What's in your wardrobe?

11th July 2008 at 01:00
It was the first day of the school holidays, but six S2 girls from Graeme High in Falkirk and their art teacher, Audrey Duguid, were not chilling out at home

It was the first day of the school holidays, but six S2 girls from Graeme High in Falkirk and their art teacher, Audrey Duguid, were not chilling out at home. They were taking part in the launch of Pret-a- Porter, a major new exhibition of mid-20th century costume at Falkirk's Callendar House museum.

The clothes and accessories in the show come from the extra-ordinary wardrobe of Ailsa Porter, a modern languages graduate who, after leaving university, worked as an airline stewardess during the glamour days of the 1950s. Now aged 80, Mrs Porter made many of her own outfits, using high- quality fabrics and designer dress patterns.

As a tie-in with the exhibition, Gillian Smith, the arts development officer for Falkirk Council, invited Graeme High to take part in a design project to produce 21st-century outfits based on one of the patterns from the Ailsa Porter collection. The six girls and Ms Duguid worked with dress designer Dawn Wright for five weeks to create six very different looks from the same pattern, and then modelled them at a fashion show for the launch.

"The project was a great opportunity for the pupils to work with a professional designer and develop a new range of practical and creative skills," says Ms Duguid. "They only had five weeks, but they rose to the challenge and I'm very proud of them."

The exhibition, which runs until October 18, features more than 20 outfits from Mrs Porter's wardrobe, either made by her or bought in the high- street shops of the day. SpringSummer clothes will be showing until August 31 and will then be replaced by AutumnWinter outfits.

Set out in fashion-catwalk style, complemented by hats, shoes, bags and dress patterns, the current range of outfits includes the summer uniform that Mrs Porter wore when she was a stewardess with British European Airways, flying the glamorous first-class and Mediterranean routes.

As visitors can hear from a recorded interview with Mrs Porter by exhibition curator Emma Roodhouse, the early 1950s was "a lovely time to be a stewardess. For many people, it was their first flight and they thought we were very glamorous. Some passengers were blase and they would click their fingers at us. But it was in vain, I may say, because you didn't click your fingers at a Scottish stewardess!"

Mrs Porter taught herself to sew and was making "very elegant dolls' clothes" from an early age. "Making your own clothes in the 1950s and '60s wasn't unusual," she says. "It was a cost-effective way of having the latest styles. But I don't make clothes nowadays. I tend to live in dark trousers and wellies or sandals."

Mrs Porter's wardrobe has also inspired new work from professional artists Susan Cutts and Julie Douglas. Their installations on a clothing theme, "How Do I Look in This?", are running until July 27 at the Park Gallery, Falkirk Council's contemporary art and craft space in Callendar Park, a short walk from Callendar House.

Examining the significance of clothing worn as a uniform, Susan Cutts has created a year's worth of identical, Barbie doll-sized "little black dresses", moulded from paper and displayed on miniature hangers in miniature cardboard box wardrobes.

Julie Douglas's work includes a fabulous evening gown which, at first glance, appears to be made from chain mail but has actually been fashioned from the metal springs of 12,500 wooden clothes pegs.

T 01324 503789.

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