how vaginas inspired this fashion student’s designs
Coral Jamieson wants to challenge the way we look at vaginas and recognise them as rich, although unlikely, aesthetic muses.
When RMIT third year design student Coral Jamieson sat down to chat to i-D, she was wearing a dress covered in images of vaginas. Up close, they were really very lovely — but in a crowded bar, no one else appeared to notice. That's exactly what she's trying to achieve. Normalise what could arguably be the most controversial body part. Some of her designs are more upfront, like a pair of silk pants are decorated by what appears to be labia majora. But even those you'd need to give a second glance to catch the reference.
To her, vaginas are not only powerful symbols but rich aesthetic inspiration. Coral told i-D she wants her clothes to ease the sense of discomfort many people feel around vaginal imagery. Looking over her very wearable pieces, you do wonder why it took so long for someone to see their sartorial worth.
Why did you want to base a collection around vaginas?
The class I made this for is called Agents of Change, it's about looking at social issues and trying to find a way to help. I was thinking about how vaginas are viewed: either shameful or extremely sexualised, and I wanted my collection to challenge that. It's interesting to me that they're still seen as taboo, particularly because the penis is presented as so powerful in art. I remember going into an art gallery one time and there was literally a dildo on display and the description was all about the power of fertility and crap like that. It's just bullshit.
Tell us about that process of translating biology into fashion.
I started by looking up images of vaginas, I studied the shapes they formed and thought about the way that could work in terms of draping. I looked at two pattern draper technique — Julian Roberts' subtraction technique and the Shingo Sato's pattern magic — then used them to translate these shapes into fashion. It was actually quite simple because what I was doing was very much looking at folds and movement.
This collection isn't really overt though; the presentation is so normalised it's almost invisible.
I really wanted to play with different levels of subtlety. I wanted the pink dress to remind you of a vagina but also be really beautiful. Because vaginas are actually really nice when you think about the colours and shapes. It's just about shifting your mentality.
When you started how noticeable did you want the vagina reference to be? Did you want people to be stopping in the street like, is that a vagina dress?
It depends, I didn't expect the light pink dress to do anything like that because it's one of the more subtle pieces. But the patterned dress is actually a literal vagina print, and when we shot it on the street we had people doing double-takes. From afar it looks like an abstract print, but up close it's clear. But it wasn't ever about making it in-your-face, it was more about having it out there and normalised. I think normalisation is so much more powerful than shock.
Was there ever a point where you were working on a design and it felt too shocking?
I thought the vagina print might be a bit shocking because the first images I did the vaginas were by themselves rather than clustered together so it was more obvious. But although I could see it really easily when I asked people what they saw they didn't pick it. We're not conditioned to expect to see vaginas, you're used to seeing boobs and butts on t-shirts and clothes — not this.
That's interesting, we're so removed from seeing them as part of everyday life that people didn't even recognise them out of context.
Exactly, we're conditioned to see boobs and butts and penises in our culture. A lot of the time they're presented as funny, but see a vagina out of context and you don't know how to respond — people are either embarrassed or angry.
What have the responses from other students and teachers been like?
Everyone has loved it, the response has been overwhelmingly positive and I haven't gotten a single negative review. I thought my teachers would be a bit iffy because they are more conservative, but they loved it and started looking up artists for me to check out.
There can be issues when we start speaking about vaginas in relation to gender. When you were creating these were you aware of connotations of suggesting vaginas equate to being a woman?
It was something I was trying to be really mindful of, not relating sex and gender. I talk a lot about "femininity" in my work but don't relate that to being "female" because they're different things. To be feminine is more about presentation and representation than gender. But of course it's a tricky topic, my point was more to show vaginas can be powerful in their own right, unrelated to anything else.