Lecturer David Knight recently posed a question to a series of focus groups: Black is Beautiful?
The UCLan academic and clothes designer knows it is a question which could take him and participants on a fashion and values journey which raises new questions about identity and choices.
He does not yet know exactly what route that journey might yet take, but he started with a belief there will be valuable insights to be gleaned and psoitive outcomes to be developed, which will also impact on the world of clothes design.
David, a senior lecturer in the university’s School of Art, Design and Fashion, is in the process of running several workshops aimed at discovering more about African heritage communities’ sense of identity and a person’s own expectation of the appearance they present to the world.
It is preliminary research for a project and will ask participants to honestly access why they make the choices they do, about their clothes, their hair, their makeup and skin care ...and it also offers the opportunity for people to consider the choices they might like to have. David, whose research interests include cultural identity and fashion, said: “Two focus events have already taken place, one involving students and one involving memebrs of the African Caribbean community. I plan to target different sections of the African Heritage community so there will be further sessions involving predominantly continental African members and Black British.”
David has also turned to local professionals and those active in community affairs for another focus session.
The idea for the project came from a recent Black History Month fashion event. He explained: “That sort of birthed the idea..It was about producing contemporary designs that incorporated African values such as use of colou, pattern and drape. The designs varied from quite traditional classical to everyday street wear. I had an unexpected reaction from people who applauded the fact that the models wore their hair more natural and weren’t size 00.”
David said that the idea of designing a collection drawing on African cultural traditions and values highlighted how people changed what they are and the show brought that home, for example: “Using bright colours which a lot of people tend to avoid... There’s a lot more to this in terms of people feeling free to be beautiful within their own values.”
David maintains fashion design and the fashion idnustry should be able to accommodate such preferences.
“It’s taking it from a theoretical more academic thing.. into a practical thing.... it’s taking the issues that come out of the discussions. It’s more fopcused arund the issues of beauty. for more extensive examination of the issues (of) hair, skin, body shape, life style, external perception and personal perception.”
Noting that research has shown what people perceive to be beauty can also affect perceptions of a person’s intelligence is of relevance when evaluating what is deemed beautiful in a society which incorporates different cultures and influences. He cotninued: ASking the question is black beautiful? A lot of people put their fists up and say black is beauitful (and ) don’t know why. It’s als o asking the question why we need to say black is beauitful.”
* David is also an independent designer and was a founding member and long standing chairman of community ats company Prescap.