Sarika Datta for CUCFS

As we walk into the green room (also known as Sidney Sussex JCR) we are instantly hit by the atmosphere of bustling creativity: makeup is strewn across a table as two artists giggle with the models, while those waiting their turn scroll through Instagram or studiously get on with some work. Alexandra Sive, the President of CUCFS, calmly weaves her way between people, chaperoning new arrivals, stopping to chat with Rosy Sida, Creative Director, as they eagerly plan the next moves with Moran Arwas, the graduate designer whose collection they are preparing to shoot. Elle Curzon, Fashion Director and Vice-President Eleanor Swire, are already on location, setting up with photographer Sarika Datta.

Sarika Datta for CUCFS

This is the final photo-shoot in the run-up to the Cambridge University Charity Fashion Show 2019, which is now just under a month away, on the 8th March. With the shoot consisting exclusively of menswear, it soon becomes clear that, as Sida put it, “there’s nothing quite like” this collection, which is “insanely beautiful” and, in Arwas’ own words “slightly weird [...] and slightly feminine”. When probed  further on the inspiration behind this playful, delicate and yet raw collection, Arwas cites everything from “skate subcultures” to “some very weird, American stuff”, David Lynch films, and an exploration of “oddness” and the “unexpected”. The result is “middle America trash” re-imagined in pastel pink chiffons, high-shine baby blue vinyl, and soft neutrals. “It’s supposed to make you feel uncomfortable,” Arwas explains, “and it’s also supposed to be a bit surreal.” It is precisely this exploration of ‘oddness’ that caught the eye of both Sida and Sive. “Who would think to put vinyl in baby blue and then make a trucker jacket out of it?” the President effuses, “It’s kind of a triple flip, you go through this fabric that’s almost fetish, and it’s made delicate by this colour, and then the shape is a skater, workwear-style jacket that you’d think would be in denim.”

Sarika Datta for CUCFS

As the final photo-shoot in the CUCFS ventures into a more maximalist approach than in previous years, the collection may at first glance seem to distance itself from previous photoshoots (which have included collections such as a baroque-heavy shoot at the Fitzwilliam Museum). While the other collections have, at first glance, fit the ‘maximalist’ aesthetic that the CUCFS has been leaning towards this year, it takes a more analytical eye to find the nuanced details of the pieces. Sive is quick to gush about what makes this particular collection so special. “The shapes are quite minimalist, but then you have these details on them,” she explains, “like the ruching and the layered use of chiffon - there are so many different textures too, It fits in with the other collections because even when the silhouettes seem minimalist, the garments are still so full of detail.” The collection moreover offers “an exciting contrast to many of the designers,” Swire elaborates, noting the dramatic contrast it embodies in its “distinctly urban feel” rendered in “earthy and sky tones.”

Sarika Datta for CUCFS

So what is the impact of this collection? It seems hard to deny that it highlights a gender-fluid, fun and fantastical approach to fashion. Arwas is, of course, a woman designing for men, something she claims was a deliberate choice so as to “come up with weirder ideas” than when she perhaps might when designing womenswear. She enjoys blending softer, more effeminate details with the more masculine shapes of the clothing, loving that “it shows that there is a female designer behind the clothes” and the freedom that comes with working in what she calls “a territory that wasn’t mine”. Gently pushing the boundaries of received norms certainly seems to be a running thread in the tapestry of the shoot’s concept: Men wearing makeup? “I think it’s cool, if you want to wear makeup, wear makeup,” affirms Lottie Marie Mccrindell, one of the makeup artists for the shoot; “there’s no difference at all between [working with] a guy and a girl,” her colleague Clara Balon happily chimes in, “I’m looking at the face, I’m taking into account the bone structure and the makeup that I am creating.”

Sarika Datta for CUCFS

This shoot is evidently shaping up to be one of spectacle, inspiration and innovation, both in front and behind the camera. “I think we’ve found that the more unexpected things happen, the shoots get better. We’re just going to play with it; we’re excited,” Sida explains, a feeling clearly shared by all in the now buzzing room. An easy giddiness hangs over the room as the models slip into their given looks. And there’s something almost poetic about seeing a 6ft, broad-shouldered man manoeuvre himself into a fragile chiffon crop top.

Sarika Datta for CUCFS

But the magic doesn’t stop with this photoshoot. The designs in their totality will be showcased next month during the main show, which is set to be nothing short of “spectacular” according to Sive, who explains her decision to move into Guild Hall from the Corn Exchange: “It is going to be very theatrical,”: both in setting and content. As for the designs, though they might not be the most wearable, it is the “ability of fashion to evoke feeling and whole worlds when you look at a collection,” that remains a the forefront of the President’s mind. The very idea of dreaming, Sida adds, is intrinsic to the designs, with each piece “made by hand -  it’s not made en masse, you can’t buy it” which makes platforming the collection “really really special” in her mind. Curzon was in full agreement, adding that “Moran was one of the first designers we signed for the show and her work set an incredibly high standard. (...) It is also very encouraging to know that the designs I have been staring at on Instagram for 9 months look even more sensational in real life.”

Sarika Datta for CUCFS

The show that Sive and her team have planned is meant to make the audience feel and believe in the vast potential for creativity in all its shapes and forms. The belief in creating a show that sparks and inspires those watching is seen strongly in Sida, who remarks that “there are lots of creative people out there who don’t indulge in art because they don’t think that it is a worthwhile pursuit, which is wrong.” Swire, agrees, adding, “I think many students in Cambridge play down their enjoyment of fashion, but they shouldn’t. The 8th of March is not only international women’s day, but also an opportunity to bring fashion into discussion in Cambridge, whilst raising money for Solidaritee.” Judging by the direction of the show and the enthusiasm emanating from all those involved, it seems the show will be one for the books: an evening to stimulate the artistry of all those who see it, and one to continually push the boundaries that we’ve set for ourselves.

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