Contour Fashion exhibition celebrates 70 years at the cutting edge

For 70 years De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has led the way in Contour Fashion, training designers who have wowed the industry, dressed the stars and set global fashion trends.

Contour HCentre

Now a new exhibition devoted to its decades of fashion is opening on campus to celebrate this historic anniversary year.

DMU Heritage Centre is being transformed into a fashionista’s paradise as it showcases student work from the past 70 years alongside current work and future trends as predicted by course leader Gillian Proctor.

The School of Corsetry within the Leicester College of Art (predecessor to DMU) was founded in 1947 by the Corsetry Guild of Great Britain as part of a post-Second World War effort to inspire an upswing in local designers.

Before this course, many fashion manufacturers took their lead from the contour houses of Paris and America. The contour fashion course, with its emphasis on design flair as well as technical expertise, marked a new era for British fashion, training generations of designers who would change the face of the intimate apparel industry.

Now known as a BA (Hons) Degree Course, Contour Fashion has become widely praised by industry experts and is considered to be one of the best in the world.
Over the past 70 years, thousands of students have dared to push creative and technological boundaries, contributing to the evolution and accomplishment of this celebrated programme. This exhibition will revisit some of the course's most memorable moments as well as showcase pieces of contemporary student work.

In the temporary gallery is the Symington Collection, a rare insight into some of the ground-breaking garments produced by R. & W.H Symington & Co. archive. This is a comprehensive collection of fashionable corsetry, foundation wear and swimwear supported by advertising material, photographs, factory equipment and recorded memories.

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In many ways, says curator Elizabeth Wheelband, the exhibition - Symington in particular - tells the story of women’s emancipation.

She said: “If you think about the clothes that were worn in Victorian times, women were in restrictive whalebone corsets, and wearing these heavy, voluminous undergarments. They would even swim fully clothed.

“Gradually, with dress reform and changing attitudes on the active woman we see changes in foundation wear design and fabric technology – which needs to cope with women going cycling, playing tennis and becoming more physically active in the late Victorian and Edwardian era.

“The First World War brings about an immense change in outerwear fashion and by the 1920s, women don’t want the curvy silhouette - they want shapeless, flat-chested clothes to complement their looser fitting dresses, the 30s popularises the bra and girdle and by the time DMU begins its Contour Fashion degree in 1947, it was all about using as little fabric as possible because of rationing.”
This exhibition will look at a range of garments from the collection, focusing on those which showcase pioneering designs or technological advancements that influenced the foundations of fashion.

It is being run in partnership with Leicestershire Museums Service and is based on the book Foundations of Fashion: the Symington Corsetry Collection 1860 - 1990, by Philip Warren and Sarah Nicol.
Posted on Friday 15th September 2017

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