Beyond the Binary Wave

Millie Whitehead

“I am originally from the Lake District, a northern girl born and raised! I love The Lakes and growing up there as a child was amazing… but I never really felt like I fitted in to the ‘Lake District mould’. I was never particularly interested in any of the outdoor activities and sports that pretty much everyone else in The Lakes would do on a daily basis. I never felt like I was where I was meant to be.

I knew that I wanted to go on to study Fashion at university after finishing a Diploma in Art & Design, and it was always Haute Couture that inspired me the most. The fine details, the exquisite beading and embroidery is what really interested me. I wanted to learn how to create things that people could only dream of…This is what led me to the Royal School of Needlework and to London.

Studying at the RSN has been the toughest, most amazing three years of my life and has also made me fall completely in love with embroidery. I think being able to create such intricate and beautiful pieces of work by hand with simply a needle and thread is something really special. After learning many different hand embroidery techniques, processes and skills during my first two years, third year was the year I could really put my skills and design talents to the test.

My final collection ‘Beyond the Binary Wave’ was inspired by gender, fluidity and movement. I knew I wanted to create a gender fluid collection, and this came from looking at my own wardrobe and my own experiences when shopping.

I looked at water as a representative response to my beliefs about gender. Taking inspiration from its freedom, fluidity, and strength. I have created embroideries which wrap around the body on my tailored garments which, to me, symbolises the growing change in the fashion industry and the fact that gender fluid fashion isn’t a trend that’s going to be short lived, it’s a movement that will continue to grow.

It was important to me throughout this project to embed my concepts, beliefs and values into every aspect of my work, not just the embroidery. The garments themselves, I designed to be oversized in such a way that they would flatter any and every person’s body. I chose to create tailored garments as the ‘power suit’ which has been the first real example of clothing crossing gendered boundaries. This is something I wanted to celebrate. Coco Chanel re-wrote the rules of fashion and this was the first public step towards style being more important than the gender you are assigned.

The past three years has been a complete whirlwind of emotions and learning curves. The RSN has helped me to break my own personal boundaries and has pushed me to my creative limits. Studying at the beautiful Hampton Court Palace is special for so many reasons but I think what has helped to get me through the three years, and particularly my third year, is the support and guidance of the RSN staff. Being such a small course, it allows us to build stronger relationships with the whole team than perhaps you would at any other university. When I first came for my interview, Course Leader, Angie Wyman, and Senior Lecturer, Sophia Malik, said to me, “Here at the RSN, we are like a little family”, and they were right!

As I move on from my time at university, I have been lucky enough to have secured a full-time position working as a graduate trainee embroiderer with a brand that I have long since admired. I am unbelievably excited to start my career with Alexander McQueen in August and am looking forward to utilising all my practical and design skills in industry.”


You can follow Millie on her Instagram page.


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