This week’s ‘Domestic Affairs’ is a guest review by Tessa Maffucci of the Global Fashion Capitals Conference held last month at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Tessa Maffucci is a Master’s Candidate pursuing a dual track in Fashion Studies and Digital Humanities at The Graduate Center at the City University of New York. Her current research focuses on the intersection of fashion and digital media, with an interest in material culture and identity.
On October 13, 2015, the Fashion Studies Program at The Graduate Center hosted the inaugural Global Fashion Capitals Conference to explore the intersection of cultures and economies that come together in the urban space. This conference was intended to initiate a dialogue on issues of social reform, political activism, urban transformation, gentrification, and globalization, as they relate to the fashion industry.
The conference was free and open to the public. Attendees included industry professionals, scholars, and students. We were delighted to see students and faculty from fashion programs at NYU, Parsons, FIT, and Pratt in attendance, as well as attendees with backgrounds in law, advocacy, manufacturing, and design.
The Global Fashion Capitals Conference (GFCC) opened with remarks from Dr. Eugenia Paulicelli, founder and director of the Fashion Studies Program at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She addressed the goals of the conference and thanked the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program at The Graduate Center for supporting the event. She also thanked the co-sponsoring institutions the School of Visual, Media & Performing Arts at Brooklyn College and The Museum at FIT for their help, and the Women’s Studies Certificate Program, the Master in Women’s Studies, The Committee on Globalization and Social Change, Data & Society, and The Futures Initiative, all based at The Graduate Center, for their additional help and support.
Dr. Paulicelli also noted the historical significance of the location of the conference: The Graduate Center is housed in the former B. Altman department store building on the corner of Fifth Ave and 34th Street, built in 1906 before Fifth Avenue became the shopping mecca it is today. She addressed the importance of bringing the questions and concerns of fashion studies into the public arena for discussion and scrutiny.
The first panel was moderated by Dr. Paulicelli and included Dr. Joe Hancock from Drexel University, Travis Haglin, retail consultant, Dr. Veronica Manlow who teaches in the Fashion Studies Program at The Graduate Center and is an Associate Professor at Brooklyn College, and Lisa Small, Curator of Exhibitions at Brooklyn Museum. The topic of the panel was “What makes a Fashion City?” and each of the panelists approached the question in a slightly different way. Dr. Hancock raised the interesting idea that fashion is victim to consumers, inverting the trope of the fashion victim. He noted that there are far more consumers than there are “fashionistas” and suggested that in analyzing fashion cities it is equally important to consider these often unseen players. Travis Haglin spoke to the role of global flagship stores in shaping and defining fashion cities. He took the example of Ralph Lauren’s Rhinelander Mansion to examine the ways that stores function as multisensory sites of experience that “showroom” the lifestyle of fashion. Dr. Manlow spoke to the history of global fashion weeks and also offered an example of one research project that is being conducted by the Fashion Studies master’s students in her Business of Fashion class this semester at The Graduate Center. The students are documenting fashion at The Graduate Center, and working with students at other campuses around the world (including The National Institute of Fashion Technology in Hyderabad, India, Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia, and University of South Wales in the UK) to examine how school fashion varies around the world. Lisa Small addressed the role of the museum in shaping the fashion landscape of a city, especially by drawing fashion into the elevated sphere of art and artifact. She also remarked that the exhibitions she has curated (including Killer Heels, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Sneaker Culture) have had very different receptions in Brooklyn than they’ve had as traveling exhibitions to smaller cities.
The second panel of the conference was moderated by Tessa Maffucci, a master’s candidate in Fashion Studies at The Graduate Center. The panel included two New York based designers, Minn Hur of the menswear label HVRMINN and Tabitha St. Bernard of Tabii Just, both of whom are also master’s candidates in Fashion Studies at The Graduate Center. The panel also included Elizabeth Cline, the author of Overdressed, and Dr. Elizabeth Wissinger, professor of Fashion Studies at The Graduate Center. The topic of this panel was “Future Fashion in NYC.” Dr. Wissinger began the conversation by discussing wearable technology and the so-called “Woman 2.0” in fashion. She noted the disconnect between the male-dominated tech industry and the female-centric approach to wearable design. Dr. Wissinger also touched on the potential for wearable tech to decrease fashion waste in the future, something that Elizabeth Cline discussed further. Cline has done extensive research on the hidden world of clothing waste and she shared some sobering statistics about the realities of the industry, including the depressing fact that New Yorkers throw away 386 million pounds of textile waste per year. Of this less than 15% is recycled or reused–the rest ends up in landfills, often on the other side of the world.
Minn Hur and Tabitha St. Bernard both discussed their own experiences with the challenges and benefits of producing in New York City. St. Bernard, who creates zero waste garments, emphasized the importance of being able to go in-person to visit a factory and make adjustments. Hur, who creates luxury menswear and suits, pointed out that certain parts of the world are stigmatized unfairly for low quality. For example, he noted that producing in Korea carries the negative association of being made in Asia, while “Made in Italy” carries a positive connotation that may not always be borne out in actual quality. The discussion turned to issues of perceived value and questions of how to reconnect consumers with their clothing, so that clothing ceases to be seen as disposable.
After a short coffee break, the GFCC reconvened to watch a screening of The True Cost (2015). Following the film Dr. Paul Julian Smith, professor at The Graduate Center, interviewed the film’s director, Andrew Morgan, via Skype. Members of the audience were also invited to the podium to ask the director additional questions. Many guests noted the emotional impact of the film and expressed a desire to take action on the issues the film presents: the environmental and labor problems inherent in the current fashion industry. Dr. Smith addressed the magnitude of these issues in his remarks, and asked Andrew Morgan what he would recommend as a small step someone could take toward solving the problems presented in his film. Morgan replied that even the small choices we make about what to buy and where to buy it from can make a huge difference in the aggregate. Both Dr. Smith and Morgan noted the importance of having these conversations to educate consumers, since we all ultimately are, and to bring awareness to these issues.
The keynote event of the GFCC was a discussion between designer Reem Acra, Dr. Maria Conelli, dean of the School of Visual, Media & Performing Arts at Brooklyn College, and Dr. Valerie Steele, director of The Museum at FIT. The three discussed Acra’s career and her unique position as a woman owning her own large-scale fashion brand. Dr. Steele pointed out that although fashion is often still considered a female topic, there are very few women in positions of power within the fashion industry. Reem Acra spoke about her upcoming Project Runway-style reality TV show, which she’ll be shooting in Lebanon for Dubai TV. This led into a discussion about how “Middle Eastern” fashion fits into the global fashion system. Acra took questions from the audience, which included topics of appropriation, modesty, and Acra’s opinion on H&M featuring their first Muslim model wearing a hijab.
For more information about the conference visit cuny.is/fashioncities
For more information about Fashion Studies at The Graduate Center visit cuny.is/fashionstudies or follow us on Facebook or Twitter at @CUNYFashion
Did any of you attend the conference? What were your thoughts and impressions? What are your opinions on the topics covered at the conference? Please feel free to share them in the comments!