Students from Birmingham City University (BCU)’s Institute of Jewellery, Fashion and Textiles showcased their costume and jewellery design skills at a special Voice of Black Opera (VOBO) mid-December, creating bespoke ensembles worn by the project’s finalists.
The VOBO project aims to promote the Commonwealth’s finest Black and South Asian singers as they launch international operatic careers, the finals took place at a Gala ceremony at Birmingham Town Hall.
Competing were five finalists, each wearing bespoke concert outfits and coordinating jewellery pieces researched and designed by BCU Jewellery, Fashion and Textiles students, in collaboration with the Black British Classical Foundation (BBCF).
VOBO finalist, Isabelle Peters said: “The attention to detail and function of my concert outfit was incredible. The dress is designed in a way that is comfortable for singers, it has room for movement whilst not losing any of its beauty. The fabric design is beautiful, and it was a nice touch from the designer to let me have some input on the scale of the print as well.”
Each outfit and jewellery piece incorporated designs tailored to the performers themselves, using elements of each finalist’s heritage and backgrounds, along with symbols of opera and operatic history to create stunning final designs.
Hayley Gorton-Snowball, Lecturer in Fashion Pattern Cutting and Construction and Beaulagh Brooks, Course Director of BA Jewellery and Objects at BCU helped coordinate this collaboration with BBCF, supporting students throughout the seven-week project.
Brooks said: “This project has been a fantastic opportunity for all the students and staff involved. It has enabled our jewellery students to gain invaluable experience in real-world scenarios, creating bespoke pieces of jewellery that were seen at a prestigious event, all within a tight deadline will certainly be a hugely beneficial experience in their future careers as jewellers.”
Gorton-Snowball said: “This project has allowed us to become part of something which elevates the importance of celebrating artists from Black and south Asian heritage within opera.
“Fashion & textiles students were exposed to a real-world scenario, tweaking their designs, reacting to changes and ensuring they minimised waste fabric to ensure each garment was not only stunning but sustainable.”
Designing the finalist’s jewellery pieces were BA Jewellery & Objects students Carolina Guimaraes-Portugal-Andrade, Yixin Weng, Ayshin Jalilzadeh, Xiangyi Wang and Hanwen Ke.
The coordinating outfits were developed and constructed by final year Garment Technology students Gabrielle Chester, Lina Makaya, Isabella Bradley, Elaine Hewitt, Chloe Allway, Courtney Howes, Patricia Osei-Assibey, Mihai Bandrabur, Eleanor Brisley, Hannah Shircore, Saffron Lam, and Neve Buckingham.
Head of the Birmingham Institute of Jewellery Fashion and Textiles, Lee Lapthorne, along with BCU students and staff involved in the project attended the event as guests, working backstage to dress the contestants before sitting down to enjoy the show and see their hard work take centre stage.
Finalist Racheal Duckett was the main winner on the night taking home the Sir Willard White Trophy, a £10,000 prize, and a package of engagements to help launch her onto the world stage, Elanor Brisley was the final year Garment Technology student responsible for creating her concert dress: “The opportunity to construct Rachel Duckett’s evening gown for the VOBO finals was definitely challenging, the opportunity to realise such a stunning design and then to see it being worn in a live environment was very rewarding,” she said.
“Watching Rachel perform and win the show is a moment I will never forget. I spent the day backstage, making alterations and then dressing her just minutes before her performance, it was an honour to see her be so successful wearing a garment I had made.”
BCU’s involvement with the VOBOs comes off a successful summer hosting BBC hit TV show ‘All that Glitters’ at the university’s renowned School of Jewellery, presented by comedian Katherine Ryan.