Alexander McQueen Travels to Wales For a Community Youth Project

by Violet Conroy on 13 December 2021

Creative director Charlotte James and photographer Clémentine Schneidermann of Ffasiwn Stiwdio teamed up with the British brand on a youth community project in Wales for young girls.

Creative director Charlotte James and photographer Clémentine Schneidermann of Ffasiwn Stiwdio teamed up with the British brand on a youth community project in Wales for young girls.

Community is a word thrown around so often in fashion that it has become practically meaningless. Desperate to cling onto notions of authenticity and narrative, fashion houses cash in on alternative, niche communities to sell their clothes. These campaigns are often facile and fleeting in nature – the subjects are there to be photographed and profited off of, rarely listened to. But a new book, fashion film and short documentary by British brand Alexander McQueen called Last Summer in Wales proves that jumping on the community bandwagon can be genuine, if only it is done properly.

Photo by Clémentine Schneidermann for Alexander McQueen

In the summer of 2020, McQueen teamed up with Welsh creative director Charlotte James and French photographer Clémentine Schneidermann to create a series of fashion, customisation and photography workshops for young people in Brynmawr and Merthyr Tydfil (two separate towns in Wales). James and Schneidermann have been working together for six years on a project called Ffasiwn Stiwdio, which they describe simply as a 'photographic and social project in Wales with young people.' Their bizarre, charming images often feel like a Welsh version of Edward Scissorhands, except all of the characters are under the age of 17; young, rosy-cheeked children in pastel-coloured clothes are backdropped by the pebbledash houses, heavenly valleys and quaint roadsides of South Wales.

Creative director Sarah Burton has a thing for Wales; her Alexander McQueen A/W 20 womenswear collection was an ode to the rich landscape, crafts, poetry and literature of the country. After being introduced to the work of Ffasiwn Stiwdio, she seized the opportunity to create a creative educational project honouring her inspiration for the show. After the McQueen team travelled to Wales to hold the fashion workshops, Last Summer in Wales culminated in a four-day shoot where school-age girls donned lavender Alexander McQueen dresses (designed with Caitlyn Thomas in mind, wife of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas) in mossy highlands, shingle beaches and twee villages.

Photo by Clémentine Schneidermann for Alexander McQueen

'To us, fashion has never been a goal in itself, but more an excuse to generate ideas and opportunities,' says Schneidermann of the project. 'We try to raise an awareness, and sense of familiarity with creative skills and art in general through the workshops and the photography shoots.'

As a brand, Alexander McQueen has always been committed to fashion education. In 2006, the late Lee Alexander McQueen set up Sarabande, a charitable foundation which utilised the majority of his estate to support future designers and artists; Stefan Cooke, Craig Green, Molly Goddard and Michaela Stark have all had residencies there. On the top floor of the two-year old Alexander McQueen flagship store on Old Bond street, Burton has hosted a number of small exhibitions ranging from the influence of the rose on fashion to the pagan inspiration behind the brand's S/S 19 collection. Since 2019, the brand has also hosted a scheme to donate and redistribute leftover materials for student collections, tapping into the trend for upcycled garments in the process.

Sketchbook by Amber

Plus, fashion education has holistic benefits. 'I also enjoyed the project because they was really supportive in helping us know what we wanted to know but most of all I enjoyed decorating my shoes it was an amazing experience,' writes a young girl called Amber in her journal. Children also make for notoriously good fashion subjects, with their untarnished sincerity and gangly awkwardness – just think of Jamie Hawkesworth's gentle portrait of a young, doll-faced girl in a pink raincoat in the Shetland Islands. The creative input of the young Welsh girls and boys was also paramount; they customised hats, embroidered photographs, and took behind-the-scenes Polaroids at the shoot. 'I like going to different places for like, photos and that,' says one young girl in the documentary short. 'Cause there are some places I've never been and you'd never think to go.' Thanks to Alexander McQueen and Ffasiwn Stiwdio, she finally found her reason.

Photo by Clémentine Schneidermann for Alexander McQueen



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