Home / The Contour Life: 3 Exhausting Years, £30,000 in debt … and friendly rivals
600x74 Bridal Guide


The countdown to Final Collection officially begins in January, although from day one of university it’s been on everyone’s minds.

Inspiration folders and sketchbooks are brimming with three years’ worth of preparation, and a desire to find a unique idea for our collections. Certain subjects are banned such as fishes, circuses, butterflies and fairies, along with techniques the tutors feel have been overdone, such as plastic moulding.

Facing the aesthetic tutors can be a little intimidating when you are unfolding the details of your collection at first. Tears are just part and parcel of tutorial days as sleep-deprived girls realize that yes, you can notice that hole and no amount of lace appliqué will say otherwise … and you really, truly can NEVER have enough drawing.

Once the emotion passes and you’ve had some sleep, it becomes evident the criticism is nothing but constructive and never unnecessary. You clearly see the difference between the students who take on board what has been said and transform their collections into something awe-inspiring, and others who let their bitterness cloud their judgment and never fully develop their potential.

Our tutors demand a lot from us students so that we make the most of the opportunities they organize, which in turn develops the reputation of the course that they have worked tirelessly to build in the last 65 years.

The technical tutor, David, is a hard person to impress, having been in the course in its early days and involved in the industry ever since. He quite literally is someone who has seen it all from industry and students. This wealth of knowledge and perspective is to my advantage: he has worked with me helping me perfect the shape of my pattern, keeping in touch with my development and helping out wherever possible.

Diljit, the sewing room technician, is someone whom we worship. As our fingers are left numb from unpicking and redoing seams, the words “Leave it with me” are savored amongst us. To this day there has never been a hole too big or seam to wonky that Diljit cannot rescue. She has nurtured us from clueless little first years into (mostly) graceful third years.

With only a small percentage of sewing machines to the amount of students, the sewing rooms operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. It’s the reason that despite passing out on your desk at 5 a.m., with just one more presentation board left to finish, you find yourself first thing in the morning, waiting with sewing bobbin in hand in a bedraggled and slightly dazed state in order to get first in line for a machine ready for another 13-hour day of sewing.

There’s no doubt about it: Contour Fashion at De Montfort University is demanding.

You are required to complete the work of an entire company all by yourself; any area overlooked could be another mark dropped. Admission to the course is competitive (the year I got in they interviewed 600 students and admitted just under 40) so everyone is driven to achieve as much as they can as soon as they arrive. We were warned in our welcome speech to the course about the magnitude of the workload and the strict deadlines; you need to be strong both physically and mentally to survive the all-nighters that litter each and every term.

It’s a strange thing for most university students to grasp, but the long hours are so physically demanding it’s important to stay healthy. While focusing 24/7 on my work, my cuisine efforts aren’t wildly aspirational but I do make sure I pack myself full of enough caffeine to stay vertical throughout the day and have healthy food sent to my door to fend off any sugar lows. However, all the stress and panic are just the price we have to pay in order to spend our university years doing something we love. Our passion for lingerie keeps us motivated.

Living in a house with four other very successful girls in the course has its good and bad points. In no other house would you be able to run across the hall at 4 in the morning and ask for a bias binder, pattern master or overlocker needle and expect the person to A) be awake, B) know what you mean, and C) actually have what you are looking for.

That we are competing against each other is just a fact of life that we have to deal with, and after three years of living in each other’s pockets we’ve reached a silent understanding to keep some things to ourselves to avoid conflict. It is sad and against my nature not to share but we are always there to support each other’s triumphs, even if you have to wipe away your own tears of disappointment when you lose. You cannot spend three years of your life experiencing the highs and lows of Contour life without bonding to the people who go through it together with you.

It is a similar situation throughout the course. Fashion girls are renowned for bitchiness and while there are definitely the odd whisperings and rumors snaking under the surface here and there, Contour is a tight-knit community and everyone in the course becomes like a family: cliché perhaps, but true. Not only are we always looking out for each other, but we also share the same lax standards of personal space and appropriate nudity — only in Contour will you be sitting in Uni having a cup of tea, in a nipple tassels and knickers, whilst blandly discussing the weather….

The thought of life after Contour is a daunting one. Discussion of job opportunities, rejections and interviews are common among us. It is a worry for everyone that after three exhausting years and £30,000 of debt we’ve now got to take all our knowledge and skills and apply them in the real world.

Jobs are thin on the ground as the double-dip recession hits the UK and currently only a handful of our course-mates have ‘Life After Contour’. The competition remains intense; you would not have made it to the end if you were not good enough, but sometimes it’s hard for you to not feel inadequate just walking through the rooms looking at others’ mannequins.

However, the connections are so strong within the industry and the standard of work so high we all remain hopeful that the debt, the sleep deprivation and premature wrinkles will all be worth it.

NEXT: 7 Weeks To Go

5 Responses to “The Contour Life: 3 Exhausting Years, £30,000 in debt … and friendly rivals”

  1. Pauline Bennett says:

    Bryony, your above article was very interesting and enjoyable to read. It states in black and white, the trials and tribulations of any person on this course over a three year period. I am delighted that all your hard work and efforts have paid off and wish you all the very best of luck for the future. I just know you are going to be successful, you have the grit and determination to get what you want (and deserve!) We are so proud of you! Love Pauline and John (Bennett)

  2. Claire says:

    What an incredible journey! I always admire the tenacity of such creative people and I love to read these stories about the creative process and how you get from A to B. I am full of admiration for you! Best of luck for the next leg of the journey! Your future will be bright :)

Leave a Comment