What’s the connection between our clothes and our intimate spaces? To Be Adorned investigates
With photography by Anna-Rose McChesney and design by Billy Paterson, the photobook documents individuals’ most meaningful outfits in the spaces they feel most comfortable.
- Olivia Hingley
- 21 September 2023
The seed for Anna-Rose McChesney’s To Be Adorned was first planted after a trip to the Glasgow School of Art archives. As a photographer interested in personal style and fashion subculture, Anna wanted to see how students at the institution had historically dressed, and the parallels that could be drawn to the dress of students today. Delving into the gender explorative dress of 1920s painting students to the matching cotton smocks of a 1950s drama society, Anna-Rose felt compelled to begin her own documentation of what students are wearing today, the stories behind such fashion choices and where such ensembles have been sourced.
From the beginning of the project Anna-Rose knew she wanted it to have a relaxed feel, showing her subjects at their most comfortable. And so she decided to show people in their intimate habitats, like their bedrooms or living rooms. “The portrait is quite a formal construction, and to have it in quite a personal space like a bedroom interrupts that formality which I think is interesting,” Anna-Rose says. Though to maintain a level of continuity, Anna-Rose turned each space into a ‘studio’, maintaining the same two flash lights – enough to draw attention to the objects in each individual’s space – and asking most subjects to take a seated position. “People started to mention my series as ‘the bedroom series’ and I would say ‘no it’s about the clothing’,” Anna-Rose says. “But as time went by I think the bedrooms became equally as important as the clothing.”
To design the book Anna-Rose collaborated with graphic designer Billy Paterson. Alongside the shoots, Anna-Rose had interviewed each subject, but when including the textual aspect of the project, Billy was keen to avoid making it feel like a directory. Instead of including people’s interviews next to their image, they were collated at the end of the book – allowing the images (at first) to speak for themselves. “I wanted it to be a bit like people watching, I suppose!” Billy says. In terms of overall aesthetic, Billy wanted the book to emulate the historical “almost theatrical” connotations of its title – a juxtaposition to the content that he found interesting – “I didn’t think that trackies, Buffalos and band tees were really the first things that sprung to mind when I thought of being ‘adorned’.” To create this sense of grandeur Billy opted for a deep red fabric hardcover, and Klim Type Foundry’s Signifier, for longform text.
The book is brimming with great outfits and insightful observations about style and identity. For Anna-Rose the portrait of her long-time friend Ocean stands out. Ocean’s portrait shows them in a black skin-tight body suit and cowboy hat, splayed elegantly on their bed, almost appearing mid-dance. In their interview, Ocean states “dressing up as well as other things like dancing, listening to music, seeing friends and meditating, all these things are self-care”, a sentiment that resonates with Anna-Rose: “I think part of the reason why I dress up every day is to make myself feel good and confident,” she says. Billy, on the other hand, has a soft spot for Belle’s photo for its “punchy” colour and composition, but also the ethos she outlines in her interview: “Someone once said to me you spend half your time on your bed and half your time on your feet, so I spend good money on bedding and shoes.”
Not only fuelled by the desire to show people at their most authentic, Anna-Rose also hopes To Be Adorned raises the importance of more conscious fashion choices – many of the people featured throughout have made their own clothes or sourced them secondhand. “The journey to finding that special thing can be equally as important as the garment itself,” she says. Billy also sees the project’s pertinence as a piece of history – a visual guide to a specific, if fleeting, moment in time. “While style is blurred, fragmented, and also informed by the internet, it also means that these things are constantly changing and fleeting,” he says. “So I feel that the book acts as a way to solidify and create a physical time capsule for these photos to live within and look back on over time.”
GalleryTo Be Adorned (Copyright © Anna-Rose McChesney, 2023)
To Be Adorned (Copyright © Anna-Rose McChesney, 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.