to continue exploring as a designer.

How did you choose which colours you wanted to use in your garments to counteract different emotions?

I read a lot of academic articles that talk about chromotherapy. I also did a poll on Instagram asking people which colours they thought were more uplifting and how they felt about it. I had a big response! People were interested in knowing more and started engaging with the process of my collection from the very beginning, which was very positively surprising.

How did the process work for you, going from theory to practice?

It was really complex, actually. I didn’t want to make it look like I was using this subject in a way, saying you won’t be depressed anymore if you wear a blue dress – it’s more than that! My intention was really to start a conversation about a very important issue through my designs. It was complicated, but also very interesting because as soon as I found out about chromotherapy it was easier for me to put theory and practice together and integrate the concept into my collection.

What feedback have you received after presenting your collection?

I’ve had really positive feedback, people really seem to like the colours and they think it’s cool. I haven’t heard any negatives, thankfully, which makes me very happy.

Where did the idea to incorporate pleating come from?

When I started the MA we were encouraged to explore different techniques for our designs. We had an introductory session to embroidery and I fell in love with it, so much that it has now become part of my design signature.

It’s University Mental Health Day today and lots of the campaigns we’ve seen are encouraging people to be more outspoken and not be ashamed of going through a depression or suffering from anxiety. What are your views on this?

I agree there’s nothing to be ashamed about, but there’s still a big stigma around mental health issues. We all have to get together and make sure that people feel comfortable to open up and talk about what they’re going through. How can we make this happen? How can we provide a safe space for them? It’s a very sensitive subject, we can’t just be like, “You’ll be fine, everything is great.” – it doesn’t work like that.

I believe it’s all about education. We need to educate others to make them understand it is okay to talk about your problems with a friend or a professional, and be open to say, “I’m not fine, I need help.” But it’s hard, it’s very hard.

We know students go through challenging times when they’re at uni, working on lots of different projects and balancing their personal lives with their studies. What kept you going during the tough times?

My family and my friends — they were the biggest support for me. I’m lucky to have people who are always there for me, anytime. Also knowing that everything is going to be fine, that this is not the end. There’s always a way out.

What piece of advice would you give to someone who’s now at uni and maybe going through a hard time?

It’s difficult because we are all so different. But I would say, find a friend and talk to them. I know it’s hard, but sometimes it’s better to speak to someone who you trust and open up. Put down your thoughts in a notebook, that also helps a lot, and analyse yourself and think what makes you happy. Take a walk, make sure you take breaks – this is crucial! You shouldn’t blame yourself for eating, for sleeping, for drinking water. You still need to live your life, do your work and enjoy it. And remember everything will be fine.

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