Fashion: Exploring Critical Issues Conference Recap

Erica De Greef, Helena Beks, Karen Heard, Sölen Kipöz, Kim Cunningham, and Ericka Basile

Erica De Greef, Helena Beks, Karen Heard, Sölen Kipöz, Kim Cunningham, and Ericka Basile

Trying to summarize three solid days of back-to-back papers from some of the finest fashion researchers out there is no small task… but I will make an attempt. Please note, the following represents a few highlights from the 1st Global Conference on Fashion, aka Fashion: Exploring Critical Issues, held in Oxford, England, September 25th to September 27th. Unfortunately, although there were many wonderful papers at the conference, there were a few opposing panels scheduled, so I simply couldn’t attend everything or report on everything. And I’m going to just pick a few of my favorites…


First, I must preface this synopsis by saying that arriving at Mansfield College in Oxford, on the heels of Fashion Week in London, just as the ivy on all of the ancient buildings was beginning to turn red was nothing short of delightful. And then realizing that the location where I was to sit and listen to papers on my favorite subject was an old school British college that would’ve made even Harry Potter proud was just the cherry on my ice cream sundae. But on to the papers…

This international conference, sponsored by, really did represent such an admirable breadth and depth of fashion research. The conference opened with three exceptionally strong papers. Kim Cunningham, a PhD student at CUNY delivered a paper entitled: “Caught/Appearing: Towards a Haptic Visual Methodology in Fashion Studies” in which she used her own conductor’s hat as an illustration of the manner in which we literally feel the clothing of others – demonstrating the embodied and affective dimension of understanding dress.

In the second session, Alisa Braithwaite from MIT spoke on Michelle Obama and how her role as the archetypical African-American women, in both positive and negative senses, has influenced her standing as a First Lady of Fashion.

Early Saturday morning, the conference continued with a panel on “Fashion, Fantasy, and Representation: Fashion as a Stylized Form of Artistic Expression” with Jacque Lynn Foltyn, one of the conference chairs, concluding the panel with a paper discussing “Corpse Chic: ‘Dead’ Models and ‘Living’ Corpses in Fashion Photography.” In her presentation she reminded us of Wallace Stevens’ quote that “death is the mother of beauty,” but she also prompted us all to ask if death is perhaps also beauty’s offspring.

communal dinner in the "Great Hall"

communal dinner in the "Great Hall"

Session 4a was more historically-based, with Kristen Stewart and Rebecca Perry, both affiliated with  The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, presenting papers related to children’s clothing. And Michael Langkjaer from the University of Copenhagen took us on a photographic journey through rock-n-roll’s love affair with the military jacket.

In Session 5b we discussed designers well-known in the world of fashion studies and criticism, Yohji Yamamoto and Hussein Chalayan, with the help of papers by Alexis Romano, Solen Kipoz, and Deniz Guner.

Then after tea on Saturday afternoon Ericka Basile of New York University presented a paper on the transforming power of spandex and the ways in which the introduction of disco pants created a modern, empowered woman.

Sunday morning was crisp and brisk, no better time to discuss philosophy! Following my paper on fashion and confession, Anneke Smelik of Radboud University of Nijmegen, Netherlands continued the discussion of authenticity in dress. The panel concluded with Connie Etengoff’s (CUNY, Graduate Center) paper on fashion in Second Life and other virtual spaces.

Nathaniel Dafydd Beard, a freelance writer from London, questioned the role of the fashion city in his paper “Defining the Fashion City: Fashion Capital or Style Centre?” What defines a city of a mecca of style – commerce or “cool”? Beard’s continuing project concerning fashion centers involves collecting images of individuals with infamous “fashion souvenirs.” Check it out here.

The final session of the conference was surely one of the most interesting. Aurelie Van de Peer of Ghent University, Belgium (another philosophy student!) spoke concerning the concept of the “new” and how this notion is connected to the development of fashion magazines. Ane Lynge-Jorlen of the London College of Fashion also delivered a paper related to fashion magazines, specifically addressing niche magazines and their audience.  Claire Allen from University of Huddersfield, United Kingdom spoke on the changing face of fashion journalism, referencing all variety of internet style sources such as blogs, youtube, and facebook.

(from left to right) Aurelie Van de Peer, Ane Lynge-Jorlen, Claire Allen, and Johannes Reponen

(from left to right) Aurelie Van de Peer, Ane Lynge-Jorlen, Claire Allen, and Johannes Reponen

Johannes Reponen concluded the entire conference on a slightly negative, yet challenging note, reminding us that the road to genuine fashion criticism is a tough one indeed. Designers frequently hold the key to their own critics, creating an environment with very little true accountability. But it is indeed a challenge to these scholars and others to take all these avenues of research and continually find ways to plug into concerns of the real world.

To find the full conference programme with abstracts and links to full papers please go here.

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  • Sarah October 15, 2009 06.32 am

    I remember reading in the Call for Papers that said they discouraged the use of PowerPoint. For such a visual system as fashion, did you find this limiting? Were people indeed using visual images to illustrate or emphasize certain points?

  • Rebekka October 15, 2009 11.00 am

    “Fashion as Confession” sounds interesting. What was the paper about?

  • crosby October 17, 2009 11.48 pm

    oooh I am literally squirming with delight reading this recap – what an amazing conference and setting. Regarding Connie Etengoff’s paper, I recently co-sponsored 24 hours of fashion shows with GLANCE, a fashion PR agency in SL – what an amazing experience into a new land!

  • Ericka Basile October 18, 2009 08.58 am

    The use of powerpoint was discouraged, I assumed for presentations with bulleted points in text. Delegates did, however, use visual images and many presented them with powerpoint, which obviously looks better. I was very happy to disregard the discouraged use of the program and used it to seamlessly display all of ten visuals during my session.


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