by Jari-Pekka Vanhala
Central St Martins in London, a prestigious art school and the alma mater of such celebrities as Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and John Galliano, organises an unusual design competition for its students every year. The object of the competition known as the Grayson Perry Project is to create a new outfit for Claire, Perry’s colourful transvestite alter ego. Claire is not only model and muse for the contestants but also a client, as she is in the habit of purchasing many of the creations presented in the competition. The best outfit wins the Golden Claire Award.
The contest has been held since 2004 for second-year students, with around twenty contestants participating every year. For a period of five weeks, Grayson Perry assumes the role of a tutor to inspire the students and to explain to them his philosophy of dress and also the strong and weak points of his physique that need to be taken into consideration when designing the outfit. Anything sporty or denim is out of the question, for example, nor is Perry interested in skirts, blouses or frocks. Claire’s style has evolved over the years, becoming increasingly extravagant and flashy.
Dressing up is for Perry’s Claire persona a way of expressing herself in ways that would otherwise not be possible.
The competition is actually quite useful for Perry who needs new outfits constantly, ever more fantastic looks that never cease to astound. They fly in the face of all conventional dress codes while forging new trends in which elements from Victorian fashion to psychedelic anime blend into a seamless whole. Dressing up is for Perry’s Claire persona a way of expressing herself in ways that would otherwise not be possible.