In Pursuit of Beauty

Fashion is represented on the Edinburgh festival stage with In Pursuit of Beauty, a showcase and discussion aiming to debate the representation of diversity in the fashion industry

Preview by Morgan McTiernan | 01 Aug 2014

The fashion industry provokes the idea of unattainable beauty and faultlessness. Across catwalks, blogs, social media and printed publications the industry emphasises a lifestyle that the public drastically try to achieve, however each image seen has been distorted in a way to achieve the illusion of perfection. Whether it be the perfect body or the perfect skin or wearing the perfect outfit, the theme of perfection is portrayed throughout. In Pursuit of Beauty debates the impression that the fashion industry has set amongst us and seeks to rehabilitate our idea and understanding of beauty.

The discussion event will be shown as part of Edinburgh Fringe Festival on 5 August. The discussion is part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, which is one of the 24 Cabaret shows planned for 2014. The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas is a discussion panel led by academics across all Scottish universities in which it invites the public to have access to the knowledge universities create, and to debate and contextualise adverse topics.  

In Pursuit of Beauty will be curated by Mal Burkinshaw, the programme Director of Fashion at Edinburgh College of Art, in conversation with comedian Susan Morrison. Burkinshaw is an advocate for true representation of beauty within the fashion industry. He has worked with H&M and Caryn Franklin on body image issues and with years of experience in the fashion industry himself, he advocates the proper use of imagery and believes it is possible for a fashion business to be successful by accommodating all body types.

Edinburgh College of Art run the Diversity Network, in which Burkinshaw is director of the teaching programme for fashion. In Pursuit of Beauty is associated with All Walks/Diversity Network, launched in 2011 where the network has become a platform for developing education in promoting a healthy attitude towards body diversity and imagery within fashion. 

In Pursuit of Beauty aims to debate why the fashion industry should be more socially responsible and how the industry has the power to change and create socially accepted norms. Burkinshaw commented that the industry bombards us with "unhealthy depictions of the body and beauty through fashion media, and there is a lack of sustained use of diverse beauty depicted in fashion; it is usually tokenistic and ‘trend-led.’" In doing so, businesses are excluding themselves from global markets as they are not targeting a diverse range of body types, race, gender and age in their designs. During the discussion, students at the Edinburgh College of Art will showcase their diversity-aware designs alongside a preview of Burkinshaw's exhibition collection, Beauty by Design (Beauty by Design: Fashioning the Renaissance will be shown at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery from October 2014 to January 2015). The exhibition is in association with the mental health charity, Penumbra and is supported by All Walks Beyond the Catwalk. The exhibition will highlight the modern perception of beauty in comparison to historical attitudes and in doing so will question and evaluate the changing (or similar) ideas of beauty.

There has always been an association of judgement with any creative industry. The ultimate goal of In Pursuit of Beauty is to proclaim a positive attitude towards fashion imagery and how to reshape the distorted attitude that the public have towards what is seen as beautiful and what isn't beautiful. We are constantly assailed with imagery that is flawless and, even without the fashion industry, the thought of trying to achieve perfection will always still be in the public's mind. However, the fashion industry proclaims it the most and it also has the power to change it.