The sublimation of fear in fashion, New Waves: Grace Prince
“Show me crinkled skin born from sleepless nights and smiles worn wide” demands the first verse of the poem which Megan Beech wrote to accompany Grace Prince’s Central Saint Martins BA graduate collection. Fear of ageing was the emotion which acted as a trigger for her sculptural final project: Through an intense journey of critical assessment and self discovery, Grace beautifully sublimated her worries about the stigmatized process of growing old into an artistic practice.
“I needed to be completely honest and realise an underlying fear about my own body. Through this I realised that a fear I had as a woman was how I felt such a numbing pressure to accomplish so much before I have a family, because then my career or goals might have to be shifted to one side, or at least interrupted. I also felt such a pressure to enjoy my body whilst I was young, because I saw so many women around me yearn for it and try to recreate it after childbirth or as age increases. I felt my body was biologically a ticking time bomb, and I knew a lot of women who felt the same.”
The fear of ageing is very often accompanied by questions of identity. This is mainly because it is a silent cultural statement that when a female loses the attractiveness of the youth she also loses her function in society. Such function appears, at least in an implicit way, linked to reproduction. Grace explains the statuesque scenery of her designs as “if a marble sculpture were exploding” —an ideal female marble figure in the moment of collapse. “Fracturing” and “unpackaging” are two empowering activities of deconstruction (as well as of unlearning) which were essential in her creative process. From the fracture that comes from the dismantling of the ideal of youth, explains Grace, the flesh emerges as “brutal nature” an idea that she translates as “being a completely honest body, which gladly faces reality”.
¨I DON’T BELIEVE IT’S ENOUGH TO JUST KNOW WHAT BEAUTY IS AND GO FROM THERE, I THINK IT IS STILL NECESSARY TO DIG TO THE ROOT TO REALLY FIND WHAT BEAUTY MEANS AND REPRESENTS FOR YOU PERSONALLY.”
“The most important and arguably the only role an artist has is to question everything. An intense process of questioning is needed in order to see a modernist and future-driven perspective. As I feel it is only when you dive deep enough to understand the root of the issue that you feel able to free (or attach) yourself from the convention, because you don’t agree (or do agree) with where it came from. Therefore I don’t believe it’s enough to just know what beauty is and go from there, I think it is still necessary to dig to the root to really find what beauty means and represents for you personally. An obvious example of doing this would be how fur is often considered as beautiful without it being questioned. If it was questioned and its origins understood, then I think it would be defined very differently and most likely wouldn’t be perceived as beautiful anymore.”
Combining abstract shapes, Grace also dealt with the difficult task of making familiar for the viewer, that is to say not aesthetically aggressive, those female forms which the media hides, treats as abject. She did this by focussing on four areas of a female body; sagging boobs, sagging bellies after birth, wrinkled skin and unshaven hair. Taking her time and the predisposition to enjoy the ritual of production, she experimented with different paint effects, drawn lines, natural dyes and textures. In order to represent wrinkles, for instance, she experimented “by mixing marble dust with acrylic paint to get the rough cracking texture”. Every detail is meaningful for the young designer, who understands fashion as an artistic practice which is simultaneously personal and political: “I have always struggled with how I feel fashion is a form of sculpture and art but not enough collections have progressive cultural conquests as their core objective. Therefore I needed my project to have a future driven goal. And I thought; fashion is surely all about how to translate the body standing underneath, so there is no subject more aligning I could address than to think about how I personally feel a woman’s bodies should be perceived.”
“IT WAS ALSO IMPORTANT TO ME THAT THE WOMAN I PICKED WOULD HAVE A DEEPER BACKGROUND, I SUPPOSE IN ORDER TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN A ‘WHITE CANVAS AND THE MODEL WITH FLESH AND TESTIMONY.”
When she talks about the models who collaborated in embodying her ideas, we understand that for her the figure of the model is far from being a mannequin, a white canvas waiting for the intervention of a “creator”. On the contrary, she refers to them as inspiring flesh with testimony. What causes her fascination is their powerful and balanced presence:
“The first was Kate, I met her in my yoga class, she was late that day and her powerful and elegant presence drew everyone to look at her as she entered. I immediately liked the feel of her. But it was also important to me that the woman I picked would have a deeper background, I suppose in order to differentiate between a ‘white canvas and the model with flesh and testimony’. Kate turned out to be an actress as well as directing her own plays, clearly with much passion as she has chosen not to retire edging into her 70s. The second was Anne Marie, who subsequently became the muse for the project, she was a friend of a friend. Anne-Marie had gone through a mastectomy making her even more perfect for the project; representing a woman who has experienced the brutality of nature and still remains strikingly strong in the way she holds herself. She immediately showed this, especially in front of the camera, her leathery skin and posture was wonderfully unique to me. She is an academic, who studied a lot in her past and now being in her 60s is constantly reading about history and travelling the world collecting antiques.”
These models directly point out the women referents we lack since they are not shown to us. We crave landmarks which can tranquilize us about the passing of the time over our bodies; we need to see the live image of confidence and pleasure in age. On the other side, the fantasy of the eternal young woman —always seductive and made for the satisfaction of the gaze of the other— is no longer a promise of future for young creatives, but of disempowerment.
From Grace’s perspective, to introduce the new means to offer alternatives to narrow impositions, new approaches to conceptualize the body and to conceive existence. In her clothes, she materialized debates around matters as important as gender conventions and sustainable production. The result of this effort is resounding: she has overcome fear. “After using this year to question my fear, I now feel completely freed of these concerns. I now feel self-reassured”.