Kōrero Kākahu: Telling Tales

Kia ora! It is Māori Language Week/Te Wiki o te Reo Māori in New Zealand this week so it is fitting that the exhibition I am writing about this month is borne from the beautiful collision of Māori and European cultures. Tell Tails is on show at the Turnbull Gallery at the National Library until August 4th and features the work of three female artists who have drawn their inspiration from the collection of the National Library. The exhibition was created over two years as a collaborative and creative project between Jo Torr, Maureen Lander and Christine Hellyar. The trio have apparently know each other for many years, and this is no surprise as the synergy of the exhibition is apparent through the many ways in which their works echo back to one another. The show gets its name from the tails of kites that Māori used to fly to show them the way in which the wind was blowing – the figurative and literal wind, that is.

Guiding you into the exhibition space (which is very small), is a large woven manu aute (kite) made of willow, feathers string, muka (prepared flax that is worked until it can be woven into garments) and printed linen. The manu aute is a precursor for the pieces to come: the blending of Māori and colonial history that is reflected through the use of blended fabrics. Also outside the gallery is a coat, created in the style depicted in the portraits of Tuai and Titere from which Jo Torr drew inspiration. The back of the coat is embroidered with another manu aute, the image of which was taken from Titere’s letters. Again, there is a blending of fabrics (wool, linen and muka) to reinforce the ways in which cultures were blending. The letter from which the drawing comes, was written by Titere when he was visiting England in 1818. The two young men were enjoying the sights in London, visiting the zoo and attending high society balls, a far cry from their lives in New Zealand.

Moemoeā by Jo Torr

Moemoeā by Jo Torr. Photo by Matariki Williams

Though I liked the idea of having these two works (there was a third also) outside the gallery, I think the objects need to be able to stand alone and this can be done with great interpretation. If not, these objects can look out of place in what is (in this case anyway) a quiet reading room for the library. Furthermore, if the exhibition narrative is going to start outside, visitors shouldn’t have to go back to labels to make sense of the content as I had to with this exhibition.

Inside the gallery space, Christine Hellyar’s piece Cordage Cloud reiterates the theme of collaboration in the exhibition as she utilises flax that was given to her by Maureen Lander and Jo Torr. It also highlights the repetition of threes seen throughout: three artists, and the three woven strands of the plaits used within the piece.


Cordage Cloud by Christine Hellyar. Photo by Matariki Williams.

My favourite pieces of the exhibition were those of Maureen Lander. Lander was taught to weave by the late master weaver Diggeress Te Kanawa and was the first Māori woman to gain a Doctorate in Fine Arts from a New Zealand university. The first piece of hers was the three hanging bonnets, these drew my attention as soon as I entered the room. An inspiring friend of mine first introduced me to thinking about how thoughts regarding bodies are constructed and manipulated through the display of objects. The suspension of the three bonnets, facing one another as if in conversation, their shadows stretching across the wall, all of them at head height, immediately brought this idea to mind: I could imagine the wearers. Instead of being mere objects, they had an element of embodiment attached to them. Reading about the inspiration for this work made me even more excited. Lander had chosen a watercolour by Joseph Merrett called The Warrior Chieftains of New Zealand, and when she carried out further research on the painting, she uncovered the story of Hariata Heke, a woman with a penchant for red who led 700 men into battle. Hariata would often fight wearing a tartan skirt, red jacket and blue bonnet adorned with red feathers.


Hariata’s War Garb by Maureen Lander. Photo by Matariki Williams.

 The final piece I want to mention is also by Lander, a deconstructed cloak inspired by a red cloak that was exhibited at the British Museum in 1998 with no known provenance. A cloak which she had made for the Te Papa exhibition Kahu Ora has been taken apart and hung, as if it were a collection of newly created pieces drying before being made into a cloak. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this kind of process before wherein something is created for a specific purpose, then a mystery presents itself for solving, so this object is recalled to help solve the mystery through a process that completely unravels the original object, purpose and story. It is a brave and invigorating prospect!


Hongi’s Red Cloak – Deconstructed by Maureen Lander. Photo by Matariki Williams


Detail of Hongi's Red Cloak - Deconstructed by Maureen Lander. Photo by Matariki Williams.

Detail of Hongi’s Red Cloak – Deconstructed by Maureen Lander. Photo by Matariki Williams.

What a great idea this exhibition is; letting artists feed off the nation’s largest art collection in such a visceral manner to produce new artworks should continue on. I hope this carries on in some way in the future.

A note on my column title: Kōrero Kākahu translates very literally from Māori to English as “talk of clothing” but can also be read as the stories gleaned from clothing or the stories that clothing holds. Future columns, particularly those that cover Māori content, may delve into this meaning a little deeper.


Call for Nominations: TSA Fellows

New Program: Fellows of the Textile Society of America

Nominations Open May 1, 2015

Nominations Deadline Extended to August 15, 2015


The Textile Society of America is instituting a new program to recognize and honor individuals who have over the course of their careers, made path-breaking contributions to the field, in textile scholarship, education, art, or in sustaining textile arts globally.

Through this program TSA aims to foster recognition and appreciation for those who have dedicated their lives and work to the study, creation and preservation of textiles, and in doing so have inspired colleagues and transformed the field.

All TSA members are invited and encouraged to nominate colleagues who merit the status of Fellow of the Textile Society of America. Fellows need not be nationals or residents of the United States or Canada, nor do they have to be TSA members. Each nomination must be supported by a substantial account of the nominee’s contributions, including a brief professional biography of the nominee, as well as listing of seminal publications, exhibitions, or history of work. Each submission must be endorsed by two additional TSA members.

TSA will announce its first Fellows in the fall of this year, 2015. Nominations will be reviewed and selected biennially, by a special TSA Board-appointed committee.


You Should Be Reading: Kimonos

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts recently faced controversy over an event promoting La Japonaise, a 1876 Monet painting of his wife, Camille, wearing a kimono. The museum invited visitors to try on a kimono for a photo op in front of the painting. When snapshots from “Kimono Wednesdays” surfaced on social media, the MFA was swiftly accused of cultural insensitivity, appropriation, and racism. Of those protesting the event, several expressed disappointment in the lack of information provided to visitors, who wore the kimono without learning about the garment’s history or significance. While reactions to the event and the MFA’s attempts to deflect backlash have been the focus of media coverage, I want to take this opportunity to share several recent academic articles on kimonos. I also recommend the catalog for the Met’s recent kimono exhibition. I don’t think any fashion historians would argue that we always want to promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of costume. 

1. Francks, Penelope. (2015). Was Fashion a European Invention?: The Kimono and Economic Development in Japan. Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, 19(3), 331-62. 

It is still widely assumed that the emergence of fashion was a uniquely European phenomenon and that, conversely, non-Western clothing systems must have remained static and “traditional.” Hence, in the case of Japan, clothing modernity continues to be equated with the adoption of Western-style dress. This article presents evidence that, through the period of Japanese economic growth and industrialization from the eighteenth century to World War II, the kimono outfits that most women continued to wear were subject to a process of change that can only be understood as fashion. As a result, by the interwar period, kimono fashion had become a mass-market force that continued to influence the production and consumption of dress, even as, in the postwar period, most women switched to Western-style clothing. Fashion is thus not necessarily a European invention and can represent a significant economic force, even if it comes in distinctively non-European forms. – Full Article Abstract

2. Assmann, Stephanie. (2008). Between Tradition and Innovation: The Reinvention of the Kimono in Japanese Consumer Culture. Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, 12(3), 359-76.

The kimono plays a marginalized role in contemporary society, but continues to he worn on festive occasions. In this article I explore the role of the kimono from several angles. Based on participant observation and in-depth interviews with members of two organizations, I examine two diametrically opposed approaches towards the kimono in order to provide an insight on how differently it is being reinvented in Japanese society. I will identify four areas in which the kimono is being kept alive in Japan. First, I argue that the kimono is related to consumption. Not only does the purchase of the garment itself involve consumption, but the training of how to wear a kimono is also related to consumption of education and experience. Conventional approaches towards the kimono that emphasize manners and etiquette coexist with innovative approaches that experiment with age and gender boundaries. Secondly, mastering the art of the kimono can be interpreted as a form of cultural capital whereby the kimono fulfills a role in social distinction. Thirdly, I argue that wearing a kimono has become an expression of collective individualism that is often embedded in group activities. I conclude that the kimono has become a communicative symbol to convey an individual attitude towards societal conventions and national identity. – Full Article Abstract

3. Cliffe, Sheila. (2010). Revisioning the Kimono. Critical Studies in Fashion & Beauty, 1(2), 217-31.

Whilst the kimonoed woman is an unchanging stereotype of Japanese beauty, this article suggests that due to the interaction of kimono with the processes of globalization (technological and in terms of communication), the kimono continues to metamorphose to meet the needs of its fashionable, urban, contemporary wearers. – Full Article Abstract

Image credit: MFA.org


This teacher talked about ethics – Part II

This May, I wrote about a discussion that emerged in class about unethical brand behaviour. (If you want to see part I of the article click here.)

The majority of the class seemed to demonstrate that it is indeed from a different generation with a different set of values than mine, stating that discrimination, racism, exclusion are things that brands can do and that this does not even matter. Brands are entitled to exclude whoever they like.

Well here is the update on this class. The students were asked to work in groups and invent a new ad campaign for the said brand which aims to improve its ethics. So, although the students argued that none of these issues matter to them, during project time, they had to deal with them in depth.

The results were the exact opposite of what they had loudly stated in class!

During their research phase they looked at various activists and ambassadors of being ‘real’ or being ‘different’.

An insiring personality for the students: Shaun Ross.

An inspiring personality for the students: Shaun Ross.

The six groups then each took a different approach: Some created a campaign to raise awareness of plus size customers, others used a hashtag social media campaign to include all races, sizes and ethnicities. And one group had the most daring approach: It wanted to use famous personalities with disabilities who would wear the clothes and turn the brand’s ethos upside-down.

Students took inspiratoin from a spoof ad by "The Militant Baker" during their research

Students took inspiratoin from a spoof ad by “The Militant Baker” during their research


It was amazing to watch the groups present their concepts. This amazement was not only because they did a good and well-researched presentation, but because I was amazed at their thoughts. After dealing with the topic in depth they actually changed their opinions. All of the sudden they saw a new perspective.
So perhaps the Generation Y is different, because it has the ability of changing, improving and grasping concepts which don’t come to them naturally at first.

Chantelle Winnie: Another inspiration for the students.

Chantelle Winnie: Another inspiration for the students.

Have you ever experienced a 180° change of opinion whilst teaching?



Book Review: London Society Fashion

Heather Firbank photographed by Baron Adolph de Meyer, c.1909

Heather Firbank photographed by Baron Adolph de Meyer, c.1909, London Society Fashion 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, V&A Publishing, 2015

Reading and looking through London Society Fashion 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank is like a prolonged glimpse into a rarefied closet of clothing, of the kind lost to us in our daily routine of contemporary dressing and undressing.  Three dress historians and curators who are intimately familiar with the context and particular histories of these extraordinary objects–Cassie Davies-Strodder, Jenny Lister, and Lou Taylor– guide us through this absorbing case study.  This foundational fashion collection remains highly relevant for the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).  Since the V&A acquired Heather Firbank’s collection of clothing from her lady’s maid and confidant, Adelaide Hallett, in 1957, at least one of her garments has been shown in all subsequent in-house permanent displays of fashion over the last 50 years. Over 30 years ago, V&A curator Valerie D. Mendes noted the immediate distinctiveness and consistency of the “simple uncluttered lines” (Rothstein, 2010: 80) of Ms. Firbank’s wardrobe. London Society Fashion illustrates Ms. Firbank’s understated style very well, and further aims to accomplish the reconciliation of her famous clothes with her personal story.  The date range of the study, 1905-1925, is tied not to curatorial preference but to Heather’s own personal life decisions–in 1926 she packed up her wardrobe to live a quiet life in Sussex, far removed from the social whirlwind that had thus far been her life experience.

Coupled with Heather Firbank’s archive, the clothing is illuminated by surviving letters (especially between herself and her well-known brother, novelist Ronald Firbank), photographic portraits, and an extensive trove of receipts and bills from the court dressmakers and most exclusive couturiers and shops in London during the first few decades of the twentieth century.  As there are no extant diaries of Heather Firbank’s, the experience of her relentless social schedule, wardrobe and behavior requirements, and shopping activities are supplemented by other diaries and recollections of the time, including descriptive passages from the novels or memoirs of Vita Sackville-West, Ronald Firbank, Cecil Beaton, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and Cynthia Asquith, the latter of whom was the same age as Ms. Firbank and was required to navigate the same complex and stifling terrain of rules and expectations set out for the young English debutante.

Heather Firbank in her court presentation dress and tiara, photographed by Lallie Charles, from The Onlooker, 23 May 1908 London Society Fashion, V&A Publishing, 2015

Heather Firbank in her court presentation dress and tiara, photographed by Lallie Charles, from The Onlooker, 23 May 1908.
London Society Fashion 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, V&A Publishing, 2015

A bill from Mascotte, 7 July 1915 London Society Fashion,, V&A Publishing, 2015

A bill from Mascotte, 7 July 1915
London Society Fashion , 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, V&A Publishing, 2015

The authors are very clear from the outset that this is not “a broad brush historical survey” (p. 9), but rather concentrated on one woman’s tastes and life circumstances.  While I couldn’t help but wish to see comparisons between Ms. Firbank’s wardrobe and what other women in her social circles were wearing at the time (or even close-up details of her impeccably made clothing compared with the ready made or handmade pieces worn and bought by middle class women), I can understand the decision to tighten the lens on Ms. Firbank’s life and the dressmakers she favored to do honor to her particular story and to retain a reasonable focus.  There is only one instance of a photographic comparison with another contemporary’s wardrobe–Ms. Emilie Grigsby–in order to show the divergence between Ms. Grigsby’s vibrant and up-to-the-minute evening wear with Ms. Firbank’s sober and simple garments and the disappearance of evening clothes from her wardrobe as she retreated from society into increasing isolation.  This single outside example is very effective in underscoring the change in Heather’s life from a young debutante on the social scene to an unmarried woman with few if any marital prospects.

The life trajectory of Ms. Firbank is ultimately tragic, as her parents and all other siblings died before her (most significantly, the death of her father instigated the rapid loss of the family fortune and place in society as well).  As befits the time and her station, her financial and social well-being would have been tied to a husband, and she was unable or did not wish to consider other options.  In her papers the authors note there is no evidence that Heather was involved in the suffragette movement, nor evidence of involvement with her brother Ronald’s bohemian lifestyle and circle of friends, where she would have been free of the constraints of strict moral codes of behavior and mandatory life milestones such as marriage and producing an heir.  Despite this, Heather did enter into a short-lived, clandestine, and extremely risky affair with an older married man while in her 20s, and this experience seemed to have a lasting effect on her prospect or desire for having a long-lasting relationship.

As we have no access to Heather’s private thoughts through a diary, we will never know exactly why Heather chose not to marry or took enormous risks in having extramarital affairs. We also do not know why Heather continued to spend well beyond her means once she was placed on a strict allowance following her father’s death, continuing to rack up exorbitant bills at her favorite couturiers. Her mother and brother tried in vain to curb her spending, with several letters showing Ronald’s total exasperation with his sister, and her desperate replies for support and understanding. Was her behavior due to depression, holding onto a familiar routine, staving off boredom?  The authors speculate it was largely a love of fashion, fine clothing, and the activity of shopping and dressing well that she could not bring herself to jettison or temper.  In addition to her wardrobe, her collection of fashion-related clippings from newspapers and magazines, sometimes extensively annotated, attests to her passion for clothes and keeping up with the latest fashions.

Emerging from this complicated narrative one thing is clear–this is a woman who clearly enjoyed clothing and knew exactly what she wanted.  Heather amassed a collection of staggering size–over 400 pieces in a time span of 20 years–dictated by the proscribed daily activities and the number of ensembles needed for each–from tailor-mades to afternoon dresses to tea gowns to evening gowns to court gowns.  The V&A was not able to acquire the entire collection–less than half–and a few pieces do survive in other UK fashion collections (as well as some that have stayed with the family, including her “extravagant jewelled horse whip”(p. 62)!). While her style and public image may have been guided by social codes or through the influence of her mother and society tastemakers such as Lady Duff-Gordon (who worked under the label Lucile), her wardrobe is surprisingly consistent throughout the years; as styles change significantly from the 1910s into the 1920s, Heather’s preference for understated, elegant, and simple garments translates to the new mode.

Heather Firbank's dress by Lucile, 1912 A bill from Mascotte, 7 July 1915 London Society Fashion 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, V&A Publishing, 2015

Heather Firbank’s dress by Lucile, 1912
A bill from Mascotte, 7 July 1915
London Society Fashion 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, V&A Publishing, 2015

The authors do note subtle changes in her style that coincide with particular life circumstances, such as an increase in alluring, almost seductive gowns during her secret love affair.  Juvenile clothing gives way to more grown-up wear suitable for a young woman coming out in society. There are garments clearly dictated by the exclusive codes of aristocratic dress and exquisite court wear that adheres to very particular requirements, yet they all still carry Heather’s stamp (sometimes literally, with a sprig of heather motif embroidered with her distinctive signature on a pair of drawers).

A simply stunning and very modern-looking gown by Lucile, from London Society Fashion 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, V&A Publishing, 2015

A simply stunning and very modern-looking gown by Lucile, ca. 1912, from London Society Fashion 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, V&A Publishing, 2015

In the last chapter, the story switches gears–somewhat abruptly but certainly not unexpectedly–from the personal story of Heather Firbank to unearthing the history of the makers of Heather’s wardrobe, “the forgotten world of Edwardian dressmakers”, many of which have been lost to the pages of British fashion history and recent memory. While other society women may have traveled to Paris for their wardrobes, Heather preferred to shop in London. Her favorite tailor was Redfern, she went to court dressmakers Madame Mascotte for blouses and dresses and Kate Reilly for afternoon dresses and hats, among many other couturiers and shops.

Most delightful is a historical map of the period created by the authors, “Shopping with Heather Firbank” which is superimposed with numbers referencing her favorite shopping establishments around Regent, New Bond, and Piccadilly streets—still a shopping mecca in London 100 years later.  In this chapter, the authors also take the opportunity to briefly discuss the working life and work environment of the women who toiled in showrooms and workrooms before and during the First World War.  The hours were long and the pay was low. Their work lives on in these extraordinary garments and accessories.

Tailored jacket and skirt, Redfern, ca. 1911 from London Society Fashion 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, V&A Publishing, 2015

Tailored jacket and skirt, Redfern, ca. 1911
from London Society Fashion 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, V&A Publishing, 2015

Blouses from Mascotte and Irish Linen Stores, ca. 1910 and 1912 from London Society Fashion 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, V&A Publishing, 2015

Blouses from Mascotte and Irish Linen Stores, ca. 1910 and 1912
from London Society Fashion 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, V&A Publishing, 2015

The book is wonderfully illustrated, with nearly 50 full-page color plates, many showing close-up details for which V&A publications are well-known.  It also at times displays a history of dress curation at the V&A.  Photos over 20 or 30 years old show changing tastes in dress and accessory display.  Some older photographs have been cropped for new intended focus or are now reproduced in full color (such as the Lucile suit on the right, seen below) while some pieces are shown with new photography. Several court gowns or evening gowns are photographed flat, attesting to their extreme fragility and the challenges of displaying early 20th century garments.  And yet the majority of Heather’s wardrobe does appear on mannequins, expertly presented.

Tailored jacket and skirt, Lucile, 1912 from London Society Fashion 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, V&A Publishing, 2015

Tailored jacket and skirt, Lucile, 1912
from London Society Fashion 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, V&A Publishing, 2015

This is a tightly focused, well-researched and illustrated study on a period of women’s fashion that has been generally overlooked in recent decades–or was until the drama and costumes of Downtown Abbey, on which Heather’s wardrobe had a definite influence.  I would highly recommend this book as an informative and enjoyable resource for anyone interested in or researching British early 20th century couture, individual wardrobes with attached personal narratives, the history of shopping, couture workrooms and showrooms, London society, or simply beautiful and beautifully made clothes.

All photographs taken from London Society Fashion 1905-1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, V&A Publishing, 2015.

Sources cited:

400 Years of Fashion. Edited by Natalie Rothstein. (V&A Publishing: 2010).  First published by V&A Publications, 1984.


Occupational dress: what to wear to work?

In The Social Psychology of Clothes (1996), Susan B. Kaiser frames occupational dress within a discussion about uniforms and various organisations related to work.  Kaiser suggests that our expectations of how someone should dress within an organization are based not just on their role but also on the type of organization they belong to.  In an organisation involving many people, where it is impossible to interact with everyone, uniforms help to discern roles and responsibilities quickly.

This year, I spent two months in hospital undergoing treatment for a serious heart infection.  It was my first experience of full-time medical care offered by our national health service (NHS).  According to the NHS website, it employs more than 1.6 million people, which puts it in the top five largest work organisations in the world. Others on that list include McDonalds, the Chinese Liberation Army and the US Department of Defence.

A range of NHS England uniforms at a teaching hospital in Leeds

As a patient in an NHS hospital, the first thing you notice is the number of people involved in your day to day care.  On a daily basis, I encountered nurses, student nurses, healthcare assistants, phlebotomists , consultants, registrars, pharmacists, student doctors, microbiologists, domestic staff, administrative staff, volunteers and clergy.  I was able to identify the majority of these roles by dress association or, in other words, their specific uniform.  While nurses wore blue and white uniforms, healthcare assistants wore pink and white.  Domestic staff wore a bluey-purple colour. Senior nurses wore navy blue while a newly qualified nurse wore white.

The multitude of uniforms that passed by my bay each day certainly emphasised the bureaucracy of a large organisation like the NHS, where hierarchy, order and impersonality tend to govern the daily interactions of those within.  However, without the uniforms, it would have been impossible for me to tell who and why someone might be by my bedside at any particular moment.

A NHS junior doctor dressed for work

Even doctors, who are no longer obliged to wear a white lab coat and can wear their own clothes, adopted some degree of uniformed formality that distinguished them from patients or visitors.  Kaiser (1996:290) suggests that in a service organisation, which mainly subsidized by taxes and where the aim is to benefit clients, occupational dress avoids demonstrations of prosperity.  For the NHS doctors I observed, this tended to be in the form of shirts, trousers and skirts in muted colours or just plain black.  Their clothing rarely seemed to draw attention to itself, favouring an austere or conservative approach.

I wanted to share these observations on occupational dress because I am about to write a short literature review on the topic for an upcoming paper. I would be very grateful if you could recommend any key texts or research, in particular on occupational dress within social and educational organisations.  Please post them below in the comments section.


CFP: Posing the Body: Stillness, Movement, and Representation

Friday 6 May 2016, Regent Street Cinema, University of Westminster, London

Saturday 7 May 2016, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, London


Posing has been central to art, dance, and sculpture for thousands of years. In recent years, the growing interest in fashion media and modelling has also focused attention on questions of pose and posing. Incorporating notions of movement and stillness, posing can be understood in terms of historical modes of representation, as well as contemporary media and rapidly evolving relationships between bodies, subjects, and technologies of representation. Posing incorporates symbolic and semiotic meaning alongside embodied action and feeling. Recent coverage of the work of choreographer Stephen Galloway in 032c magazine, and new publications such as Steven Sebring’s Study of Pose: 1000 Poses by Coco Rocha testify to the growing interest in the cultural significance of posing and the pose – yet both remain under-researched areas with little discussion of their significance.

This symposium will assert the importance of pose as both a creative practice and an emerging area of critical inquiry. It will bring together multi-disciplinary academics and practitioners to discuss and develop new ways of understanding pose and posing in a historical and contemporary context. We encourage proposals for papers that address pose from global and diverse perspectives. This event represents a potentially fruitful and exciting moment to bring these strands together to the benefit of researchers within practice and theory-based media, historians of dress, photography, art and film and allied disciplines.

Possible themes include (but are not limited to):

Modelling (fashion and artistic)

Gesture Dance (popular and classical)

Pose and the everyday

Movement and stillness

Posing, corporeality and the body

Posing and social media (Blogs, Instagram, etc.)

Submission process: Please submit abstracts of 150-200 words in English, along with a short biography of approximately 100 words to Posingthebody@gmail.com by 2 October 2015.

Organised by Rebecca Arnold, Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles, The Courtauld Institute of Art; Katherine Faulkner, Study Skills and Widening Participation Academic Coordinator, The Courtauld Institute of Art; Katerina Pantelides, Visiting Lecturer, The Courtauld Institute of Art and Eugénie Shinkle, Reader in Photography, University of Westminster.


On Teaching Fashion: Can Fashion Students Sew?

Continuing on the theme of fashion and dressmaking education today and in the last 100 years, I am interested to consider why have education curriculums changed so significantly in the past decade- when dressmaking, needlework and sewing skills were very prominent. I recently looked at the work completed by my Grandmother in her education in the late 1930’s- a series of beautiful samples of finishes and seams, all neatly pressed, labeled and with perfect precision.



I am fascinated by these samples, with the millimetre care and attention to perfecting this technique. Learning these high-end sewing skills are the basis of a career, knowledge and opportunity for a future in garment construction. Do fashion courses teach to this level of detail today? Are we losing the knowledge in education of how to develop a pattern and create a garment? Or is it a matter of lack of learning the basics first?

What core sewing and construction skills of garments are covered on the courses you teach? Do you think Fashion Design students should have a strong grounding in sewing and construction? I remember at University and being told you should as a designer, have an understanding and ability to make your ideas- otherwise how do you know if they are going to work? I think this is very true, and an ethos I pass onto my current students.

Sewing, in my opinion, is a life skill, and it should have a presence in the national curriculum which sadly is not so prominent any more. Sewing can be a career, a specialism within the fashion industry, and we should be upskilling individuals to be able to produce detailed sewn items. Such as when Mary Portas began the Kinky Knickers factory in 2012- upskilling out of work individuals and allowing them access to a career!  Recently I attended the Disseminating Dress conference, where there was a paper about ‘Educational Needlecraft’ by Margaret Swanson and Ann Macbeth, published 1911. This book opens with:

‘This book represents the first conscious and serious effort to take Needlecraft from its humble place as the Cinderella of Manual arts, and to show how it may become a means of general and even higher education.’ (McMillan. M. Preface, P1)

Educational Needlecraft then maps out a creative curriculum, split by age, lesson and topic. It covers a wide arrangement of needlecraft such as darning, hemming and seaming in great detail for ages 6-24yrs old. I am interested to read how this book is set out, and curriculum developed. The preface discusses the creative development of the student when young, needing colours and adventure, and then more precision when older. Also a social responsibility is discussed in reference to changing fashions and children wearing hand down worn out clothes. This preface references how 12-year old girls would have the abilities to cloth themselves and others. Today many of my teenage students would not be able to create garments for themselves, let alone when they were 12. The detail in this book, first published in 1911, mirrors the detail I see in the folder my grandmother collated samples and careful notes she made of the lessons she attended.

Why do you think this was this an important life skill in the 1900’s, but does not appear in main stream education today? Should we blame fast fashion? I would love to hear your opinion upon the importance of sewing in society today. I am very interested to hear how in different countries, the skill of sewing may be delivered differently or have more of a social importance. Many countries around the world produce most of the clothes we wear today, I am interested in how these countries teach individuals to have access to these careers.


Swanson, M, Macbeth A. Preface by M. Macmillan (1911) Educational Needlecraft. London: Longmans, Green and Co.

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Domestic Affairs: Fall Forecast


It’s midsummer and the heat is just building in California, but as well as “last chance to see” emails I’m already getting announcements for the upcoming fall and winter exhibitions. But first, I’m happy to share with you some exhibition announcements and tips that other Worn Through readers have shared with me since my last post.

I heard from Laura, in Mexico, who told me about not only about the wonderful National History Museum (in Mexico City) but also about their current dress exhibition, Threads of History: Apparel Collection of the National Museum of History (Hilos de Historia: La colección de indumentaria del MNH). The English-language link tells me this exhibition is designed to showcase the museum’s apparel collection which was started 114 years ago by a donation of “four splendid vice-royal dresses by Isabel Pesado de Mier.” Featuring 180 pieces by such couturiers as Frederick Worth, Coco Chanel, and Queen Victoria’s personal shoemaker, as well as pieces important to Mexican culture and history, or that highlight how fashions of the 1960s and other eras were worn and interpreted in Mexico. Check out the website for exhibition preview images and more information, or if you will be in Mexico City, the exhibition will be open until July 31, 2015!

In Chicago, Petra reminded me that Chicago Styled: Fashioning the Magnificent Mile at the Chicago History Museum is entering its final weeks! This exhibition features 26 ensembles from the museum’s collection that explore and represent the evolution of ” North Michigan Avenue into one of the most recognizable and renowned destinations for upscale retail.” I talked about this exhibition  in November, but it will be closing August 16, so if you can, go now (then tell me all about it so I can live vicariously through you)!

As for those I’ve found on my own, on the east coast, the Library Company of Philadelphia‘s Fashioning Philadelphia: The Style of the City, 1720 – 1940 opens next week. However, there is a special opening reception and preview tomorrow, July 16, 2015. The exhibition itself opens on July 20 and will be on display until March 4, 2016. This exhibition explores the history of fashion and manufacturing in America’s first truly cosmopolitan city.

In New York city, the Museum at FIT‘s Global Fashion Capitals is still on display, and will be until November 14. However, if you’re looking to the autumnal exhibitions, Fashioning Underground: The World of Suzanne Bartsch will up September 18 – December 5, overlapping with Denim: Fashion’s Frontier opening November 24.

At the Met, with China: Through the Looking Glass closing in September, they are already preparing for their fall exhibition, Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style which will open November 19.

At the Phoenix Art Museum, their exhibition, Pattern Play: The Contemporary Designs of Jacqueline Groag will be closing August 9. This means that if you want to see the beautiful work of this wonderfully playful designer, you’d better plan to head their soon.

Here in California we have several new exhibitions to look forward to. At the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles, there are two exhibitions opening July 21 at the main campus downtown: The 9th Annual Art of Outstanding Television Costume Design which will be up until September, and Fleurs: Botanicals in Dress From the Helen Larson Historical Fashion Collection which will be on display until December. At their Orange County campus, opening August 24, Hooped: Dress of the 1860s, another Helen Larson Historical Fashion Collection exhibition will be on view by appointment.

Also in Los Angeles, at the Getty Museum a wonderful exhibition combining dress and art history will be opening on October 6: Art of the Fold: Drawings of Drapery and Costume will feature drawings from the museum’s permanent collection that explore “how artists regularly employed drapery studies as part of the representation of the human figure.” I very much hope that I can make my way down to Los Angeles soon for these exhibitions, and LACMA’s African Textiles and Adornment, which I mentioned in my last column. So while this summer has been a bit bereft of exhibition reviews, I am very much hoping this coming fall and winter will be full of them!

Last, but for me most definitely not least, I am very, very excited for the upcoming Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Nā Hulu Ali’i which will open at the de Young Museum on August 29. Hawaiian art, history, and culture are a private passion of mine (something about not writing academically about something in your field makes it feel almost like a mental vacation), so I am very excited to see “approximately 75 rare and stunning examples of the finest featherwork capes and cloaks in existence, as well as royal staffs of feathers (kāhili), feather lei (lei hulu manu), helmets (mahiole), feathered god images (akua hulu manu), and related eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paintings and works on paper…” many of which have never been seen outside of Hawai’i. Expect a review here in early September. I may go see this one several times before it closes on February 28, 2016.

There are so many wonderful museums and collections in North America, I cannot possibly find all the exhibitions and events available within the dress and textile arts. If you have one in your area, or know of one that you think would be of interest to Worn Through readers, please leave a comment below, or feel free to email me the details. Also, if you have been to any of the exhibitions mentioned, please be free to share your thoughts and impressions with us as well!

Opening image credit: Mahiole (feathered helmet), possibly late 18th – early 19th century. Yellow mamo (Drepanis pacifica) feathers, red ‘i’iwi (Vestiaria coccinea) feathers, black and yellow ‘ō’ō (Moho nobilis) feathers, ‘ie’ie (Freycinetia arborea) aerial roots, and olonā (Touchardia latifolia) fiber. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology collection. Image via FAMSF exhibition preview.

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Museum Life: On the Road

Museum Life is on the road this month and thought I would share with you a few of my museum-related meanderings throughout Western Germany and Eastern France, some of which are generally off the usual, big-city museum destination path for tourists in these two countries.

First is a wonderful and imaginatively displayed archeological collection in Freiburg, housed in a mid-19th century Gothic revival mansion, the Colombischlössle Archeological Museum.


Although all museum labels and brochure guides were in German and therefore largely unknowable to me (unfortunately my knowledge of the German language is limited to a few salutations and food items), the clear and concise layout and display of items made the overall narrative easy to follow for a non-speaker/reader.

Included in the artifacts that help to tell the stories of the life and times of ancient and medieval peoples of the area now known as Freiburg are textiles and other items of adornment and grooming. Throughout the museum, various pieces were mounted on simplified illustrations or silhouettes of human bodies, depending upon the context, making the placement and use of the fragment or complete object immediately evident.


In addition to display in the vitrines, reproductions of objects were often available for visitors to touch or handle (such as chain mail, seen below).


When a garment was not extant, the sense of touch was again utilized to evoke a sense of the garments and what they may have felt like worn against the skin.


Ancient belts “completed” with acrylic mounts.


One of the most interesting objects (my apologies for the somewhat blurry photo) is a reproduction of a prop arrow, used in theatrical productions to simulate an arrow piercing the body, worn with the band encircling the side of the torso turned away from the audience.


In Strasbourg, one of the most arresting paintings at the Musée des Beaux Arts at the Palais Rohan was La Belle Strasbourgeoise (1703) by prolific portrait painter Nicolas de Largillière. The undeniable focal point of the portrait is the young woman’s extraordinary headgear. Although the accompanying label states that the sitter is wearing dress typical for aristocratic young women in the city between 1688 and 1730, it also notes the peculiarity of this particular hat. A brief biography of de Largillière notes that he was the son of a hat merchant; one cannot help but wonder if he was attracted to paint the portrait as it appears not only due to the station and beauty of the sitter but also because of the attraction to her fantastical headgear.


The masterful detailed rendering of the delicate lace sleeves is quite extraordinary:


Looking at this dramatic hat, I couldn’t help but recall the shape of Christian Dior’s classic sloped brim hat from the New Look collection, on a more modest scale, of course (seen here on the far right at the National Gallery of Victoria’s 2013 exhibition, Dior and Yamamoto: The New Look).


Finally, the city of Nancy is a treasure trove of Art Nouveau architecture and art, as practiced by the artists of L’École de Nancy. One place I was very eager to visit was the Musée de l’École de Nancy, which is the former residence of École de Nancy patron and collector, Jean-Baptiste Eugène Corbin. Like William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, this group of Art Nouveau practitioners in Nancy believed in creating a complete environment and dissolving the hierarchies between fine arts and decorative art, and learning the skills and production of different media from furniture to glassware to ceramics to textiles. Art Nouveau style was all curves and highly dramatic, sinuous sensuality—very few if any straight lines to be seen here–inspired directly from the flora and fauna of the natural world. Visitors are free to wander the rooms of the first two stories, with some seeming to remain largely unchanged from the time of installation, while others were most likely reconfigured at a later date.

Salle à manger Musée de l’École de Nancy

Salle à manger
Musée de l’École de Nancy

Textile-based pieces were integral to the vision of this group of artists, and there were several on view at the Musée de l’École de Nancy, including two impressive wall hangings.

Les Ombelles, by Charles Fridrich, ca. 1900, velour and leather appliqué

Les Ombelles, by Charles Fridrich, ca. 1900, velour and leather appliqué

La Nymphe, attributed to Louis Guingot

La Nymphe, attributed to Louis Guingot

A standing embroidery frame (ca. 1902) was designed by Emile André, which held an embroidery of leaves created by his wife (there was no full name on the label, only “Mme André” referenced) after a design found in Die Quelle.


Gorgeous embroidered textiles incorporated into furniture upholstery were, in my opinion, most beautifully realized in the Salon aux Ombelles (1901) by Camille Gauthier and Auguste Poinsignon, with a chair, winged bench, and a settee displaying the theme (les ombelles, or umbels, were a recurring motif throughout the house).



Inspiration was close at hand with the lovely two-tiered gardens outside, completely restored in 1998.


Overall, this museum was an immersive and highly enjoyable experience.

All photos provided by the author.