“I saw a new heaven and a new earth” – DONT WALK 2022 Review

Rather selfishly, I decided to title my review of DW 2022 using my favourite line from the Book of Revelation, but rest assured, there is a method to my madness. At the show, there was a sense of transcendence amongst the pulsating sounds of techno. The first show after the gap caused by the pandemic, the theme of REVELATION prompted me to think about what the collective wanted to ‘reveal’ about the current social justice issues in the wake of the pandemic. 

From its genesis in 2001 following the tragedy of 9/11, DONT WALK has always stressed its core values of coming together in the face of social injustice and adversity to create a positive impact on the world. The annual fashion show was founded on the principle of not walking past problems in society and encourages its audience to pay attention to contentious issues through artistic forms of expression. Their focus on charity and awareness of discrimination and oppression has particularly hit home two years into a global pandemic. The two charities chosen this year were Impact Arts and the Urban Justice Centre’s Domestic Violence Project. Impact Arts is a Scottish-based community arts charity that works with children and older people, seeking to use art and creativity to foster and empower social change. The Domestic Violence project finds its roots in New York, offering legal advice to the survivors of domestic abuse. During the pandemic, when most people were forced to stay at home, domestic violence disputes rose from 21% to 35% in the United States and this is something DONT WALK takes measures to highlight as their reason for donating to the Urban Justice Centre. 

Before the show, I went to the corporate drinks, hosted at The Adamson bar, at which Julie Dalton, owner of The Adamson and HATCH restaurants, welcomed us with a champagne reception. Grinning ear-to-ear, she shared my anticipation, declaring: “I can’t wait to see the show”. 

With parents, sponsors, alumni, and DW executives present, it was clear to see an abundance of support behind-the-scenes as well as an avid engagement with raising money for the selected charities of the year. Executive Director Grace Dreher too revealed her excitement for the show, saying that as someone who oversees the entire process, the beauty lies in watching as all five branches of the fashion show (Creative, Finance & Sponsorship, Charity, Events, Communications) come together and coalesce to create the performance itself. 

Executive Director Grace Dreher, Events Director Zoe Ellison, Creative Director Elise Morrison, Allegra Tenenbaum, and Head of Sponsorship Alex Wolf
(Courtesy of Ollie Grimes for Don’t Walk)

“Audience reception”, she noted, “is paramount to our success. With only third and fourth years having had the possibility of going to DONT WALK in the past, we can’t wait to see the reactions of first and second years…hopefully, they can understand our vision and what DONT WALK is really all about”. The lead-up to the show had been smooth sailing – with the different branches of the DW team working together behind the scenes, from building fencing to dealing with transportation and rehearsals, all tasks went according to plan. 

Speaking with Zoe Ellison, Events Director, I found that the team prioritised finding new ways to use the same space. As the show would be taking place in the same location as in DW 2020 – The Bowhouse near Anstruther – it was important to make some changes, including removing the bridge and immersing the DJ booth on stage. The centrality of the DJ booth really served to unify the production, highlighting all the importance of music in DONT WALK, and served as an opportunity to attempt something that has not yet been done in St Andrews fashion show history. The DJs were as much a part of the fashion as the models and this worked well to amp up the audience. This decision certainly raises the standard for future fashion shows, as well as the choice to use a live mix of sound during the show as opposed to a pre-recorded set. 

At the very start of the show, there was a performance of austere religious choir music backed with minimal techno, set against bright blue lights, filling the stage with an ethereal quality. The piece was Antonio Lotti’s ‘Crucifixus a 6’ – a dramatic retelling of the crucifixion/resurrection of Christ, mediating on the theme of conquering evil and the inauguration of new times.  Thematically drawing on concepts of holiness, innocence, and morality, the music for the show was intended to highlight the overarching messages while also reflecting a conflict between dark and light, culminating in a release from the constraints of the “holy façade” established at the beginning. My only disappointment of the night was not being able to properly hear the choral group – perhaps a logistical issue with the speakers. Other sponsors and parents who stood around me voiced their agreement. A mystically beautiful idea in theory unfortunately fell short of its intended effect on the night. 

Model: Jessica

Sam Kahn, Head of Music Production, disclosed his thoughts on DW music, speaking about the fluidity and diversity present in the genre of music the collective is typically associated with: techno, DnB, and electro. Experimentation lies at the forefront of DW music, constantly growing and developing to reach more subgenres. “I want students to view DONT WALK as a platform where their art can be seen and heard… if a student can contribute original music to this multi-media fashion event, their musical ideas, no matter how experimental, should form part of the show”. Dual in nature, the music across the two acts in the show worked to reveal first tension and second catharsis. The first half was darker and yet more subdued, with the pulsing electronic movements of the models’ choreography accompanying the obscure tone of the music, working together to captivate the audience’s attention. This feature was also very reminiscent of the start of the DW 2020 show, paying homage to a DONT WALK stylistic tradition. 

The second half of the show musically strove to break the tension, dissolving the sense of chaos that had been established in the beginning. Sam himself produced the tracks used in the show, capturing the theme of the night. Prior to the show, Zoe had clued me in on a “sneak surprise” that would take place. Surprised is probably an understatement, as model Tom Kennedy’s luscious locks were buzzed off in the show’s intermission. The intention behind this was not quite clear, but it did provide a fascinating contrast to the raunchier, more exhilarating nature of the second half. Fashion (and in this case, hairstyles) became synonymous with the music, feeding off one another to show the transition between light and dark. 

Creative Director, Elise Morrison, explained her creative vision regarding the theme of REVELATION: “Ultimately it felt like the natural progression in the narrative of DW. In my first year, the theme was INFERNO – so there is this move from hell, to hope for a new creation in my second year with ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE, to introspection on humanity last year. I see this year as essentially a hopeful call to action for social change, using the running theme of Christian theology as a platform for telling that story.” As a theology student, Elise found her studies reflected an important but also creatively inspiring reaction to the arts. Looking at how theology has impacted art and how contemporary art in particular picks up on these themes, for Elise, allows us to understand the story of humanity’s interactions with the world. “I see revelation (Greek: revelare / to lift the veil) as us telling our story of what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen in a way that encourages us to be active in effecting this movement.”

Similarly, Molly Williams, the Art Consultant, gushed backstage about the inspiration behind the shoots that promoted the show. “All the shoots we have done draw on strong visual language relating to REVELATION. We have pulled influence from Man Ray’s surrealist photography to Madame Yevonde, Kehinde Wiley, and Hieronymus Bosch. There are deep roots within the show to art and we chose to manifest this as strongly as we could.” Art and fashion fuse throughout the show, as the visual and interactive nature of the designs coincide with the chaos of their artistic inspiration.

Lucky enough to know one of the designers, I spoke to Grace Wang, a local student creator, whose immaculate collection was being shown for the very first time. She candidly let me in on the hectic designing and sewing process, “I was in my little ABH dorm room the whole time. My back was hurting, sweating over my desk trying to get everything done”, she laughed, and explained how she barely went out at all in the month leading up to her dress submission deadline. The rigorous nature of design became most apparent during the last few weeks, and the time commitment undertaken by all those involved is something that can quite often be overlooked. Design is Grace’s passion and the career path she wishes to follow. Her collection encompasses growth, focusing on nature and the symbol of the sun – a nod towards how light can reveal faceted realities.

Models Ahmad and Tom (before losing his locks)

Though the theme of REVELATION has deep roots in Christian history, Libby Regan, Head of Fashion, said the fashion team did their best to find many different and often opposing aesthetics in the various designers that formed part of the show. They looked for collections that they felt aligned with what Elise calls a “true revelation”, hoping that the fashion could be perceived as more than clothing, as not only a thought-provoking tool, but as something that provides a visceral bodily reaction, whether that is one of awe, confusion, or excitement. I asked Libby what some of her favourite pieces were in the show and she did not fail to impress. One of her favourite pieces in menswear was made by Henrietta Frihammar. In Libby’s words, Frihammar experimented with sexuality and its relationship to gender. Her looks were amongst the pieces that opened the show and involved baggy jeans with textured tops, looks that are not usually seen daily. As for womenswear designers, Jackie Schmidt’s Paco Rabanne-inspired looks used old bottle caps and reconstructed cans into state-of-the-art dresses, tops, trousers, and sweaters. Subversive and sustainable, Libby’s favourites reflect DONT WALK’s vision of making statements using readily available resources.

Molly Donohoe, Head of Logistics, relayed some of the biggest challenges when it came to the logistics of the show. Transportation was their most important factor, particularly ensuring there were plenty of buses scheduled at the right times to get all the guests to the venue before the show. Taking note of the complaints in 2020 regarding the number of buses, the Logistics team made sure to hire more buses than they had in the past, which ended up being greatly beneficial on the night. According to Molly, everything ran to plan, though a reminder of the ongoing pandemic was two food trucks dropping out the week before the show as a result of COVID-19. This is, of course, something we have all adjusted to and the events team tackled the problem quickly, managing to get another food vendor at the last minute. 

At the end of the show, following the frenzy of the DONT WALK committee dancing on stage, I managed to grab Julija Koletnik to discuss her experience modelling for DONT WALK. “It was the first time I was modelling and I honestly don’t remember the last two hours.” One look after the next, it was an overwhelming level of energy from the audience – “it’s so easy to feed off of”, beamed a breathless Julija. On stage, models are able to experience an “alternate reality” in which they can transform into a completely different person. “It’s a mask I put on”, she relayed, joking that she felt like a Bond girl in the shimmering gold dress she wore. 

After the show, there was an intermission in which the stages were moved and the after-party DJs set up to play their sets. Blaring bass and hypnotic flashing lights were reminiscent of all the DW Vic nights that anticipated the energy of the show. With headliners Anetha and LSDXOXO, the night blurred into uninhibited celebration. Though I am not sure it was DONT WALK’s intention, by the end of the night, after wearing heels for over nine hours, I indeed did not walk. I was simply unable to. 

While it may seem strange to reflect on the modernity present in DW’s fashion show when its theme covers a text of antiquity, in both its creativity and delivery, DONT WALK managed to generate ‘a new heaven and a new earth’. A nod to Elise’s vision of creating hope during a time of disillusionment, the dichotomy between old and new fashioned itself into the sublime, as the spectators revelled in the hybridities of music, art, and fashion.

Models backstage after the show

Keyona is Iranian-American and grew up in Qatar. Currently, she studies English and adores writing, music, and any creative way to express herself. She loves poetry and finds herself drawn to Victorian and 20th-century poets as well as themes of duality, identity, and gender. She is constantly inspired by family and friends (and random fleeting experiences of the everyday).

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