Embodying Universal Bodies: Ageing

WORDS BELLA WEBB

LOOKBOOK IMAGES ZIYUAN CHEN

Now in its ninth year, MFA Fashion Design & Society at Parsons is a leading course for emerging designers, helmed by fashion stalwarts Shelley Fox and Joffrey Moolhuizen (JOFF). This year, the first-year students took on a new challenge, intended to push the progressive, multidisciplinary approach of the course further. ‘Embodying Universal Bodies’ put a new spin on the ‘Personal Identity’ project that normally sees students examining their own place in the world. You can read about the motivation and meaning behind the project here

The class of 17 was divided into four groups, addressing the ageing, transgender, plus size and disabled communities. They then had to find a muse from their given community, and work with them to fill the voids left by other fashion designers’ privileges. This is what went down in the Ageing group.

The muse: Lyn Slater (she/her)

The design team: Vera Blinova, Jihoon Kim, Ying Feng, Zehua Wu 

LYN SLATER: “I began my relationship with clothes before fast fashion and I always understood that clothing allowed you to express your identity in a very profound way; it allowed me to tell stories, rebel and contain memories. This function has been lost in the acceleration of fashion and social media. But this project brought back the notion of having a deeply affective relationship with your clothes because they so represent who you are or wish to be.  The clothes designed for me by the students made me feel known, seen and heard. I recently retired from academia and missed my students. Working with younger people and solving this problem together reminded me of the utility of intergenerational collaboration, deep listening and mutual respect.”

LYN SLATER: “Usually, garments made for ageing bodies are not modern or representative because they do not take into consideration the disconnect between the internal experiences of older people and the reality of their physical bodies. Internally, age is a fluid experience. Many older people still feel youthful and engaged. My body may be ‘disintegrating’, but the designers used textiles that showed how beautiful this process is. The clothes were not retro, but modern, and they conveyed the sexuality and rebellious spirit I still feel.”

VERA BLINOVA: “I usually rely on my own experience in design, but I haven’t experienced ageing much, so I interviewed lots of older people about what would help them in their daily lives. I realised they didn’t need help, which is where the concept of age fluidity and celebration formed. It was crucial to break those stereotypes in my head.” 

ZEHUA WU: “Prepare good questions and speak to the people you are designing for. The human body is diverse and we should aim to provide everybody with choices.”

YING FENG: “Our identities are constantly changing. As people age, it’s fascinating to see the layers of their identity and memories reflected in the clothes they wear.”

JIHOON KIM: “I grew up in Asia, where the media always depicts the ageing population as sick and helpless, so I had a lot of negative associations with ageing before this project. Overcoming that was my biggest challenge. The fashion industry has a standardised body image, which is young and skinny, with two arms and two legs. This excludes so many people and increases discrimination.”