Hi,

Apologies for my tardiness.  I cannot believe how long it has been since my last post.  Please do forgive me. I am just so busy all the time!  Though I believe most people think that running a gallery seems to involve nothing more than sitting around looking glamorous, eating cakes and taking money (I wish),  there is rather more to it than that, as my recent work experience students can testify I’m sure!  Which reminds me of a story… However, I must not get distracted, so here we go with the next episode of the story of Cupola.

The Looming Supertram.

With support from my new mentor, David, I began to organise and curate shows, bring in new stock and manage the picture framing business more effectively.  I was essentially running two businesses on my own which meant I was working all hours of the day and night, and often 7 days a week.  Looking back now I cannot for the life of me work out how I did it, but I did.  My new husband did try to help at one point but it was pretty obvious that was definitely NOT going to work.  He,  I am sure won’t mind me saying, is about as practical as a, well, a completely impractical thing!

Amidst this, with me working very hard to build my business, I remember being approached by someone doing a survey about building what is now called the Sheffield Supertram.  Of course I didn’t really know what it was all about or have much of an understanding of what the construction work was going to mean for businesses in my area.  Fortunately for me, the small number of businesses around me had created their own little network called Middlewood Traders and they regularly got together to try to help improve things for members in the area. They even ran their own weekly raffle, it was great stuff.  Kate, one of the members who owned a transport cafe knew that she would go out of business; our road was going to be turned into a cul-de-sac for approximately three years. When I heard about this, I knew something had to be done and was absolutely determined that if I was going out of business I would go out because I did, not because someone or something else put me out.

So I decided that I needed to do something to raise the gallery profile significantly and I hatched a cunning plan …

My International Fashion Show

Please don’t ask me why I decided to try to host a fashion show in two domestic scale shop units and a back yard for my profile raising stunt,  I know it was a ridiculous, impractical and a slightly unhinged idea, but staying true to form that was what I decided to do.  It meant a crazy amount of work but I didn’t mind that and it did help me make some amazing new connections with some wonderfully talented people. I can’t remember the name of the woman now who offered to help with the PR side and my amazing friend and customer, Matthew, helped in a way that can only be described as utterly selfless, verging on the masochistic. He volunteered to help me start work at 5 am, painting the cellar ALL NIGHT, leaving him off his head with the fumes so that he couldn’t even manoeuvre a table out of the front door which he had offered to store!

I advertised the opportunity for artists through Artists Newsletter and local fashion colleges. I ended up being sent work from Italy and London as well as getting work from local fashion students.  The Crucible Theatre offered to do the sound and lighting for me for nothing and I borrowed a catwalk from a school.  We also used a local model agency for our catwalk models, who had to change in my basement, which was cleared and painted thanks to Matthew.

Through all this, it was painting the naked models in the yard which caught the eye of the national press.  I think they would have been even more delighted had there been a tin bath as well as my outside toilet, keen on depicting the northern stereotype.  Whereas the men in the bookies next door formed an orderly queue to take a peek out of the back window …

independent wed 14 july 93

Here is the coverage I managed to get in the Independent, and what elicited my ‘good girl’ postcard from my mentor and friend David Butterfield.

Despite it being a ridiculous idea I did get an astonishing amount of press coverage; I had 15 articles in the local press, coverage in the nationals and a good slot on local TV wearing a dress made out of the colour separation sheets from a laser copier. The TV appearance was great fun, naturally there were a few incidents too.  One of the models managed to give herself a massive black eye the day before the TV show and had to use stage make-up to cover it up and one of the male models refused to appear, however, I definitely understood why.  One of the fashion pieces was a denim bikini for a man, which he had been happy to model for our photos shoot (I WILL find that picture), but he had not been informed by the model agency that the TV wanted to shoot that particular piece. He therefore had told all his friends and family to watch, so when asked to model the “boy bikini” he refused.  The TV tried hard to persuade him as they were desperate to use the tag line “and now here’s a number for Richard Whitely on his holidays” .  Yes, it would have been great, but a ‘no show’ on that one I’m afraid.  It would have become a classic I’m sure.

Here are a few press cuttings from The Sheffield Telegraph.

Fashion by Russian artist for Cupola's fashion show.

Front Page of The Sheffield Telegraph.

Coverage in the local Sheffield Telegraph

Coverage in The Sheffield Telegraph

I do have images of some of the fashion items somewhere and I will post them when I find them.  We had the denim wear and also rubber wear(!) as well as other pieces.  I now know that you have to use talcum powder to get rubber wear on … You really do learn something new everyday!

We had a national competition winner’s dress, we had boys in bikinis, we were ahead of the times (Mankini?)  Bah! Girls stuff Heh! Heh!

The lovely, talented, and amazing Elton from ‘Hair by Christmas’ as it was called back then (now Betty Tigers) did all the hair styles for the models for free too.  The way people helped out and pitched in was just fantastic, it simply would not have been possible otherwise.

So, how did we actually manage to fit in a catwalk into the rather small space? Well … We built the catwalk around from one room to the other and out into the back yard where we erected a marquee!  ‘Marquee Mark’ did a marvellous job attaching part of the marquee directly to the wall of the building and securing another corner to the staircase that led to next door’s upstairs flat.  It did restrict their entrance, but I bought them a bottle of champagne to say ‘thank you and sorry’ for the inconvenience.

The event was two shows in one day, and believe me, that was enough.  I can only tell you how much work it all was and then suddenly it was over, but we did manage to pull it off, amazingly.  Everyone seem pleased with the event except one artist who had come up from London.  She was clearly expecting something else when she arrived, something far grander I presume.  I say that as she declined to allow her work to be used in the show.  It was a shame as it was lovely work and we had allocated a model to wear it, but it wasn’t to be.  I offered to pay her travel expenses but she declined and simply drove all the way back to London again.  Such is life.

Anyway, the strategy clearly worked in terms of profile raising as we got huge amounts of press coverage across newspapers, magazines, radio and TV.  The feature on local TV even managed to impress my in-laws; no mean feat I warrant you!  I suddenly became ‘Our Karen’.

Mission accomplished; my new status as ‘press friendly’ was to become invaluable as the Supertram works were looming, little did I know how valuable.

This fashion show, however unrealistic, time and cost inefficient, was the most amazing experience on so many levels.  I met wonderful, creative, generous people, learnt a huge amount and delivered something no-one really thought possible.  I am not sure I would ever do it again, but it made me ambitious, adventurous and maybe even more daring than I was previously.  With that under my belt I was ready to tackle anything!  Or so I thought …

Little did I realise that my biggest challenge was just about to start.

I’ll try not to leave it so long next time.

K x

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