All Walks Beyond the Catwalk - Interview with Debra Bourne

The All Walks live photoshoot space in the Vauxhall Fashion Scout foyer. Image: Marsy Hild Thorsdottir

 Founders Debra Bourne,  Erin O’Connor Caryn Franklin

Curvy models at Mark Fast SS10

Founded by Caryn Franklin, Debra Bourne and Erin O’Connor, the award winning campaign All Walks Beyond the Catwalk aims to expand upon the imagery coming out of London Fashion Week by celebrating individuality amongst professional models.  Last season saw the campaign 'Size Me Up' featuring All Walks models ranging between sizes 8-16 and ages 18 to 65.  Shot by Erin O’Connor after a masterclass with photography legend Nick Knight, each model wore designs from eight of Britain's hottest designers, including Fashion Scout's William Tempest and David Koma.  This season All Walks took up residence at Vauxhall Fashion Scout. Debra Bourne talks to Emma Drinnan about style, individuality and the next generation of designers.

Launched last May, All Walks started when Suzanne Ringwood from B-eat (The national eating disorders agency) wanted to engage the fashion industry in a conversation about body shape.  Erin O’Connor set up the now highly regarded Model Sanctuary to actively promote model health, and Franklin was Fashion Editor of i-D magazine as well as being a style and fashion expert. With a background in body psychotherapy and PR, Bourne had worked as the Executive Fashion Editor of Arena magazine.  “We wanted to create an initiative to help London lead the way in inspiring women in a positive way about their bodies.  It’s important to challenge the parameters of beauty.  When we shot our campaign, everyone was included.”

This season, All Walks Beyond the Catwalk was based in the foyer of the Freemasons’ Hall, whereby a live photo-shoot was set up for anyone to take part in.  Participants were invited to pose with a piece of square card, each emblazoned with a letter which, when all placed together, spelt out 'Everybody Counts’, the title and also primary message, of the project.  Available to all shapes and sizes, the project was fun, original, and met with a great response from the public.

Mark Fast, the designer who last season was met with a hive of press attention after putting a plus size model on the catwalk, met Hayley, one of his curvy models, through the initiative. And with our very own William Tempest and House of Blueeyes also using unconventional models, it’s hoped that the trend will catch on.  To Bourne today’s fashion industry lacks the personality and individuality that was present in the late Eighties.  Two decades ago, the supermodel reigned supreme, and, as Bourne explains, their personality was their primary selling point.  “Naomi would come down the catwalk and you knew her by first name, she had her own walk and signature style. That individuality has been lost. We are going through this androgynous phase, where models are (much) thinner in a physical sense and are almost non-existent in personality”.

As well as challenging the fashion industry’s idea of beauty, this project “supports young designers to make them aware, from a commercial viewpoint, why it’s an important subject”, and Bourne believes Vauxhall Fashion Scout also play in important part.  “What Vauxhall Fashion Scout do is so crucial, it’s fantastic. The next generation is where all ideas are born, and we are witnessing them at their embryonic phase. They do a lot of mentoring at Vauxhall Fashion Scout, which is invaluable”.

“Fashion images and catwalk imagery are everywhere now, and by default there is a prescribed image of the ideal. The catwalk originally was always an industry tool for a very specific use, but now the images are taken out of context and used in the mass media. We are all part of it, witnessing it and we are trying to engage with it. We don’t have the answers really, but at least let’s talk about it”.  And that, it seems, is exactly what this project has accomplished.  Rather than force feeding ideas to the fashion insiders, it serves as a quiet reminder, and, most importantly, a celebratory, uplifting piece of art, aimed at empowering us all.  We can’t wait to see what’s next from this fantastically positive initiative.