Take a step back into history before you walk into the future, so that no lessons are missed


Whilst talking about present developments in the business world of fashion, I cannot help but delve back into history. For, no current affairs could exist without those events of the past which have given life to new thoughts and processes. In fact, history is a beautiful thing in itself, because we can always look back on it, travel through time and see how one event led to the next.

So when teaching about the very modern topic of fashion advertising and advertising psychology, I started asking myself: “When was advertising invented?” The point in history that I found most relevant as an answer to my question was the industrial revolution of the UK, Europe and the USA. This was the first time in history, that supply clearly outweighed demand. In fact, it outweighed it so much that in order to sustain production, the market had to be motivated to buy products in large quantities. Thus advertising was invented, first as ads in newspapers, in order to inform and persuade the masses to purchase certain products, and later as billboards and radio ads. From then on, advertising developed into a sophisticated discipline of the modern marketplace which we know today.

And now we can connect the dots: our modern consumerist culture is a result of mass production which started somewhere in the middle of the 19th century. We might even go as far to say that “Spinning Jenny” is responsible for how we consume fashion today.


Image credit here.

Most importantly, when looking at history, there is always some kind of lesson to be learned.

In the case of the Industrial Revolution one must ask, “Who operated these great machineries which mechanically produced so many goods?” It was men, women and children. Thus as I am taking a step away from my main course topic, I want to remember those who had to suffer. If you read about the daily life of those factory workers, it makes you terribly sad.


Image credit here.

I suppose that from my class, I want us all to take home a lesson about humanity, ethics and social responsibility. And this lesson can easily be applied to our modern times. Look at what is going on in production facilities such as Bangladesh, where Western low-price consumption is catered to by third world sweatshop workers who pay with their lives. The Guardian recalls the disaster of the Rana Plaza in an extensive article, “[i]n the darkness after the collapse there are many voices: sobs, sustained screaming, calls for help and water, moans of pain, prayers, howls of grief.” It sounds no better than the conditions of the Industrial Revolution workers.


Image source.

Despite the sad element of people repeating their mistakes, the beauty of history is that it happily provides us with suggestions on how to do things right and that we do have a choice to improve the present and the future.

Here, for example, is a company which, under the name of “Industrial Revolution II”, is helping production sites to become ethically responsible.

And even in Bangladesh there seem to be a few parties who are taking responsibility for the past disasters, a delegation of the European Union Parliamentary Subcommittee on Human Rights has met with important people in the country, urging the improvement of workers’ rights.

So, after a brief excursion into the past, I can continue telling my class about advertising for fashion today, including corporate responsibility as well as responsibility of the individual.

Do you use historic references in your classes which are not pure history classes? Have you researched any historic events which you found to be important for your teaching? What are your thoughts on social responsibility and the ethics of fashion?

Opening Image credit here.


Fashion-Focused Digital Resources: The Archives Hub

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One of the most daunting parts of completing a Master’s or doctoral degree can be the pressure to find original primary source material to research and write about. In addition, finding out which institutions hold relevant archival material, especially if it is hidden away in smaller museums or archives, can be difficult.

The Archives Hub is a database that allows you to search across the collections of over 250 institutions across the United Kingdom, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Library and the Imperial War Museum. The Archives Hub is a member of Archives Portal Europe, a larger organization that provides joint access to archival material across Europe.

The database is searchable by keyword, title, creator, name or subject if you are searching for material on a specific topic. Alternately, users can explore the archives by browsing lists of material held by a specific institution, grouped under certain subjects or limited to a specific region.

After typing ‘textiles’ into the subject finder, I am immediately presented with a list of 639 items relevant to my topic. Grouped under narrower subjects, the results range from 12 different holdings on the hosiery industry to a collection of correspondence from the costume historian James Laver.

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For every holding catalogued in the database, there is a description of the material, including where it is held, the corresponding reference number, the dates of creation, a physical description and the conditions for access. In addition, every description contains a link to contact details for the institution where the respective material is held, simplifying the communication and appointment making process for researchers.

The website has also compiled many useful resources and guides for researchers, particularly those new to using archival material. The hub, which is maintained by a team of staff based at the University of Manchester, is a valuable resource to all fashion historians at the postgraduate level and beyond who are searching for archival material to research. The Archives Hub will not eliminate the necessary hours spent sitting in a study room or archive looking through piles of documents – but it will simplify the search process, encouraging further use of and enabling greater access to archival material held at museums, universities and other institutions.


Guest Post: How to Write a Book in Twenty Years – Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell

Worn Through is pleased to have another guest post from fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell*

KCC Cover


FROM KIMBERLY: Twenty years ago, when I first started working on the project that would become my new book Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, I loved talking about it to anyone who would listen. Ten or twelve years later, my friends and family had learned not to mention the book; I was in the midst of a dispiriting crash course in the harsh realities of academic publishing, and my frustration was painfully obvious.

Now that Fashion Victims is out at last, my unpublished colleagues keep pulling me aside and asking in hushed tones how I did it. How did I choose a publisher? How did I score 90,000 words and 220 illustrations? How I you negotiate a contract? These are the same questions I had before starting the publishing process, and I can finally say with confidence that we’re all asking the wrong questions.

If you’re thinking of writing a book about fashion, you should be asking yourself the following: How many images do I need? Where am I going to find these images? Who’s going to pay for them? Answer those three questions, and the rest will quickly start to fall into place.
I probably don’t have to convince Worn Through readers that an appropriate number of high-quality images are essential to any discussion of fashion; that number will vary depending on the particular subject and methodology, but–whether it’s ten or 200–every image should serve the text rather than simply illustrate it. Lackluster or irrelevant images are a red flag, raising doubts about the quality of the writing. The same is true, however, about books that are mostly pictures. On the other hand, I’ve happily bought lousy books just for the pictures. Images are evidence. Neglect them and you do a disservice to your readers, and, more importantly, to yourself.

The number and type of images you want to use in your book will dictate so many other factors. There are only a handful of publishers who will even consider fashion books—or illustrated books of any kind—and many of those have strict minimum and maximum image counts. A few publishers told me they’d love to publish my book with ten, twenty, or even fifty images—fine for a cultural history or museum studies book, but not nearly enough for an art historian to do justice to the infinite variety of fashionable dress under Louis XVI. Others were more generous with images but wanted me to cut half the text (and all the footnotes). Yale University Press routinely publishes books with 200 images and footnotes galore, so that’s the one I targeted. Yale’s deservedly stellar reputation in the field, its well-established distribution networks, and the chance to work with legendary editor and designer Gillian Malpass were equally strong attractions.

Two hundred images may sound like a dream come true (and it is) but someone has to pay for all those images. That means paying for both the photo itself (or, more often, the digital file) and the reproduction rights, calculated on a sliding scale based on print run, image size and placement, distribution, and so on. With academic books, it’s usually the author who pays; the picture research, captions, photo credits, and paperwork fall on the author, too. Trade publishers often give authors a budget for images, but it doesn’t go far; it’s much more expensive to license images for commercial use, and the author is still responsible legally if not financially.

For Fashion Victims, I was able to cobble together grants, savings, and favors to cover my image costs, but the process of seeking out funding was time-consuming and soul-destroying. There are not many grants out there for publishing, although academics can sometimes get subventions from their universities. And a grant application can take up to a year from start to finish, with no guarantee that it will be successful.

Fortunately, many forward-thinking museums and archives have begun to make their image libraries available to anyone, at no cost, through “open content” programs. Other institutions offer free images for academic publishing. I was able to take advantage of this welcome trend, and it was certainly something I took into consideration when making the final decisions about my images and cover image. I also got very creative about sourcing mass-produced images. Why pay a picture agency for a fashion plate when I could get it from the British Museum for free? For contemporary subjects, authors can save money by taking their own photos; I was once advised by a journal editor that licensing a movie still would be cost-prohibitive, but my own photo of a billboard for the same movie could be published legally and at no charge.

However, I fear that the open content trend is only going create new problems, as the same images from the same collections will be published over and over again while other collections remain inaccessible and unknown. I am absolutely guilty of this; more than half of the 220 images in my book come from the same five institutions, largely because they were searchable online and free (or at least inexpensive) to license. Similarly, many publishers have agreements with certain museums or picture agencies that make their images more affordable than others.

But the money I saved on open content images allowed me to have other key objects photographed and published for the first time. So for every free, familiar image, there’s one that you’ve never seen before that cost me $500. Because I work on the eighteenth century, I generally don’t have to worry about copyright, which can drive the costs even higher. But if you’re using contemporary fashion photography or publishing with a trade press, you might need to sell a kidney. If I had to do it again (and I do—I’m already working on a sequel to Fashion Victims), I’d pay more attention to image costs during the research and writing stage, rather than face sticker shock and a lengthy fundraising drive at the end. Indeed, knowing how the whole publishing process is likely to unfold has made the early stages go much more smoothly.

If dealing with the images was the hard part, negotiating the contract was the easy part. A reputable academic publisher will offer you a fairly standard agreement with little wiggle room, especially for a first-time author. (My editor graciously fought for a few additional perks, like more color pictures and extra author copies—another reason why a good editor is as important as a good publisher.) If you’re publishing with a trade press, you should have an agent or lawyer negotiate for you. If you’re hoping to make money from publishing, your time would be better spent writing textbooks, or maybe romance novels.

But there are many other compelling reasons to publish your work, like getting tenure, giving back to your field, or increasing your chances of getting a job, raise, or promotion. If you’ve already done the research and writing (for a dissertation, conference paper, or exhibition, for example), why wouldn’t you want your efforts to have a permanent, public impact in print? Personally, I’m amazed at how much great research goes unpublished—not because publishers aren’t interested, but because the authors never submit it to publishers.

Ultimately, getting Fashion Victims published—finding a publisher, revising the text, raising grant money, locating and licensing illustrations, and slogging through the year-long editing process, from copy editing to proofreading to indexing—took roughly the same amount of time as writing it in the first place: nearly two decades in total. The book started as my MA thesis, then spilled over into my PhD dissertation, only to undergo a total rewrite before I even considered submitting for publication. Over the next few years, I continued honing the text as I figured out how I was going to pay for the image rights and reproductions. It evolved from a formal and somewhat fragmentary series of chapters—many of them originally developed as stand-alone conference papers or journal articles—into an organic narrative, ironically becoming much truer to the themes that got me interested in the subject in the first place.

During the same period, I worked in some museums, had a couple of kids, attended conferences, moved house a few times, and published a bunch of journal and magazine articles and essays in edited volumes and exhibition catalogues. Along the way, I discovered new objects, images, and sources; made valuable contacts; and learned the ropes of the publishing business; all of those things ultimately benefitted the book. At the time, I was intensely annoyed with myself because I hadn’t managed to publish it yet. But, looking back now, I can see how useful that season of discontent was. Fashion Victims is much richer for it, and so am I. And it was worth waiting to work with the publisher, editor, and images I wanted all along. The book I’ve had in my head for twenty years is now in print, and it’s even more beautiful than I could have imagined.

Check it out.

Related reading:




*Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles. She has worked as a curator, consultant, and educator for museums and universities around the world. She is a frequent contributor to books, scholarly journals, and magazines, as well as an experienced lecturer. Her areas of expertise include European fashion and textiles and French and British painting and decorative arts of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries

Trivia question: Who painted the portrait on the book cover?
First person to email Monica the right answer wins a copy.
United States and Canada only please.


Domestic Affairs: Hollywood Costume Review

Hollywood Costume

There are certain exhibitions that you simply have to resign yourself to never seeing, whether because of time, travel, or other constraints. When the American leg of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Hollywood Costume was announced, I had resigned myself to not seeing it since there were no venues on the list in California. And then the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced they would be inaugurating the opening of their own museum — in collaboration with LACMA — with a Los Angeles showing of the exhibition. I knew I would be going, and I was excited to see such a well-reviewed international exhibition. I had no expectations other than that I would be seeing amazing film costumes on display, and I suppose I thought this would be simply a more grandiose version of FIDM’s annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition. What I didn’t expect to see was possibly the best dress exhibition I’d attended since Fashioning Fashion.

Hollywood Costume

The exhibition is up in nearly pitch blackness, so it takes a while for your eyes to adjust. This is as much to protect some of the older garments — pieces worn by Charlie Chaplin and Carole Lombard — as it is to set the tone for the entire exhibition and make the costumes stand out. The displays are small at first: the initial platform had perhaps five different films featured, clearly separated from each other not only by physical barriers but by the differences between the costumes — from Mary Poppins to Beyoncé as a Dream Girl, to Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, to the wedding attire from The Last Emperor (seen above). These displays featured not only the posed mannequins wearing the costumes, but often moving images behind them of the actors wearing the garments in the films. Segments of the screenplays are displayed digitally to highlight how costumes fit into the production from the initial writing right up to the point that the audience sits down to watch the film.

And that rather sums up the entire exhibition: it was essentially a crash course in the importance of costuming in film, and the process of designing the costumes to enhance either the story, or a particular scene, or to establish a character — and often all three.

From the revelations of costume descriptions in scripts, the exhibition moved on to the importance of establishing a character in a particular scene. This was the initial example of how the exhibition integrated advanced technology into the exhibition without distracting from the central message, but instead enhancing it. Using a rather plain, uninteresting, grey ensemble worn by Matt Damon in the guise of Jason Bourne, and showing the scenes from the film in which it was worn, the exhibition demonstrated how costume designers and directors work together to create ambiance on screen – making characters appear and disappear using costume. They did this through showing a scene in which Bourne is supposed to be blending in with the crowd and then superimposing various obvious costumes onto the character using photoshop — demonstrating in a way a text panel never could how even an “uninteresting” costume is vital to the entire film.

Hollywood Costume

From this point, the exhibition moved on to showing how costume creates a character. Through not only the costumes, but copies of the designer’s sketches in the creation process they showed the creation of the various characters from the Ocean’s 11 remake. Following the projections onto a virtual draft table in front of the costumes you could see the time, thought, and even collaboration between the designer and the director and the actors, that went into each garment on the mannequins. It was fascinating to watch the other visitors’ eyes follow the notes from the sketches on the “table” back up to the costumes to see how the garments were used to establish each character. This in turn set the stage for the intense analysis of Indiana Jones that came next. As the exhibition was curated by (and the catalogue written by) Dr. Deborah Nadoolman-Landis who created the original costume for Indiana Jones, this was both natural and absolutely fascinating. Dr. Nadoolman-Landis explained not only how she came up with Indy’s color palette — as an archaeologist he works with dirt and underground so his palette, even while teaching, is brown — but the methods and techniques she used to age his hat and his jacket (she borrowed Harrison Ford’s pocket knife for the latter). All of which explained how costume was vital to the creation of a pop culture icon.

Hollywood Costume

Now that the creative process, and costume’s importance had been thoroughly established it was time to explore how different designers could interpret the same basic concept. Rather brilliantly, they did this through the numerous embodiments of Queen Elizabeth I — from Bette Davis to Judi Dench. It was also demonstrated through interpretations of the eighteenth century on screen, from an exact copy of a gown in a painting by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun for a 1940s biopic about Marie Antoinette, to Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, to Glenn Close’s costume from Dangerous Liaisons. Each costume had a placard that told you not only who wore it and who designed it, but often had a quote from the designer about their inspiration which gave amazing insight into where each new interpretation of these two eras — Elizabethan and Baroque — came from.

Hollywood Costume

The second room was another interesting combination of technology and physical costumes. The exhibition set up “conversations” between the director and the costume designer — or actress and costume designer in the case of The Birds — through interviewing both for several films (or playing archival footage in the case of Edith Head). They did this for four films: The Birds (modern day interview with Tippi Hedren and archival interview with Edith Head), Closer, Django Unchained, and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd (I may have felt like swooning at the chance to hear Colleen Atwood talk costuming no matter what the film). I didn’t spend as much time in this room, but it was still a fascinating insight into the process of creating a look for a character or an entire film and into the designer’s creative process.

Hollywood Costume

Hollywood Costume

The third room explored other aspects of costume design such as “remakes” of popular films — Ben-Hur, True Grit, Superman, and Cleopatra being the most memorable displays. This connected to the previous exploration of different interpretations as well as gave the exhibition the opportunity to showcase costumes from the Golden Age of Hollywood alongside modern costumes. This they did masterfully by placing Hailee Steinfeld’s costume from 2010′s True Grit next to John Wayne’s costume from the 1969 original, and by placing Claudette Colbert’s Cleopatra costume next to Elizabeth Taylor’s. Having revealed in a previous post that Singin’ in the Rain was my favourite film when I was about four years old, words cannot describe how excited I was to see an original Singin’ in the Rain costume next to similar garments from The Artist and Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby.

Hollywood Costume

Hollywood Costume

The star of this third room — and of so many films – was the display dedicated to Meryl Streep. Featuring costumes from films at the beginning of her career to some of her most recent roles (The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Out of Africa next to The Iron Lady), this platform showed just how costume can change and alter the appearance of a single actress. It was the final “lesson” of the exhibition, but one that was amazingly done — with costumes from obscure films Ms Streep has been in placed next to roles for which she has been nominated for and even won major awards.

Hollywood Costume

With all the ways costume is vital to film and the ways it transforms not just scenes but actors and characters firmly established, the final room was simply a smorgasbord of costuming history. Liza Doolittle next to Rose from Titanic, Pretty Woman next to a Carole Lombard gold lamé evening gown, Barbara Streisand costumes from the 1960s next to the American Hustle costumes, The Matrix next to Kill Bill — by grouping costumes according to genre (SciFi, historical, pseudo-historical, military) it showed how each theme can be interpreted based on the demands of not just the film but of the intended audience. The exhibition culminated, of course, with Dorothy’s ruby slippers — both the originals that are now fading behind plexiglass and some sparkling recreations.

One thing I was remarkably struck by was the difference in the quality of some modern costumes compared with those of the Golden Age of Hollywood. In the photo of the Cleopatra costumes above, there is a costume worn by Delilah in Samson and Delilah that has actual peacock feathers individually sewn into the cape and train; for one showgirl costume the skirt is actually made of mink; this is compared with Rose’s Titanic costume which is clearly printed pinstripe in person, not woven, and the fabric itself is not of the best weave available. It would have been very interesting to find out if this is due to a difference in expectations, budget, or if digital technology makes things appear differently on screen.

Hollywood Costume

I knew it was not just a good but an excellent exhibition when I realized I had lost track of time while viewing it. The only time I felt compelled to look at my watch was as I exited the building. The exhibition was also masterfully laid out. You always knew where you should go next, and the exhibition’s overarching educational point was made succinctly through visuals as much as tombstones and wall text. It did so without preaching or boring its audience with too much wall text, but also didn’t lose their audience through too little wall text, a very fine, difficult line for museums to walk. The Victoria & Albert and Academy walked this line well. Admittedly, since the exhibition takes place in an empty building being renovated by the Academy they had something of an advantage: they could create exactly the space they wanted instead of being constrained by an already existing exhibition space. I will be intrigued to see, as the renovations continue, what the Academy does with the Wilshire May Co. building and how it manages both permanent and special exhibition display spaces when the museum opens.

Hollywood Costume

Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised — astounded, even — by an exhibition I had almost given up having the opportunity to see. It simply establishes further the brilliance of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and whets my appetite for the future Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences museum. I’m now very keen to see what they have in store for us.

Have you seen Hollywood Costume, either in Los Angeles or at another venue? What did you think? How did it differ from my experience in L.A.? What were your favourite pieces or aspects of the exhibition? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Or if you have an event or exhibition you want Worn Through readers to know about, feel free to contact me so I can put it in my next column!

Hollywood Costume will be open next door to LACMA until March 2.

All images courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


CFP: 2015 Annual Design History Society Conference

2015 Annual Design History Society Conference; “How we live, and How we might live”: Design and the Spirit of Critical Utopianism

California College of the Arts, San Francisco

Proposals due: February 28, 2015
Conference held: September 11–13, 2015

Inherent in every act of design is a vision–however modest, however inarticulate–of a better world: We design because we believe that travel might be made more comfortable, work more efficient, information more accessible, experiences more fulfilling, spaces more convivial, and people’s lives more meaningful. By addressing the needs of the present, designers are, inescapably, envisioning the future.

By definition, a vision of a better future is grounded in a critique of the present, insofar as the prevailing organization of social resources obstructs the full realization of our potential to lead productive, enjoyable, and fulfilling lives. William Morris was the first to link a critique of “How we live” to a vision of “How we might live” through the medium of design, and this impulse continues to inspire design practice today.

California College of the Arts, which is at once the westernmost outpost of the Arts and Crafts Movement and the gateway to Silicon Valley, is pleased to host the 2015 conference of the Design History Society. Inspired by the spirit of critical utopianism that connects the 19th century reformers to the 21st century techno–visionaries, this multidisciplinary conference will explore the diverse ways in which designers have sought to balance critical realism with utopian idealism. The 2015 Annual Design History Society Conference seeks to explore this Utopian spirit in all of its many aspects, while engaging with the broadest possible definitions of “design. ” The themes and research methodologies of the conference will be of relevance to scholars as well as practitioners, and it will engage historians as well as futurists. It will also build in the themes of previous Annual Design History Society Conferences which have explored design as resistance, design as a postcolonial phenomenon, and design for war and peace. We invite submissions from academics, archivists, curators, journalists and independent researchers from every discipline, every part of the world, and at every stage of their careers. Possible topics include, but are by no means limited to:

Postwar, pacifism, and visions of conflict-free futures
Constructions of the post–colonial future (and the pre–colonial past).
Design as resistance; the consequences of transcending the boundaries of the prevailing social order.
Environmental and sustainable utopias
Design in film and fiction; design and the literary imagination; science fiction; design fiction; speculative design.
Design Dystopias– projects which exclude and discriminate
Urban communities-examples informed by the global history of architecture, urbanism, and design.
Technology and utopia; projects that harness the supposed power of technology to perfect the human condition.
Idealism, ideology, and education; curricula for the design of future designers.
Visionary projects involving tactical or strategic alliances between designers and practitioners from other disciplines.
New ways of thinking about the relationships between designer, client, and the public such as Critical Design, Participatory Design, the Maker’s Movement, and Design Thinking;
Globalism/Tribalism: the International Style as design imperialism; expressions of critical regionalism; design for social impact.
Design and the human condition: forces still active that nourish the spirit of utopian optimism.

Proposals for individual 20 minute papers, or for 3 person panels organized around a common theme, should be submitted by February 28, 2015, and should include the following:

An abstract not exceeding 400 words
A brief professional biography (not exceeding 50 words)
All abstracts will be refereed through an anonymous, double-blind review. Proposals are encouraged from across the entire spectrum of design and we invite submissions from established scholars but also doctoral and post-doctoral researchers; the Design History Society offers a number of bursaries (grants) to support DHS student members whose abstracts are accepted.

For further information, please refer to the conference website. Additional information about Design History Society, its activities and publications, may be found on the DHS website.

Questions may be directed to: dhs2015@cca.edu


You Should Be Reading: Heritage Fashion Brands


The recent announcement by Viktor & Rolf of their decision to abandon their ready-to-wear collection and focus on couture (and highly profitable fragrances) got me thinking about the evolution and fate of various fashion houses and brands throughout history. What are the factors that lead to one designer’s name living on and their legacy being preserved, while others who may experience just as much notoriety or success at one point in time are later forgotten? The following three articles explore issues surrounding reviving heritage fashion houses at Pucci and Schiaparelli, and the difficulties facing a legendary designer’s successor at Oscar de la Renta. 

1. Friedman, Vanessa. ‘Keeping the Oscar de la Renta Name Alive.’ The New York Times. February 13, 2015.

‘The first day of Peter Copping’s new job at a new brand in a new country did not go exactly as planned. Instead of going to the offices of Oscar de la Renta on 42nd Street across from the leafy gardens of Bryant Park and taking his place in a glass-fronted office next to Mr. de la Renta, the designer who had recently named Mr. Copping his first-ever creative director and heir, Mr. Copping found himself at a pew in the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on Park Avenue, behind Donna Karan and somewhere in the vicinity of Michael Kors and Tory Burch, attending Mr. de la Renta’s memorial service. [...] Fashion is notoriously bad at succession planning: Its history is littered with stories of designers who sold their companies without naming their heirs and were unhappy with the results, from Hubert de Givenchy to Yves Saint Laurent, or whose brands fell apart after their death through lack of foresight (Halston, Bill Blass). At Oscar de la Renta, however, for arguably the first time, a designer had consciously tried to change the narrative.’ – Article Excerpt

2. Madsen, Anders Christian. ‘Rules of Revival: How to Resuscitate a Fashion Brand.’ i-D. 14 November 2014.

‘Fashion likes to talk about its musical chairs a lot. So much that it sometimes seems as if more high-value name brands are added to the pool just to increase the options and raise the bets. Last week, the following email rolled in: “Paris, November 7, 2014 – Schiaparelli is announcing today the end of its collaboration with Marco Zanini. The House of Schiaparelli is looking towards its future while transcending the aesthetic codes created by Elsa Schiaparelli. It follows a dynamic where a contemporary spirit meets its founder’s daring personality. Schiaparelli will announce its new creative director soon.” No teary goodbyes there, apparently. Zanini’s departure didn’t create massive waves of shock and despair in the industry, partly because it was somewhat expected but mainly because the re-launch of Schiaparelli somehow never generated the hype and excitement of its legacy. So what would have made things different for Schiaparelli 2.0?’ – Article Excerpt

3. Merlo, Elisabetta and Mario Perugini. ‘The Revival of Fashion Brands between Marketing and History: The Case of the Italian Fashion Company Pucci.’ Journal of Historical Research in Marketing 7(1): 91-112.

The purpose of this paper is to shed light on the contribution that history can give to marketing strategies aimed at revitalizing fashion brands. It focuses on the revival strategy implemented in recent years by the Pucci fashion company. The analysis is carried out in four parts. Marketing literature dealing with “brand revival” is reviewed in the first part. The second and the third part deal with the main characteristics featured, respectively, by the original and restored Palio and Vivara collections. In the fourth part, by applying the key concepts provided to us by the marketing literature, we pinpoint the chief values which Pucci’s retro-marketing strategy has emphasized upon and those that instead have been partially, if not completely, neglected. The research is based on a mix of sources including records kept by historical archives, fashion press, economic and financial databases and exhibition catalogues. The research shows that resorting to the past to revitalize a fashion brand can backfire if the retro-marketing strategy is not supported by an extensive knowledge of the firm’s history, and by a well documented analysis of the historical background in which the brand was originally introduced. – Paraphrased Article Abstract

Image Credit: www.thefashpack.net


On Teaching Fashion: Out of the Studio.

I am a firm believer, indeed I say it to students every year that, ‘you are not going to get inspired looking at these four walls for two years.’ To me and my colleagues it is second nature to get out into the world, to see new things and visit exhibitions. In fact it was set as a challenge in our department to arrange a trip relevant to each new project – a brilliant idea I thought! Many an hour of my past student life and current professional practice is spent in galleries such at The Victoria and Albert Museum, or The Fashion and Textile Museum, London. I have seen amazing exhibitions such as Italian Fashion, Ballgowns and Knitwear: Chanel to Westwood.

When I went to the Ballgowns exhibition myself I spent around 2 hours inside mesmerised by the stunning examples of couture tailoring, beading and high quality craftsmanship by the likes of Norman Hartwell. Also the famous 1989 ‘Elvis’ dress worn by Princess Diana was present. I was utterly amazed at the pearl beaded detail all over.


Princess Diana Dress

My shock was when I took a group of students to this exhibition and 3 members of the group took only 15 minutes to declare they had ‘seen this exhibition.’ I could not believe it, and promptly marched them back in!

Following this, I thought long and hard, how could this be so? How could students be presented with this amazing wealth of knowledge in front of them, and some take 2 hours, and some 15 minutes? Have you ever taken a group of students to an exhibition and this happened? I have had this discussion with my colleagues many a time, and raised questions such as, is this a representation of the typical attention span in the 21st century? Could this ‘speed viewing’ come from high street shopping and the notion of impulse buying? Or could it be that some students connect more with fashion via the likes of Instagram or the Internet? Now, this is not all students, and I know how heart wrenching it is to drag eager individuals out of exhibitions because the bus is due to leave

A colleague of mine gave me her opinion, she felt students were no less engaged prior to the internet, but pre trip research and giving quality information about what students are going it see is vital. Hooking students in, and developing their understanding will enable them to participate in a Q&A debrief post trip about what they have seen. Her opinion is that the more informed you are about a topic, the more in which you will engage – quite true I feel! But, sadly, is there enough time in the working day for this preparation? And even less for pre trip gallery visits, which would further add to the levels of planning for the lecturer. Another opinion, which I have gathered, is about the level of students’ interaction with each other and stimuli. This could be because of the methods in which students’ learn and the way they engage with each other. Perhaps this is a want for response and immediate interaction and an audience to share ideas with. Many a student today is also constantly multitasking verbally interacting whilst using the latest social media in their hands, so to grab a persons full attention is a tall order!

I also took my students to Hollywood Costume at the V&A, the sheer size and scale of this stunned them! I do question is this because of the visual imagery and garments on show, which students identify with because of the films they have seen them in? Was there a higher level of engagement because students recognise what is in front of them? Or perhaps the clever use of video, media and audio displays throughout. I really enjoyed the dynamic mixture of creative presentation techniques this display used to grip the viewer in.

It would seem therefore, in trip planning, that pre-exhibition research or a creative task to engage and inspire is definitely needed. By finding out a list of the collection or designers on display for instance, you could then split these up and give one to each student as a target piece to gather information whilst on their trip. But then also challenge them – this could be on the course blog, or twitter account, to immediately write up a review of the piece in which they have been allocated. This could even be done on the journey home! Also, I am a firm believer in drawing! It is good to set students targets of illustrations to capture whilst in exhibitions, and ensure they are aware this will be used in their project work upon return to the studio!

What are your experiences of taking large groups of students to exhibitions? What is your opinion of the attention span and engagement of our students today?

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The Visible Self: Contest

Please consider doing our contest!


You could win a copy of The Visible Self, a wonderful book at a value of $100!
See the interview with author Joanne Eicher for details.


Review: Guy Bourdin: Image Maker at Somerset House, London


Following on from my list of upcoming exhibitions in London at the end of last year, I finally made it to Guy Bourdin: Image Maker at Somerset House last month.  I couldn’t have been more happy.  This is an excellent exhibition that not only appeals to those specifically concerned with both the business and study of fashion, but also anyone who has ever been struck by an interesting advert or editorial in a fashion magazine.  My sister, who is a midwife, and a friend who manages the secondary schools programming for the V&A came with me and we were all delighted by the content and presentation of what is the largest retrospective of Bourdin’s work in the UK since 2003.

With over a hundred prints, as well as a wealth of other objects such as polaroids, sketches, films, paintings, notebooks and transparencies, the exhibition is huge, spanning Bourdin’s prolific career from 1955 to 1987.  This is divided up into eight large display ‘spaces’ across two levels of the Embankment Galleries.  The first space focuses on a road trip around Britain Bourdin took in 1979 with his wife, son, some fashion assistants and a pair of disembodied mannequin legs.  From London to Brighton to Liverpool, Bourdin travelled up and down the country in a black Cadillac, commissioned by the shoe company Charles Jourdan to take photographs for one of many advertising campaigns he directed.  Here, for the first time, you can see them, known as the ‘Walking Legs’ series, in its entirety.  While only three were actually published, overall there were 22 images which have been blown up and printed in technicolour glory. 

Walking Legs series, 1979

Each image presents us with the mannequin legs exploring the various everyday landscapes of Britain, from the seaside to the pub, from the bus stop to a park bench.  These heeled legs engage with their surroundings as they cross roads, lean against fences, walk through doors or even take a bath in a hotel room.  As you move between the images, you want to know where these legs will find themselves next, what shoes they might sport and who they might bump into.  In a recent interview about the exhibition and the influence of Bourdin on her own work, the fashion designer Mary Katrantzou gives a nice description of how his images draw us in:

“Bourdin’s images are all about the decoration of space. There is a tension between the woman, the space and her position in an environment which might have a prop such as a sofa. The way you see her changes because of the use of space, it evokes a certain emotion. You want to know the narrative: why is she there? What is the image telling us? There is always a story behind it. You become a bit of a voyeur, and that is part of their power. You want to find out more.”[1]

An example of how Bourdin uses the shoes as a McGuffin in order to drive the story forward in this scene Guy Bourdin: Charles Jourdan, Spring 1975

The second space is a large and long mezzanine gallery that again features blown up images of photographs he created while at French Vogue during the 1960s and 1970s, as well as more from Charles Jourdan where he was apparently allowed absolute creative freedom.  As you walk from side to side, taking in what are really quite monumental images of clothes and accessories always set within a highly staged scene, it is very difficult not to be seduced by Bourdin’s dark but funny depiction of women’s fashions.  It was interesting to discover that one of his influences, besides Surrealism, was Alfred Hitchcock’s use of a McGuffin, which is a prop that distracts us for a moment while we figure out what is going on in the story but has no bearing on its conclusion.  My understanding of a McGuffin is that it’s form is unimportant but that its function is to allow us to follow a story, sometimes making us stop to look around at what’s happening.  Bourdin often used shoes and accessories as McGuffins in his photographs by drawing attention to the scene so we can follow what is always a suggested or implied narrative.

An unfinished painting; a study for a photograph

I especially liked some small displays, in this second space, dedicated to showing us how Bourdin would research, develop and design his images before executing them on photographic film.  His notebooks, sketches, polaroids, even postcards, reveal not only a skilled draughtsman but also a very technical approach in the way that he worked.  Bourdin’s notebooks are full of written descriptions and poems that attempt to capture the visual images that were in his head.  They reveal someone methodical and exacting, an ‘obsessive formalist’ as suggested by a review of the exhibition in British Vogue.  This is further supported by one of the later gallery spaces that feature his paintings and earlier work produced under the watchful eye of Man Ray in Paris during the early 1950s.  The paintings are far from emotional affairs but rather they act as research for his photographs, allowing him to better see the colour and perspective of his theatrical images.

1973 double page Charles Jourdan advertisement

His attention to all aspects of his design process is reflected  in another room that shows how much editorial control he had over his fashion images in French Vogue.  Supported by the editor at the time, Francine Crescent, he often only provided the final image and specific instructions pertaining to its layout.   Most of us will also be familiar with the fact that it was Bourdin, along with Helmut Newton, who introduced the double spread editorial to fashion magazines. 

A photograph featuring the model Nicolle Meyer

The final three spaces are dedicated to his notable interest in shoes and legs as photographic subjects, his professional work featuring the model Nicolle Meyer, whom he worked exclusively with between 1977 and 1980 and, finally, a display of his polaroids which he often used to test out locations and scene dimensions.  These galleries provided further supporting statements for his attempts at perfectionism.  In particular, I liked how, with an advertisement for Charles Jourdan shoes, he would stage an elaborate set such as two women spending time in a hotel room and then photograph it from a variety of angles, as if he was filming it frame by frame. Only by doing this did it seem he could explore scale, composition and focus in order to ‘find’ the final image he had in his head.  

A polaroid taken in the mid 1950s of Paris by Bourdin

At first, I found the final display of polaroids slightly underwhelming, presented more as contemporary works of art which it seems is how the gallery representing the Guy Bourdin Estate would like his work to now be more understood.  However, since then, I read an interview with the curator Alistair O’Neill and his following comment made me think differently about their impact:

“I think it [the gallery of Polaroids] is the most intimate way of connecting Bourdin with his process. These things were very close to him,” says O’Neill. “He pulled them out of the camera as well as taking the picture, he shook it in his hand waited for it to develop and he kept them for a long time. Contrary to some of the exhibition photographs that have only recently been printed, these are very intimately connected to the photographer.”[1]

This comment also reflects, perhaps, Bourdin’s avoidance of any exhibition or sale of his work.  However, his preference for commercial ephemera in which to place his final image is curiously juxtaposed with an elaborate design process that resulted in a range of concrete, diverse forms in order to realise his imaginations.

Guy Bourdin, Vogue Paris 1977

Although there is much debate around Bourdin’s depiction of women and whether they are objects of subjects of the viewer’s gaze, this is not discussed in great depth within the exhibition.  I did wonder if this absence of interpretation had something to do with the curators and collaborators wanting these images to be seen more as works of art and less as consumable, designed images.  Yet, overall, the exclusion of the debate did allow me to really focus on the images, soaking them in before I then ponder upon their social, political and cultural significance. 

While I agree that the most successful aspects of the exhibition are those that are more personal[3], where Bourdin’s practices and influences are revealed, I actually enjoyed how little personal background there was about him.  Bourdin was evidently a very private person and yet despite this, he would go to great lengths to create his images. According to one article about him written in 2007, this included dying the sea a different colour, covering models entirely in glue and jewels so they couldn’t breath and having a pylon repainted a slightly different shade of grey.[4] The curator’s decision to avoid speculation about his artistic character, instead emphasising the extent to which he would create a photographic illusion was a wise one, making for a subtle but significant exhibition that I highly recommend. 



[1] Interview with Mark Katrantzou by Lauren Cochrane http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/fashion-blog/2014/nov/28/mary-katrantzou-guy-bourdin-fashion-designer-photographer-exhibition

[2] Interview with Alistair O’Neill by Anya Lawrence http://www.disegnodaily.com/article/guy-bourdin-image-maker

[3] https://www.notjustalabel.com/editorial/guy-bourdin-image-maker

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/reviews/as-bold-as-bourdin-759162.html 

Top image: Guy Bourdin: Vogue Paris, May 1970 https://girlsdofilm.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/guy-bourdin-image-maker-at-somerset-house/





You Should Be Watching: Lectures from the Bard Graduate Center

The Bard Graduate Center (BGC), a graduate school in New York devoted entirely to the study of design history, material culture and the decorative arts, has been quietly uploading videos of seminars, lectures and symposiums to Youtube over the past two years. The resulting Youtube channel showcases new research by leading academics from around the world, and makes their work accessible beyond the walls of the lecture hall. The following three videos are examples of past fashion-focused lectures given at the BGC, but there are many more to be found on the institution’s Youtube channel that may interest fashion and design historians.

1. Amanda Wunder: The Spanish Farthingale: Women, Fashion, and Politics in Baroque Spain

Women’s fashion inspired great political debate during the reign of King Philip IV (1621-65) in Spain, and no garment was more controversial than the farthingale known as the guardainfante. The name “guardainfante” reflects the widespread rumor that women wore this wide-hipped hoopskirt to conceal illicit pregnancies. Despite the ubiquity of the guardainfante in Golden-Age Spanish literature and art—Princess Margarita is wearing one at the center of Velázquez’s Las Meninas—very little is known about the material construction of these farthingales or the historical experiences of the women who wore them. An interdisciplinary methodology combining research in archival, visual, and literary sources uncovers the diverse experiences that women had with the guardainfante and reveals their contributions to the political culture of Baroque Spain as the makers, wearers, defenders, and detractors of this iconic fashion. – Full Lecture Abstract

2. Ines Rotermund-Reynard: Beads and Buttons from Briare: A Global Industrial Success Story from 19th Century France

In her talk at the BGC, Rotermund-Reynard will discuss the cultural history of 19th-century bead-making in the French town of Briare. Inventor of a new manufacturing process for the production of buttons and beads, Jean-Félix Bapterosses (1813-1885) was also an outstanding example of the moral qualities of the bourgeois industrialist in 19th-century French society. Rather than describe the economic development of the Briare beads and buttons production, Rotermund-Reynard will focus on the material object itself, in particular on its expressive character, from which emerges the portrait of a collective identity. This approach, in which an attempt is made to decipher the whole by examining the detail, leads us to question the bead itself: What does the material of which it is made tell us about the time it was created? What does its form tell us about the newly invented technical procedure? What does its color tell us about the social conditions of both the society that created these beads and the societies that received and adopted them? Doesn’t it seem that the Briare bead and its thousand-fold reproduction bear the signature of 19th-century Europe, as the philosopher Walter Benjamin might say? – Full Lecture Abstract

3. Birgit Borkopp-Restle: How To Do Things with Textiles: Maria Antoinette at the Courts of Vienna and Versailles

The French queen Marie Antoinette is often associated with extravagant fashions and the lavishing of huge sums of money on elaborate dresses and exquisitely furnished interiors—so much so that she is sometimes viewed as a “Pandora” who almost single-handedly brought on the French Revolution. Textiles—woven silks, tapestries, furnishing fabrics and embroideries—indeed had a prominent part in the images she presented to the world. A closer look at these objects reveals, however, that her choices were motivated less by extravagance, personal taste, or a desire for self-expression than by dynastic traditions and established political strategies and conventions. Textiles were of paramount importance at early modern European courts: tapestries with their narrative sequences of images, embroideries encompassing a wide variety of materials and forms, and woven silks with elaborate patterns all contributed to the splendid and highly charged interiors in which court festivals and ceremonies were held. Rulers themselves had to appear in robes of state and embody magnificence as their cardinal virtue. Marie Antoinette was no exception to this rule, strategically employing textile objects as significant elements of a language that was read and understood within the aristocratic society of her time. – Full Lecture Abstract

In addition, the upcoming symposium Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette, to be held at the BGC on March 27, 2015, will be streamed live for viewing on Youtube along with several other planned seminars and lectures this spring.