Catriona Smith is a Scotland based, recent Fashion Technology graduate. The aim of her Honours Project was to bring to light the need for a more inclusive fashion. In particular disability-inclusive fashion. HEAVENLY BODIES is a collection of eveningwear for women WITHOUT and WITH disabilities. Her work has been featured in the November issue of Harper’s Bazaar as part of our 2020 Global Young Talents!
1. You’ve graduated from the Heriot-Watt University in 2020, what prompted you to pursue a degree in Fashion, and more specifically Fashion Technology?
From a very young age I loved drawing and creating different outfits for different characters that I thought, I liked how their clothes tell the story of their personality. One of my favourite subjects in high school was art and this lead to numerous projects which were all fashion related. I lacked sewing skills, so the pieces I would create would be made from scrap fabric, spray painted card, styro-foam sheets, beads, etc. that would be pinned and glued together to create the exaggerated silhouettes I had in mind. I loved the new area of creativity that I now knew, art could be worn on the body and this sparked a whole new love for the creative subject.
"From a very young age I loved drawing and creating different outfits for different characters that I thought, I liked how their clothes tell the story of their personality."
2. With your graduate collection, you aim to create looks for both people with and without impairments, why did you decide to work around such a deep topic, and how does your collection promote inclusivity?
I was heavily inspired by two disabled rights activists who I followed on Instagram, Sinéad Burke and the late Mama Cax (Cacsmy Brutus). I watched Burke’s TED TALK “Why design should include everyone.” One of the things she said in an interview with Seth Meyers is that “I always understood the power of fashion. It is the one industry that we each legally have to interact with. Yet it was something I could never access because I was never included in the system.” She talked about how “If fashion took a step forward, particularly around disability and activism that every other industry would follow, because it shapes politics, legislations, culture and sport. There is no other industry that tangibly connects everything together.
3. Your collection is highly technical, and incorporates many intricate detailing and complicated constructions, how can we imagine the design process and what challenges did you face?
It was challenging making a design that was aesthetic and flattering while still being fully functional for someone with different abilities. I wanted to keep the added details inconspicuous and comfortable for able-bodied people who don’t require the function of these added details as much. For example, the poppers on the front and bottom of the trouser side seams are positioned there for ease of dressing and comfort while sitting down for wheelchair users. When you sit the front of your trousers rises and the back lowers so excess fabric and compression needs to be considered for the front of the fabric and stretch and exposed skin which would be in contact with the chair, on the back. So, the trousers have a curved waistline and extreme high elasticated back panels. Clothes can be easily made to cater for everyone, so garments that are functional for people with and without disabilities need to become the new norm.
"Clothes can be easily made to cater for everyone, so garments that are functional for people with and without disabilities need to be become the new norm."
4. Your colour palette is comprised of natural tones, and your collection was cut short due to Covid-19, what was the inspiration behind this muted palette and the implication the pandemic had?
As part of the brief our collection had to be made for an existing brand, my chosen brand was House of CB. Doing my market research and seeing the current season and re-occurring themes in House of CB’s numerous collections the dominant themes were bold prints, colours and earthy browns and nudes. I thought this was both flattering for all skin tones but is perfect for a classic elegant look, also an ageless colour palette. Through palette and tone development I came up with the name HEAVELY BODIES for my project, which was partly inspired by the angelic paintings from the Renaissance. I found these matched this colour palette perfectly and were littered with cherubs and ethereal beings. The name “HEAVENLY BODIES” also came from the idea that all bodies are beautiful because no one is the same and there is always beauty in uniqueness. All living things are just bones, muscles and organs and it is the soul that makes the person truly heavenly.
5. What have you learnt during your time at university and what tips do you have for future fashion students?
All I can say is make sure you are doing something that you are truly passionate about. It is hard work but if you love what you do, you’ll put in the effort. If you want to excel and not just do okay, you must be willing to do more than the work your lecturers have set you. Of course, there will be people to help you but the drive to work your hardest and do the best of your ability needs to come from you. You also have to give yourself time to rest properly though and enjoy your time with friend’s at uni as they will be memories you cherish forever even if you don’t realise it at the time. Work efficiently, look after yourself, it’s hard but it will be so worth it in the end.
"The name “HEAVENLY BODIES” also came from the idea that all bodies are beautiful because no one is the same and there is always beauty in uniqueness. All living things are just bones, muscles and organs and it is the soul that makes the person truly heavenly."
Discover Catriona Smith's full collection
Words by Lupe Baeyens