Skip to main content

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Dr Kate Bethune speaks at Solent V&A Event

Re:So welcomed Dr Kate Bethune, Director’s Researcher at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum, as guest speaker at a creative networking event for students last month.

Kate has worked on a number of high-profile projects within fashion, including the curation and design of the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition. We chatted to her about her career and advice for students entering the creative industry today.

Tell us a potted history of how you’ve got to where you are today…

I actually started out doing a PhD in early American history at Cambridge University and then I decided that academia wasn’t for me. I really wanted to work in a museum and thought it would be a good fit between intellectual curiosity and working with objects and people, so I actually did some interning at the V&A in the word and image department. I then started on the five-year assistant curator development programme, where you spend four years in a home department developing depth of expertise and then a year on secondment to get breadth of experience. I was assigned to fashion, where I started working on fashion exhibitions, and that’s when the McQueen job came up. That changed everything for me and that’s when I became a senior researcher.

When planning an exhibition, what inspires you to be creative?

I think you have to look at anything and everything and draw inspiration from far and wide. Think outside the box as well, whether you find it in the street, the shopping centre or even in a car park. Alexander McQueen was a big inspiration to me. He drew his references from far and wide – from fine art, iconographic art and films to gothic literature. It really opened my mind up to understand and appreciate just how limitless in his imagination and just how creative he was.

What do you love about working at the V&A?

It’s the best office, if ever you’re having a bad day you just need to go down into the galleries and then everything just melts away and you’re inspired again, there are just so many incredible objects around you, it’s impossible not to be inspired. Alexander McQueen himself drew inspiration from the galleries and he said that it’s the nation’s privilege to have access to such a space, so I feel very very lucky to work at the V&A.

What advice would you give to fashion students hoping to pursue a career in the creative industries?

I think the best thing to do is to say yes to as many opportunities as you can. I’ve got where I am by saying yes to as many jobs as I can do. You never know what doors will open to you for doing that. And I would say align yourself with busy people. Busy people often don’t have the time to do everything themselves but by picking up their surplus work you get noticed and you can build a profile for yourself. Don’t just think about looking into working with the big museums for work experience, there are so many smaller museums with wonderful collections, especially in fashion, and they really do depend on volunteers and again also work experience and you never know where it could lead.

Kate’s talk is one of a series of events featuring industry leaders, specialists and experts, run by Re:So – Solent University’s ‘Retail Solent’ initiative. Re:So is an innovative concept that has been developed by the University’s fashion management programme to provide a real life, work-based learning model, placing emphasis on developing industry led employability skills.