InFocus: Jo Boon, Founder of Label, St Andrews’ newest fashion show

Photo: Lorelei Pfeffer
Jo Boon, Founder of Label. Photo: Lorelei Pfeffer

St Andrews has a new fashion show; Label. The Saint sat down with one of the Co-Convenors Jo Boon, to discuss the event, which she describes as “a platform of self-expression and a celebration of identity.”

St Andrews’ social scene is notorious for two event types: its balls, and its fashion shows. And so the introduction of yet another fashion show naturally makes us ask the question: why is this one significant?

The answer is straightforward: Label operates on a new premise, one that promotes the representation of diversity (spanning all categories) in fashion. Label’s motto is “to celebrate beauty with a difference across gender, sexuality, physical diversity, and mental health.”

As this is the first body-positive fashion show in St Andrews, Ms Boon aims to ‘push boundaries’ and create a safe space for students to feel appreciated and celebrate their natural beauty. It is common, she says, for students – especially those who do not fit the societal norms – to sometimes feel marginalised as a result, and so with the introduction of Label, Ms Boon hopes to reduce this feeling and encourage the celebration of individuality – regardless of physical or mental disability, or sexuality or gender differences.

Ms Boon says she felt that, due to the enormously successful and popular fashion culture in St Andrews, it only made sense to introduce something new and with a slightly different angle to the fashion culture. She thinks that the inclusive nature of this event is something that St Andrews needs – even if only because as one of Label’s own models has said, “everyone needs something that makes them feel beautiful.”

Going through what she feels differentiates the show from others in St Andrews, Ms Boon says, “There’s going to be a load of different things.

“Partly, it’s the models themselves, just in who they are, the way in which we’ve selected them – everything has been consentled and they’ve been able to shape the creative vision, which is quite unusual for a fashion show.

“The models don’t normally have quite this much input in how it’s creatively shaped as well. Our selection process has been quite unusual – we chose people who had a story to tell, and when we’ve done our photo shoots – which were far more personal than usual have been themed around their identities themselves.”

Ms Boon has been working to create Label for over a year now. She first pitched the idea this year’s Sabbatical Officers last year, who she says were very enthusiastic. Joe Tantillo, the Director of Representation, and Chris MacRae, the Director of Events and Services, were particulary excited about the idea.

Over the summer Ms Boon built a provisional website and started a Facebook page, which is how she gathered a significant amount of interest and applicants. The applicants interested, according to Ms Boon, had both immense talent and a great passion for the project, and from there she put together the design team and the committee.

Ms Boon describes the idea of the show as focusing on “how clothing represents people’s identities, and the stories they have to share through what they’re wearing.” When Ms Boon first began the preparations for the show, they were hoping to focus on gender and sexuality, as well as mental and physical health. This has also evolved over time to also include religion, ethnicity and social class.

On the topic of how the models’ individual identities wll be incoroporated into the show, Ms Boon adds, “some of our clothing is very closely connected to the theme. For example, we have some shirts from Gender Free World, and so models who identify as genderfluid or agender will be wearing these shirts, because it’s part of their identity.”

The importance of diversity and individuality to the show meant that Ms Boon also felt it very important that the show was not just a “solo vision” but that she would also be working with not only the committee and the design team, but also the models, so that they could shape their presentation to be exactly what they wanted it to be.

Ms Boon explains that often, individuals have certain aspects of themselves that they don’t necessarily want to project, such as physical disabilities. She emphasises the fact that the show has taken every precaution to consider these aspects. Focusing specifically on physical injuries, Ms Boon said these would not be highlighted or treated insensitively on the show. Howver, she wanted everyone was able to be included and become a part of the show and fashion culture of St Andrews.

She said: “None of our models are typical, that’s the thing. What we tried to showcase is that everyone is unique, and so we have a broad range of identities. If you go and look at our shoots, you can see the stories that each one of them has chosen to share.

“We have models from a range of ethnicities, of all sizes, of different sexualities, of different gender identities. We have models with physical disabilities, we have models who have experiences with mental health, so it’s a huge range basically,” she adds.

The funds raised by the show will be divided into two halves: 50 per cent will be donated to the charity Mind, which focuses on mental health improvement, and the other 50 per cent will be diverted to fund future shows.

For future shows, Ms Boon hopes to adjust this percentage in favour of donating to the charity, but as the show is only in its founding year, it will be necessary to split the profits evenly.

Funds for next year are required from this year’s profits, in order to forwardpay necessary costs for the future show: as revenue for each show is only gained at the end of the year, a startersum is necessary for ease of efficiency.

Ms Boon also described how Label has been able to secure the sponsorship of highend fashion lines and businesses, from Ted Baker to Clarins to Swarovski. In addition, Label will be collaborating with Neon Moon and Gender Free World Clothing, and will be working with them to incorporate their ideas, models, and clothing into the show.

“The aim is for everyone to feel represented by our models and for us to showcase the diversity in what being ‘beautiful’ really means.” This ethos even extended to their auditions for models.

Ms Boon explains that the auditions for the models consisted of a choreography workshop – the criteria was not for the models to be able to strut the typical model’s walk seen on fashion runways, but simply to be able to keep the beat, and to be able to perform o n stage without any personal risk (which was ascertained through interviews). During auditions, models were asked to explain what “Label” meant to them, to ensure that they would be able to accurately and passionately represent the underlying message of the show.

Ms Boon also went into detail to describe these photo shoots and how they reflected the values the show is trying to promote: “For our first photo shoot we asked each model to wear something they considered their ‘armour’ in everyday life, something that made them feel strong or safe.

“We did this to show how much the way we choose to dress and look builds us up into the people we want to be. We paired the photos from the shoot with model’s comments and description about why they love Label.

“We hoped that upon seeing their faces and reading their words, we would be able to demonstrate the broad variety of ways in which we find beauty in individuality.”

Ms Boon states that there is no typical example of a model – each one is unique, and that what Label is trying to showcase is that there are a broad range of identities, each with a special story to tell.

The lineup of the show will be quite varie:; apart from the fashion show itself and accompanying DJ, there will be two dance performances, one from Blue Angels and the other from ShimmySoc, one in each half of the programme. These dance troupes are choreographing pieces around Label’s theme of identity and celebration of creativity.

The band Pink Eye On Picture Day, who also performed at Glitterball, will be headlining at the afterparty. Ms Boon added that there will be many other events during the show and the afterparty, but for the sake of suspense the exact details will not yet be released.

Ms Boon emphatically believes that any one who attends the event will find someone who represents their identity, and if they don’t, she hopes that they intend to get involved next year, so that Label can broaden its platform even further. She encourages any who didn’t have the opportunity to take part this year to do so next year, as the only requirement for Label models is to be comfortable on stage. She adds that as Label is only in its first year, they are looking to improve and expand, and so she welcomes feedback, constructive criticism or assistance in helping Label to do so next year.

“I’m really excited. As I say, this is our first year, so I feel like that we will always be able to improve, year on year, but I think that the show is looking absolutely wonderful. The choreographers have done a truly amazing job, I love the music playlist, I love the lighting sequence we have, I think creatively it looks really brilliant,” she said.

“What I find so amazing about the whole project is that I’ve ended up working with people who have so many talents above and beyond what I have, and so seeing what other people have done with the project has been fantastic for me. I love seeing their enthusiasm for it, I’m really excited for the night itself.”

Label Fashion Show will be held on the 14th of April 2016 at Club 601 in the University of St Andrews’ Student Union.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.