As Yves Saint Laurent once said, “fashion fades, but style is eternal.”[1] In this age of live-streamed shows at London Fashion Week and apps that tell you where your favourite fashionistas shop so you can buy buy buy quick quick quick, this saying feels more appropriate than ever. Fluffy slides and appliqué denim will soon be lining the bins of next year: disposable clothing is firmly en vogue.

Yet, amongst all the aforementioned Insta style, I found the anathema to this consumer culture in the form of a blog called Made My Wardrobe. Written by designer and seamstress Lydia Higginson, Made My Wardrobe details how she spent 2016 creating a new set of clothes for herself in preparation to get rid of all her shop-bought clothes on the first day of 2017. Trained at Prangsta Costumiers in London, Higginson spent two years honing her craft, fashioning garments for all areas of the arts, including theatre, film, and circus. This versatility shines through in her work: aside from knitted goods and waterproofs, every single item in her current wardrobe (including underwear and athletic wear) is made by her own hand. Having feasted my eyes upon her work, I was lucky enough to conduct an interview with Higginson and started with asking why she decided to put the focus onto her own clothes, as opposed to those of potential customers.

Sure enough, her reasons for taking on this mammoth task are as complex as her designs: this is no vanity project. After watching Andrew Morgan’s 2015 documentary The True Cost and realising how our world of fast moving and disposable fashion has come at a huge human and environmental price, she took on her own “small way of protesting” through making a wardrobe that is both sourced and produced ethically. However, these garments are not a throwback to ill-fitting muslin and itchy untreated wool. Higginson espouses using the most luxurious fabrics she can find, particularly fond of silk for its temperature-regulating properties and the fact that it “drapes like a dream.” Furthermore, the attention-to-detail and on-trend nature of her designs mean that she lacks the naivety that often befalls eco-fashion: even the most environmentally-conscious fashionista still wants the emphasis to fall on “fashionista.”

This worldliness appears to come from the Made My Wardrobe view of the society itself. When I ask about her influences, Higginson instead immediately invites me to her dream dinner party, made up of the individuals that inspire her. Looking at that guest list, this is not your usual designer’s fare, but makes total sense when admiring her work. Her guests would include Ozwald Boateng, (look at the sharp tailoring of the Grey Silk Trouser[2]) Michelle Obama (as seen in the Navy Crepe Jumpsuit,[3] which Higginson says makes her feel like she can do anything) and Benazir Bhutto. Whilst the inclusion of the late Pakistani president could feel surprising, further examination of the feminist influence in Higginson’s work begs to differ, especially when looking at the corsets she created for the project, and the corsetry workshops that she is now running in Bristol[4]. As she explains, corsets have been instrumental over the last 500 years when considering the social, political and economic history of women. Formerly examples of female repression, rather than a celebration of a woman’s form, Higginson seeks to reclaim the style and reinvent it as a celebration of feminism and a woman’s power. On top of this, the collection is replete with Higginson’s signature embroidery: another aspect of womenswear which had been previously considered as merely “craft”[5] and frequently touted as a symbol of the female subordination by patriarchal society.[6] The clothing in the collection has breathed new life into an ancient art form through the use of a free-machining technique and intricate beadwork. On top of this, the fact that Higginson’s embroidery expertise came from being mentored by a fellow woman designer and creative (Louise Gardiner) makes this renaissance of a much-maligned technique even more of a boon to Higginson’s stunning designs.

 

Made My Wardrobe is an idea with a strong social conscience behind it, but this never detracts either from Higginson’s artistic ability as a designer or her appreciation for the medium itself. When asked to describe what her creative power means to her, she speaks of the way it “opens her capacity for joy” and how it has been “informing and illuminating” her current life choices, with regards to the clothing that she creates and the workshops she runs. Listening to her talking about the process of constructing a corset (with its cording, boning and eyelets) or the influence of Kitsungi (the Japanese process of repairing broken pottery with gold) it is clear that Higginson’s pleasure in the abstract also translates into the practical.

Her sartorial interpretation of Kitsungi uses gold silk to fix clothes that are not quite perfect, redressing their mistakes and turning them into something beautiful. This theme of healing fits the Made My Wardrobe project perfectly. In her penultimate blog post, Higginson detailed exactly what she had achieved in 2016[7] but also revealed another reason for the project: in 2012, she endured a traumatic assault (Higginson goes into further details, which may be triggering for sexual assault survivors, on her previously-linked blog). This horrific ordeal led to struggles with severe PTSD and left Higginson with a feeling of trying to escape from herself. Unable to continue reliving the experience, she made the monumentally brave decision to try and “move through it,” with the next step being to give herself what she calls “a new set of healing armour.” This idea of clothing as of a form of protection and self-care is something about which Higginson speaks passionately: the project has enabled her to “remedy the numbness and fear” that she previously felt as well as design clothes that “cocoon” her in her “own vision” rather than the clichéd fantasies of others.

Just like Frida Kahlo, another of her ideal dinner guests, Higginson has produced art that stems from her love of design and creative flair, whilst at the same time prompted by her fight back against various environmental, mental, and physical hardships. Higginson’s Made My Wardrobe collection demonstrates her dedication to her art, her expertise in each stage of the conception and construction of her garments, and also the deeper meaning and self-love behind each stitch and bolt of fabric. The wardrobe she has created is thus as deeply personal as it is beautiful; you can’t get that on the high street.

[1] Harper’s Bazaar UK, “Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal”, Harper’s Bazaar, 9th July 2015. http://www.harpersbazaar.co.uk/fashion/fashion-news/news/a34938/yves-saint-laurent-style-is-eternal/

[2] Lydia Higginson, “The Grey Silk Trouser”, Made My Wardrobe, http://mademywardrobe.com/blog/2016/4/1/the-grey-silk-trouser

[3] Lydia Higginson, “The Navy Crepe Jumpsuit”, Made My Wardrobe http://mademywardrobe.com/blog//the-navy-crepe-jumpsuit

[4] Lydia Higginson, “Corsetry Course”, Made My Wardrobe http://mademywardrobe.com/workshop/corsetry-course

[5] Louisa Buck, “Exploding the possibilities of thread: 40 female artists showcase textile work at Entangled in Margate, 10th March 2017. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/luxury/art/entangled-threads-making-turner-contemporary-margate-review/

[6]Mihoko Suzuki, Subordinate Subjects: Gender, the Political Nation, and Literary Form in England, 1588-1688, (Routledge, 2017).

[7] 16 pairs of knickers, 5 bras, 3 corsets, 11 tops, 6 jumpers, 2 jackets, 2 coats, 1 gilet, 4 skirts, 10 pairs of trousers, 3 pairs of leggings, 2 playsuits and 1 jumpsuit