Originally written for a competition
I had envisaged interviewing Jenny Beck in a quaint café, over a steaming pile of waffles or an inviting coffee, but no such luck – a speedy jaunt to Glasgow for her cousin’s wedding and she’s back to the Scottish Borders to immerse herself in her Fashion Technology degree collection. As an arts student, I’ve always been fascinated by the practical emphasis and experience required of fashion students; the pressures and excitements of creation and design, upon which Jenny is keen to elaborate.
During a quick meet-up, Jenny describes her university’s fashion campus as a very intensive bubble; located in the small Borders town of Galashiels, removed from the vibrancy of Scotland’s artistic capitals, its placement seems incongruous, but Jenny stresses the helpfulness of the setting, insisting that the concentration of like-minded people makes it easier to focus on her work. This is a statement which becomes increasingly evident as she describes her extensive assignments and demanding timetable, including a university trip to Paris in February which she explained was ‘informative, intense and intimidating’. She continues: ‘While it was amazing to see, it really hit home how much we would have to do to stand out in the industry and how close we were to actually being out there’. Most memorable experience? ‘Walking by people ordering 20,000 meters of fabric was definitely a shock!’
As a Fashion Technology student, Jenny’s course focuses upon such varied topics as textiles, production management and garment technology, in addition to her upcoming design and development project. Her collection is a muted set of four outfits in plush velvet and silk, and cosy wool, inspired by the silent films of the 20s and 30s: her vision of its wearer, an upper-class woman in her wintry country estate, is a vivid dream that concisely summarises Jenny’s fashion visions and inspirations. The designs are infused with a genuine appreciation of fashion’s historical heritage, focusing upon embellishment and texture in the obvious absence of colour, and driven by an essential grasp of the importance of character when envisioning a collection.
For as long as I’ve known Jenny, clothes of all kinds have been her driving passion: as teenagers, we bonded over a mutual love of Luella (although now she prefers Rodarte, which she describes as ‘wearable pieces of art’) and eighteenth century dresses (this interest is apparent in the ‘fussy’ trimmings in her work’s otherwise minimal silhouette), and I can’t count the numerous occasions I’ve heard her enthuse about costume design, and the Cinderella re-telling Ever After in particular. She cites the latter as a massive influence – the idea that one beautiful dress can transform everything – and her description of fashion as the adult version of child’s dress up is particularly emblematic of Jenny’s enthusiasm: the chance to invent yourself piece by piece and communicate your identity instantaneously is an endless inspiration.
But despite her Fashion Technology background and training, it’s costume design that has always captured her imagination – does this pose a future difficulty for her dream career path? Jenny doesn’t believe so: ‘I think a lot of people go to university into expecting they’ll open their own label and be the next Alexander McQueen but by the end of it they realise that there are so many other roles’. She emphasises the wide variation of the fashion industry and the range of career paths, indicating that her interest in costume is by no means unusual for a Fashion Technology student, but she’s always keen to expand her skills and learning in any direction because of the necessary flexibility that costuming requires. Jenny’s immediate post-graduation aim is to work for a theatre’s costume department; but her ultimate career goal is to either open her own costume company or become a costume designer and consultant, an exciting vision that fits perfectly with her long-held passion and zeal.
Her dedication is apparent: she devotes her spare time to constructing historical garments such as corsets, and when she’s not engrossed in TV and film (particularly period dramas) or books and magazines, she likes to sew and embroider. Jenny admits that ‘a lot of my time is spent in some form of creation – I feel restless if I go too long without making something’, whether it’s an exquisite, intricate carnival-themed Halloween costume or fun slogan t-shirts for friends’ birthdays: ‘Who needs gender roles when you have sushi rolls?’ I ask about a particular collection or outfit that has genuinely inspired her, and, without hesitating, Jenny begins to talk passionately about Marc Jacob’s 2010 autumn/winter collection for Louis Vuitton: ‘it was all lady-like circle skirts and nipped in waists, very relatable and feminine, like an old Hollywood film. I loved it – all the looks were pure costume’. And an inviting mix of fashion and costume is precisely what Jenny Beck does best.