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Possibilities on parade

For the first time, Edinburgh College of Art has opened its annual fashion show to schools for pupils to see the exciting opportunities in design, writes Anne Cowan.

In a dazzling display of colour, light, music and movement, Edinburgh College of Art students of fashion and performance costume showed off their work in five performances sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

This year the college also staged a preview of its annual fashion show especially for schools and colleges at the instigation of Robert Gillan, the head of textiles, fashion and performance costume.

"When I was at school at Trinity High in Cambuslang, Glasgow, we had a great art teacher called Hugh McGrady," he says. "He really did stimulate my interest in art and design by taking us to the degree show at Glasgow School of Art every year.

"Now I have the chance to make kids aware of the opportunities open to them if they want to study fashion. Fashion is not elitist; it can be accessed by anyone."

First on stage was the graduating fashion class, with the theme "I've Gone Dancin' ". Their collections ranged from Jill Robertson's relaxed lines in soft, warm fabrics to Mhairi Ann Mustard's eccentric half skirts, mini and maxi aprons in flimsy materials. Kim Coutts teamed antique lace with denim and Emma McPherson's garments, folded and studded in odd places, were versatile in length and shape. The limited black and white palette of Yong Hei Fong, the only man in the class, worked well in a series of striking styles. By contrast, Lisa Quinn's sun dresses came in 1970s retro floral prints.

The performance costume was as exaggerated and dramatic as you might expect. Something like a cross between an 18th-century chair and Madame de Pompadour, the Queen of Hearts dripping cards and haughtiness and a tall, three-faced figure made an entrance. To see the dark, masculine tailoring of Jane Diggle's Count Dracula was refreshing.

Nineteen schools and colleges sent 300 spectators in parties numbering up to 44 to the show. There the pupils got more than a polished catwalk show by professional models in the classical setting of the Sculpture Court. There was also the experience of being in a prestigious art college.

"I'll have to change my image when I'm a student," joked Karen Roberts, who starts an HNC art and design course at Glenrothes College next term. She was with Laura Bryan and Shelley Smith and their art teacher, Lesley Mellon, from Kirkcaldy High.

Ms Mellon was enthusiastic about the value of the visit; her only regret was that the pupils hadn't had this opportunity in S3 or S4 instead of their last year.

"It was a great show, not as outrageous as I'd expected, with some easily wearable clothes," she said. "We saw how they played with fabric and beautiful colour combinations, the subtle and the bold.

"In future I hope to bring younger pupils. There are real benefits to be had from forging more links with tertiary education."

Morag Muego, the principal teacher of art and design at Peebles High, said:

"Some of my pupils have just completed examwork on the theme of textilecostume design. The majority, however, are about to start on a new design unit involving costume for a fictional film. I am sure that the ECA fashion show was the most exciting and dramatic stimulus I could give them, as well as a showcase for the possibilities of studying fashion at degree level."

Sheila MacConnachie, an art teacher at Peebles High, was equally keen. "The performance costume was particularly interesting and innovative and the whole show was very impressive and exciting. The standard was extremely high, an inspiration."

Third year Peebles High pupil Sophie Tait said: "I loved how every costume was completely individual and beautifully made."

"The way the designers used the materials was fascinating," added Nicola Brown.

Kate Pearson liked the performance costumes best: "They were incredibly imaginative."

Lauren Mapp liked the Jill Robertson collection, "a contrast of neutral coloured tops and skirts with bright tights".

Different and daring, amusing and original, a great show - that was the verdict of some S3 girls from Langholm Academy in Dumfries and Galloway.

S6 pupils Katy MacLachlan and Alanna Beaton, from Lochaber High in Fort William, will start degree courses at Edinburgh College of Art this autumn (along with two others in the sixth year) and after the first year they plan to specialise in fashion and textile design. They saw the catwalk performance with art teacher Judy Drever and were able to compare it with their own school fashion show the week before.

The school creations were Higher and Advanced Higher work for presentation to the SQA. "Designing clothes was the easy bit; making them up more difficult," said Alanna. "But we raised pound;900 to buy a computerised sewing machine for the art department."

Katy said: "I think that to be successful in fashion or textile design you have to be slightly obsessive about it and work hard. The Higher and Advanced Higher courses encourage this because you tend to work a lot on your own.

"I'm looking forward to going to ECA because I want a chance to develop my work more. I'd like to pursue a career in fashion or textile design. I realise it is very competitive and I want that challenge."

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