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.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment

Monthly Archive


Available now: Punk Style by Worn Through founder, Monica Sklar, PhD. Find it at :, Powell's Books, or a bookseller near you.