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Practicing Life – Curated by Helen Storey and Keara Stewart

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Published date 08 February 2018

For the duration of January and February 2018, LCF Library’s display cases are exhibiting the work of Professor Helen Storey alongside embroidery books from Special Collections. Professor Helen Storey MBE RDI is an award winning British artist and designer. She is Professor of Fashion and Science at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London, London College of Fashion and Co-Director of The Helen Storey Foundation.

Helen Storey in Za’atari. Photo: Saida Bruce.

I was inspired after hearing Helen presenting her work in Za’atari Refugee Camp at the LCF Better Lives Society Lecture and the LCF Passagens event and wanted to find a way I could contribute in some small way. I emailed Helen initially to see if she would be interested in curating or co-curating a display in LCF Library and Practicing life is the result of Helen’s generosity with her time and in loaning items to us to exhibit in LCF Library.

Jax Cartoon in the Context Cabinet. Photo: Keara Stewart.

The three cabinets in the display are divided into different areas. The context cabinet shows a range of different solo and collaborative projects by Helen Storey and her Foundation, including the Plastic is Precious collaboration with Bill Amberg. Some of the books on display, including Fighting Fashion and Glasstress: white light, white heat are from Helen’s own collection but we have copies available for staff and students to view through LCF Special Collections. Also in this cabinet, Helen Storey’s Disappearing Dresses are immortalised in a JAK Cartoon, of which Helen has said “Although this Jak cartoon was meant to show up how ridiculous fashion can sometimes be, I loved it. Fashion can be such a strong provocateur in culturally dull times and young designers sometimes have to be canny and risk ridicule to keep their brand in the media.” Helen Storey’s article for Vogue in December 2008, on display here, talks more about the Disappearing Dresses, ‘From the outset, we decided to deploy the power of fashion to open the door to the wider debate – to dazzle our audiences, but also to challenge them to consider just what happens to all the “stuff” we consume. Hence the disappearing dresses became a metaphor for our disappearing world.’

Current Projects cabinet. Photo: Keara Stewart.

The Current Projects cabinet is filled with precious items. On display is the original LOVECOAT prototype from the LOVECOATs project that Helen and Jax Black brought to Za’atari. You can find out more about it here. The Dress for Our Time bolero has been loaned to us for this display. As with the dress, it is made from a decommissioned refugee tent that once housed a family of displaced people at Za’atari Camp in Jordan, and was gifted by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). This is a powerful example of how fashion can be used to communicate global issues such as displacement. Next to the bolero is a copy of a new UAL pamphlet, World-Leading Research from UAL: Dress For Our Time and a copy of The Road: World Refugees Magazine. Lastly in this cabinet are cloth messages from the TIGER Girls (‘These inspiring girls enjoy reading’ – a group of 1,250 young refugee girls at Za’atari Camp Jordan, who lead the way in education for girls.) These messages were kindly translated for us by LCF Student Ammar Saker.

Future Embroidery project cabinet. Photo: Keara Stewart.

The Future Embroidery Project cabinet gives us an insight into Helen Storey’s upcoming work: ‘In 2018 Helen and her collaborators are beginning a new project with the women of Za’atari. Adding to the wealth of making skills the women already hold, they will be exploring how a ‘new stitch’ might mark this period of history and on a practical note, how this ‘new stitch of Za’atari’ might be developed into projects for the women to make and sell.’ I selected a range a of embroidery books from our wealth of embroidery titles in LCF Special Collections, to highlight different types of stitches from various countries and areas across the world. We also invited Caryn Franklin M.B.E. MSc (Psych) MBPsS if she would be interested in creating a ‘hope’ embroidery for the display and she kindly agreed. Caryn’s work has involved refugees in battle zones, workers in free-trade-zone slums, mental health experts, MPs and Government Ministers and of course the fashion industry’s innovators. Caryn’s colourful embroidery can be seen alongside my own embroidered contribution, against the display backdrop of Scandinavian stitch patterns.

HOPE embroidery by Keara Stewart.

This display was a great opportunity for me to learn more about Helen Storey’s vital work. I hope it has brought her projects in Za’atari to the attention of more staff and students visiting LCF Library and that it will inspire people to think more about the ways that fashion can be used to create positive change.

If you would like to view any of the embroidery books on display, please email:

If you would like any further information about the display, please contact:

Blog written by Keara Stewart