The final year of studying anything can be strange. You are simultaneously savouring the present moment, aware that it won’t be your reality for much longer, and making plans for a future you hope is on the horizon. The final year of a fashion degree is no different, but notorious for being especially stressful – hallmarked by all-nighters, slippers in the studio and lots (and lots) of crying. Add a global pandemic to the mix and you have locked the lid on a pressure cooker.
We were still ferreting away behind university walls while the news was full of headlines such as, “UK government told ‘Change course or a quarter of a million people will die’.” A week later, we were clearing lockers and gathering as much equipment as we could. When my studio became my old whitewashed bedroom in my family’s modest semi-detached, it became clear what a great leveller university is. People I know were initially without wifi, or had to leave everything behind before travelling home overseas.
For a couple of weeks, I was incapable of producing work. Stagnant, I focused on processing the frustration, shock and overarching dysphoria. Some mornings I have woken up, reached for my notebook and written blissfully about the light leaking through the blind, painting my skin silver. Some mornings, I have drunk enough coffee to set me writing frantically about how much dead skin there must be inside mattresses, unearthing childhood memories from my dust-ridden cognitive filing cabinets. Other mornings have been nothing but screen time and How To videos, with Google’s auto-fill suggestions particularly reflective of the current climate. (Top searches at the time of writing include how to make bread/a face mask/use Zoom.)
But my new reality is starting to take shape. Without access to models, my work is filled with an abundance of self-portraits (an uncomfortable irony for someone who avoids having her photograph taken). A highlight of last week was discovering that the neighbours had spotted my naked photoshoot in the garden; I’ve since managed to evade eye contact. Failing that, I’ve started to adorn my parents with household objects, sticking them outside and willing them to say cheese. I’m making do, as we all are, but pine for my uni studio; it was always either stiflingly hot and smelling of lunch, or leave-your-coat-on cold, but I took that darling room for granted.
As someone whose recent work involves styling with unconventional objects, the pandemic has thrown up unlikely sources of inspiration: face masks fashioned from G-strings, sanitary pads and lettuce leaves. Innovation has helped me find humour amid the crisis. Seeing my mum leave for work in a hospital every day, knowing she’s putting herself at risk, and then, would you believe, coming home and modelling for me has been astonishing. It makes what I do seem much less important, in the face of her acts of selflessness.
On good days, I’ve found solace in the continuing creative process. On bad days, I can’t see past my crippling student debt and the opportunities we, the class of Covid-19, will miss out on. Is my childhood bedroom and everything in it my only tangible asset? But perspective is paramount. Besides, I’ve heard that pressure cookers get great results.
Daisie Jacobs is studying fashion at Leeds Arts University.