Caryn photographed by Flora Maclean

Caryn photographed by Flora Maclean

Caryn online2.jpg

Caryn Franklin MBE

In partnership with COS

Fashion and identity commentator

Professor Caryn Franklin MBE is a multi-hyphenate fashion and identity commentator and self-professed “disruptive fashion lover.” Her fascinating career in fashion, publishing and education has always been carried out with a strong undercurrent of her endless pursuit of activism in all forms. As a result, Caryn has opened the industry’s eyes to all manner of issues surrounding sustainability, ageism, prejudice, eating disorders, fair trade, gender and race. Anything with a whiff of injustice and Caryn will be bringing it to our attention and fighting for change. 

This heroic characteristic was formed early on. Caryn remembers at 10-years-old talking to her family about beauty pageants, questioning why it was only women involved in the competition. Caryn later watched as activist Say Alexander protested with flour bombs at the 1970 Miss World completion at the Albert Hall, live on TV. “I remember asking my parents what they thought about it,” Caryn recalls. “I was 11, and had yet to hear the word 'feminist.’”

In 1982, after completing a BA at Kingston, Caryn went on to do a post-graduate degree at St Martins where she spent her time “photographing my friends who were all designers, people in clubs, people in bands.” She would send these images to i-D which had started in 1980. Back then, i-D HQ was in Terry Jones’ house so Caryn would work from there, going off on assignments to photograph musicians, club nights and designers and bringing them back to be featured in the then rather haphazardly-created magazine. “It was amazing fun,” Caryn remembers. “If we weren't clubbing we'd often stay very late and Tricia, Terry’s wife, would stomp up the stairs and go, ‘Can you lot just F-off! We’ve had enough of you!’ As she walked into a room that was like a smoky club with Public Image Limited on the record player. I have very fond memories of that.”

Working on i-D magazine set a precedent for how Caryn would approach the rest of her career. “i-D and Terry shaped me because we looked at people for their ideas and their unique self, not for the brands that they were wearing,” Caryn says. “We featured people of all ages, race, size, and orientation, so that was how I expected fashion to be.”

Back then in the 1980s Caryn points out that, “we didn't have social networking, so our clothes had to do the talking.” Back then when Caryn favoured an androgynous look of masculine clothes, white shirts played a big part. Often paired with squared shoulder pads, a shaved head, bondage trousers and DMs. “I hadn't yet heard the words 'glass ceiling' and, of course, I hadn't become a parent, so I didn't yet experience the inequalities in the workplace,” Caryn says. “So, the white shirts, for me, represented a move into masculine attire on my terms.”

These days, Caryn describes her clothes as her friends: “They support me to do what I've got to do.” She uses clothing knowingly: utilising it as her armour, uniform, or tools. “If I wear a plain white shirt, I’ll add some big shapes or colours to accessorise and I love a long length waistcoat or a wrap of fabric round my neck or clipped to my hair,” Caryn explains. “I have other white shirts with frills down the front, they look great with suit jackets and denim skirts or jeans.” She openly dismisses trends as “tyrannical.” Right now, the battle she’s fighting is for awareness surrounding sustainability in fashion consumption. She references her daughters’ attitude to it as a beacon of hope for the future. “They both buy second hand, they both sell all their clothes, they're very politicised about where it's come from, who made it,” she says. “In my family we patch things, and we darn things: I wear a pair of jeans that I've had for twenty years and that I had complete remade about ten years ago by a brand called 'Junky Styling', who took them apart and put them back together again….It's really important to me to be a really discerning consumer.”


All photography by Flora Maclean