A few weeks ago I was in the audience for “Swedish Innovations & High Street Fashion,” a conference held at the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design. Combining the academic with the commercial, the topics ranged from “Swedish fashion industry in the 20th century” by Ulrika Berglund, PhD candidate at the Centre for Fashion Studies at Stockholm University, to “‘It’s not what you do but how you do it'” by Jörgen Andersson, a long-time H&M executive and recent Uniqlo transfer.
The talks were interesting, engaging, and centered around what keynote speaker Regina Lee Blaszczyk termed “the new business history.” Instead of focusing on managerial systems at the most visible companies, Blaszczyk supports turning to small businesses, clothing companies, and objects, among many other overlooked portions of business history. She sees the clothing industry, in all its iterations, as vital to the study of business history as a whole, and the study of business history as integral to the future of fashion studies.
“Swedish Innovations & High Street Fashion” was one of many public outlets for the three-year project Blaszczyk chairs, “Enterprise of Culture.” Their plan is straightforward and exciting:
This project seeks to deepen our understanding of these developments using an interdisciplinary approach that explores the relationships among enterprise and culture. Fashion is often studied from a purely theoretical perspective, from a costume history or dress history viewpoint, or from a popular media-driven vantage point. EOC breaks new ground, using the fashion business to examine how various types of cultural encounters – between “core” fashion cities such as Paris and London and “peripheral” areas such as Sweden and Scotland, between style labs and the high street, and between fibre makers, clothing manufacturers, and retailers – stimulated innovation, and created a new and competitive industry.
Significantly, this enterprise is funded by HERA [Humanities in the European Research Area], a funding network of twenty-one humanities councils across Europe. HERA has been a generous supporter of dynamic fashion projects in the past, such as “Fashioning the Early Modern“; read my review of that conference for Worn Through here. These projects consistently bring together some of the best researchers in Europe across many disciplines, and the collaborative, multinational nature of the work is modern and forward-thinking.
It’s especially encouraging to learn about funding sources that despite (or because of?) their broad reach have chosen to fund fashion studies-based projects. In 2012 alone, HERA’s Joint Research Programme funded collaborations as different as “Cultural Encounters in Interventions against Violence” and “Travelling Texts 1790-1914: the Transnational Reception of Women’s Writing at the Fringes of Europe.” That fashion studies holds a respected place among more traditional academic topics is a major step forward.
What projects would you like to see funded? What other large and diverse geographic areas do you think deserve a similar funding source? Had you heard about HERA or their projects before?
Lead image source: Pierre Cardin design, 1961, for a DuPont textiles ad. From the Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, Delaware.