Anna Lynett Moss Teaches Fashion School—at Prison
And, big surprise, we could all learn a thing or two.
“People with creative training are in a unique position to envision innovative alternatives to some of our deepest social problems,” says Anna Lynett Moss. Thing is, the woman behind the high-functioning bag line Chiyome is no blowhard: She led a garment-reconstruction workshop at a home for teenage girls, is working with the UN to develop a socially-conscious accessories line, and teaches fashion courses at the women’s jail on Rikers Island. Yes, our jaws are on the floor, too. Here’s a look at her Fashion Theory course syllabus. —carly pifer
“Fashion Theory is the most successful course I’ve taught through the Prison Education Initiative in the women’s jail on Rikers Island. Attendance for classes typically ranges from 6 to 20 students, but for the fashion unit, we got 30 every time. One course highlight was examining the idea of cultural identity and ownership through the Burberry Prorsum Resort 2012 collection, which used a print inspired by a Ghanaian wax-print technique. I think it’s something my students dwell on: where they come from, what traditions they maintain—it’s something I think about in my own work all the time. Some of my students were excited to see the fabric brought to the luxury spotlight. Others were uncomfortable with it but thought the work could be legitimized by referencing native forms more directly. I think collectively we were able to have a more nuanced understanding of that collection and move away from a purely aesthetic interpretation.”
“Edward Burtynsky has produced an incredible body of work highlighting some of the world’s most surreal industrial landscapes—I’m obsessed. This image stood out as a reminder of what kind of conditions must exist for communities in developing nations so that we can buy sweaters for $7 from fast-fashion retailers. A new sweater shouldn’t be $7. Many of my students said they prefer purchasing clothes second-hand, which is a smart alternative.”
“As a group, we considered the messages we receive from the fashion industry about body image and physical differences. Too often it seems any attempt by the industry to celebrate difference is a fleeting stylistic choice. In their Fall 2012 collection, The Row presented their work on all white models. What does it mean for my students of color not to see many icons of beauty who mirror their image? Many of my students claimed they felt alienated by conventions they see in fashion advertising and on the runway.”
“We looked at expressions of beauty through fashion in different parts of the world—like in this image of a Maasai woman on her wedding day from the November 1999 edition of National Geographic. We reminded ourselves that our notions of beauty are inherited and often reveal more about the values of our culture than our individual standards. It didn’t seem as if many of my students had conceptualized their personal standards of beauty in a larger context, so our conversation was very rich.”