On Teaching Fashion: Comforting the Bereaved and Bending the Rules

My dear readers, I assume that since you are reading a fashion blog, unless you live under a rock, you know by now that yesterday the fashion world lost Alexander McQueen to suicide at the age of 40.  I wonder if  this event will be like others in recent history, in that years from now, fashionistas everywhere will each have their own story about where they were the moment they found out that Alexander McQueen had died.  I, for one, hope I will not forget the moment I had yesterday (if I do, you have my permission to call me senile).  If I ever write a memoir about my career as a teacher, and I would not be the first in my family to do so, my story of that moment would surely be included.

At my institution, we have just wrapped up our second week of the Spring term.  My course policies and classroom code of conduct should be fresh in everyone’s mind (as fresh as they can be, considering the recent download of other information from various classes).  Cell phone use, including text messaging, email, and use of the internet, is strictly verboten in my classroom.  For safety, I do allow them to keep their phones turned on, in case of an emergency in the classroom or on the campus.  Outside of that, my course policies spell out that students will be asked to leave, and then marked absent, if they use their phones during class (in reality, I usually ask to them to stop once, and they are asked to leave after the second infraction).

Yesterday, as I was in my Textiles course, lecturing on flax, and its vulnerability to mildew and silverfish (please don’t click away, I promise this post gets better), a student seated right by my podium held up her phone with a photo of a silverfish from a Wikipedia page.  Useful, yes.  I made a mental note to put a photo of a silverfish in my presentation for next time.  Apparently, not everyone knows what a silverfish looks like, and I should keep in mind that some students may really want to know this.  If you did not know, now you do (see below).

A little while later, while I was lecturing on the use of hemp as a textile fiber, the differences between marijuana and industrial hemp (always amusing in a college classroom), and the uses of hemp seed and hemp seed oil, a different student announced they had just received a text message with the news of McQueen’s suicide.  I was stricken speechless…for about two seconds.

What do you do in a situation like that?  First, I told the students who did not know who McQueen was just who he was.  Before you get on my case for having students who do not know who Alexander McQueen was, I have to tell you that my Textiles course is required for Interior Design students, and that is all the explanation I have on that point.  Second, I went to Google News and, sure enough, there were the headlines confirming the text message’s news.

It is a sad, sad loss for the fashion industry, and for my students, too, who I know draw a lot of inspiration from McQueen’s work.  I took a brief break from lecturing on plant fibers while the students comforted each other.  Later on, while lecturing on wool, and therefore, herringbone, Harris tweed, and houndstooth, I had the perfect opportunity to show some of McQueen’s designs and discuss the current revival of classic British fabrics.

Twice that day, I had students go against my classroom policy.  Am I displeased?  Not at all. Both were instances where the information they received or retrieved with their cell phones was timely and relevant to either the subject of my lecture, or the fashion industry as a whole.  What is an instructor to do?  Bend the rules, I suppose.  Was McQueen a rule-bender?  More accurately, a rule-breaker, n’est-ce pas?  I try to stay one step ahead of my students, and make rules that are fair and fairly applied, but it does not always work out that way.  Flexibility is the key, for me, and for them.

Next week, my fashion students and I will be hosting a celebration of the life and work of Alexander McQueen.  I have invited students to share pictures and runway footage that have inspired them in their own work.  I am hoping the event will help comfort those who are genuinely feeling this loss quite personally, and, for those who are less familiar with McQueen, the event will be an excellent opportunity to educate them, so they will know exactly who he was and what he created.  I am there to educate, after all.

Dear readers, are you attending any McQueen memorial events?  Formal or informal?

My fellow teachers, how are you addressing the death of Alexander McQueen in your fashion classrooms?  Leave me some comments, and let me know.

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1 Comment

  • Susan Powers MA Adjunct Instructor March 25, 2010 02.36 pm

    About two weeks ago my Costume History class at Ursuline College in Ohio completed their “Designer Video” project. One of my students chose Alexander McQueen from a VHS video about the designer that is in our college’s media collection. The students were required to show a 2-3 minute clip and give a report to the class about the designer. The class discussion that followed from each student was a wonderful “tribute” to this genius of fashion and art. He will be so missed. I hope he now knows how his designs have and always will inspire so many fashion design students to think creatively and outside the box!


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