The International Journal of Fashion Studies: a new platform for non-English scholars

This week I had the pleasure of attending the UK launch of a new journal that focuses on the dissemination of fashion studies by non-English scholars at London College of Fashion. The International Journal of Fashion Studies aims to continue a long tradition of understanding fashion as a multi-disciplinary field by providing a much needed platform for work from international writers and thinkers whose first language is not English. In order to do this, the editors Emanuela Mora, Agnès Rocamora and Paolo Volonté, of which none speak English as their first language, have developed an innovative peer review system where contributions are scientifically reviewed in their original language before translated into English for the final publication. Languages currently covered are Danish, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croat, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish, however both the editors and Intellect, the publisher, hope this will widen out as more peer reviewers and contributors become involved in the journal’s development.

The first issue, which is available to download for free, includes contributions in French, Finnish and Portuguese covering a wealth of subjects including clothing worn by prisoners on their way to concentration camps in the Second World War, the geopolitics of fashion capitals and Brazilian fashion as understood by Brazilians. This and much more are brought together in a refreshing but thought provoking introduction by the three editors where they discuss both the linguistic and epistemological issues relevant to this new endeavor.

I had the opportunity to ask the editors Agnès and Paolo about what it was like to put this journal together. Both expressed great enthusiasm for the project, drawing upon editorial collaboration and the overwhelming interest by non-English scholars as positive highlights. While Agnès observed the unexpected but exciting arrival of a contribution in a language not covered by the existing peer reviewers, Paolo commented on the high level of demand for the idea which had overall made the whole process much easier than expected. Upcoming issues will focus on topics such as sustainable fashion and non-Western fashion.

I also managed to have a chat with Sarah Cunningham, Journals Manager for Intellect. Sarah commented on the rigour given to the peer review system and the opportunities the journal offers to researchers and scholars who may not have the resources to translate their work. Although contributors will initially fund the final translation, Intellect is looking at ways to be able to offer funding in order to broaden its international reach and establish relationships with those whose work may go unnoticed otherwise.

The International Journal of Fashion Studies is one of several fashion/dress/cloth related journals Intellect currently publish which include Critical Studies in Men’s Fashion, Clothing Cultures, Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty and Fashion, Style & Popular Culture. It was exciting to see so many titles in the catalogue, expressing the diversity of approaches that make the study of fashion, dress and cloth both fascinating and relevant to our everyday lives.

The editors of the International Journal of Fashion Studies have also set up a Facebook page called Fashion Studies which can be found here and details for anyone interested in contributing either as a writer or an editor can be found on the Intellect website.

1. Top image used courtesy of http://exhibitingfashion.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/call-for-papers-international-journal-of-fashion-studies/

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From the Archives: Parisian Insights: The Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent Online Archives

Today, I invite you to look back at my last September post about the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent’s online archives. The website is being, slowly but surely, completed, with various costume drawings. A quick reminder urging you to keep your eye open on this treasured online resource!

 

As a student and during my early years as a researcher (not a very long time ago!), I tended to be quite suspicious of the internet. Online resources were not always well developed and except for a few museum’s websites, I would mistrust information found on the web: I would only rely on books! I have, fortunately, since, learnt to see online information as an ally as long as I know how to sort out the material.

In France, fashion and costume museums are late: their websites present little are no patrimonial documentation. Les Arts Décoratifs do propose about 2000 objects within their database and are a future partner of the Europeana Fashion project whilst the Musée Galliera does not even possess a proper website. [at this date, they now do]

I was therefore thrilled to learn that the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent is working on the digitization of their documentation. Little by little, all the fashion drawings, costume projects, posters and spectacle décors will be online. For the moment, you can find the exquisite Paper Dolls imagined by Yves Saint Laurent between 1953 and 1955. A fantastic resource!

As a teenager, the couturier imagined his ideal fashion house, ‘Yves Mathieu Saint Laurent Couture Place Vendôme‘: his models are paper dolls for which he imagines garments and accessories. He also details collection programs that precise who are the textile suppliers and that the models’ hair is done by Carita and make-up by Elisabeth Arden. It is quite amazing to observe how a childlike game can reveal itself as very serious and herald a future fruitful career.

Paper Doll 'Ivy' Copyright: Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent

Paper Doll ‘Ivy’
Copyright: Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent

 

The foundation, now, possesses 11 dolls, more than 400 paper garments and more than 100 accessories and the online category enables visitors to dress up these dolls: a playful and pedagogic way of discovering the collection.

You can also browse through a few of the designer’s posters and drawings that highlight Yves Saint Laurent’s creativity and artistic sense that did not confine itself to fashion only.

Whilst working for Christian Dior, in 1956, Yves Saint Laurent imagined a cartoon for adults, entitled ‘La Vilaine Lulu‘ (Naughty Lulu) who enjoys being provocative and cruel: a humorous work that was published in 1967.  You can discover on the foundation’s website 10 little illustrated stories.

Finally, are visible costume designs conceived for Jean Seberg in Moment to Moment, Sophia Loren in Arabesque, Catherine Deneuve (his favourite!) in Belle de Jour, la Chamade and La Sirène du Mississippi and Anny Duperey in Stavisky.

Belle de Jour Costume Sketch. Copyright: Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent

Belle de Jour Costume Sketch – 1967.
Copyright: Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent

It’s always fantastic to observe the preparatory work prior to the making of a film. I haven’t seen all the films cited but a few, Belle de Jour , La Sirène du Mississippi and Arabesque: it eases the experience. You can guess behind the pencil sketch, the actress’s figure and character; you can affix the tones and the environment…

I imagine this section is in the making as it is still very poor and lacks further information about the costumes and films themselves; I hope this category will be fed in the future to add a touch of celebrity glamour to the website!

The fashion section has not been started yet and I cannot wait for it to be online: that will be the ultimate resource!

When I was in charge of the organisation of Guy Laroche’s archives, rummaging (that is the exact term! Drawings had all been thrown into boxes and had been sleeping there for more than 10 years) through the sketches and classifying them: I truly sensed the worth of illustrations. Not that I hadn’t before but I was quite an object-obsessed! I needed three-dimensional objects to comprehend a trend or a history and to me, drawings only completed the information. At Guy Laroche, I had no objects to rely on, illustrations and (hopefully!) a few photographies were my only resources. At that point, I started treasuring these documents, understanding the primary data they would diffuse and today, I still need an object because I esteem ‘the finished product’  but I definitely value these handmade elementary resources. 

The foundation’s online archives are not perfect right now: the digitalization is an ongoing process so I imagine that justifies the lack of explanations along certain documents. I, however, find the site very aesthetic and easy to use (especially the Paper Doll section). I don’t know if, once the site is completely achieved, there will be more interaction between the objects and the categories but I do hope so: a method that will enable visitors to stumble upon archives they had not previously planned to research!

I tried to switch on the English version to test it for you but it didn’t seem to work: a momentary problem? The translation has not been done yet? I’d be curious to know whether, despite the website may only be in French at this time,  it is useful and valuable for English speaking-only users. Let me know!

What do you think of online resources? Are you like me a few years ago: a book-only researcher? Do you practice both? 

I secretly wish that in the future, the foundation would also digitalize photographies of its collection of garments: therefore, this online resource will be mere perfection! Do you agree?

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Parisian Insights: Femmes Berbères du Maroc

If there is one private institution I particularly appreciate in Paris, it is the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent. Despite being the treasure chest of the iconic fashion brand’s patrimonial archives, it is also a major cultural site that features eclectic exhibitions. Today’s display pays a dazzling tribute to Berber women. As I have said earlier on this site, I am completely uneducated when it comes to ethnic costumes but I surely am a profound admirer of  traditional garments (having an Indian background myself, I dream of daring to wear a proper sari one day!). Thus when I visit such exhibitions, I come pure as snow with absolutely no knowledge nor do I relate to the pieces that have nothing to do with my own environment. Femmes Berbères du Maroc (Berber Women of Morocco)  is at the crossroads of various implicit themes: acknowledging the audience with a traditional culture and craftsmanship, exhibiting exquisite jewellery and ethnic costumes as well as it refers to Yves Saint Laurent’s native background and lifelong fascination for North Africa.

Jewish Jewellery from Tahala – South West Morroco © Musée Berbère / photo Nicolas Mathéus

Jewish Jewellery from Tahala – South West Morroco © Musée Berbère / photo Nicolas Mathéus

With much pedagogy, we are first introduced to the Berber culture:  the display insists on the fact that women are the key holders of the Berber patrimony that they diffuse with the help of exclusively feminine crafts such as weaving, pottery and basketry. The eldest population of North Africa, Berbers occupy a territory that goes from Morocco’s Atlantic coast to eastern Egypt. Following informative maps, texts and photographies, we soon discover the traditional works created by the tribes’ women: baskets, practical everyday objects made with pottery techniques, woven textiles and carpets…illustrate the skills and decorative taste of the Berber society that clearly emphasizes simple geometrical patterns and earthy tones enhanced by strong blues.  The adorning shapes mostly speak about fertility, the motives that go back to prehistoric art, protect against bad luck and are the promise of many childbirths and therefore, happiness. Woven capes bear sacred paroles: ‘ A woman who has made 40 carpets in her life is sure to go to heaven’, the saying affirms. The dim light creates a scared-like atmosphere that forces us to recognize the mysticism diffused by what could be considered as trivial objects.

After observing the creations of Berber women, come the garments and adornments with which they embellish themselves - displayed under a stellar dark sky (and along an oriental tune) that strongly evokes romantic and dramatic Arabian nights in the desert.  The draped pieces of clothing are presented worn on white mannequins, on video screens that accent, with various close-ups,, their beauty and the complex technique of wrapping and assembling the textiles around the feminine body. An original curatorial choice that enables visitors to better comprehend the garments. Yet, surely the key objects of the exhibition would be the jewellery presented against majestic black  busts. These intricate sculptural pieces made of silver and colourful polished coral or amber stones, as well as shells and coins that feature the same geometric adornments as the daily objects were most often wedding and engagement gifts. They helped express a tribal identity and social status- the reason why women would wear these jewels in a provocative accumulation . Easy to imagine the tinkling sound these adornments produced when worn from head to chest. Videos of these women preforming traditional dances and beautiful 1950s photographies by Mireille Morin-Barde help understand the ceremonial context within which Berber women paraded with their exquisite embellishments.  Interestingly and intelligently, there is no hierarchy, within the display, between daily objects and ceremonial items: the first enable an indispensable everyday existence while still bearing mystical symbols when the second help build an explicit identification. 

Display View

Display View

Most objects come from the Berber Museum that opened its doors in 2011, in Marrakesh’s Majorelle Garden which Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent had purchased in 1980. Housing testimony of Berber art, the museum also possessed the jewels passionately collected by the couple from 1966 (when they first visited the country). Yves Saint Laurent who was himself born in Algeria was strongly inspired by the culture he had been surrounded with as a child and that he lovingly found again in the 1970s with his gypset gang. He even attested he had discovered colours in Morocco and yes, Orient definitely influenced some of his most exquisite colourful and embroidered collections and I could not help myself from trying to make links between the traditional costumes displayed here and his couture designs ( an exhibition was organised in Marrakesh, in 2010/2011 to illustrate Yves Saint Laurent’s relationship with Morocco.)

What I appreciated most is that this exhibition does not display ethnic garments for the sake of presenting beautiful oriental pieces. The Fondation Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent adds a sociological and inspirational feel to a show that clearly demonstrates what significant place the Berber woman occupies in her society? And how important her appearance can be, proving dressing up is not simply a means of frivolity as we easily tend to claim in our Western societies.

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Book Review: Fashion and Ethics

image

 

Ethics is not visual.

Friend, are you tired of your acquaintances’ self-congratulatory explanation of how they only buy jeans made of organic cotton? Are you confused by the limited ethical practices of do-good companies like Toms, and why your co-worker feels good about buying ten pairs?

Have we got the resource for you! Efrat Tseëlon has edited this special edition of the journal Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty. This journal takes its name seriously, and from Tseëlon’s introduction the writing does not spare the consumer’s feelings or pander to corporate interests and the general public’s assent. Tseëlon identifies responsibility in both parties, and while she may acknowledge difficulties in attaining a truly ethical fashion system, these are not excuses.

Ethical fashion is distinct from ethical fashion, a construction that Tseëlon defines as a “set of concepts” (13) such as ‘green’ or ‘produced locally.’ “Ethical fashion” is “an ethical style of doing things which serves as a smoke screen against having to engage with the issues that the twin concepts ‘ethics’ and ‘fashion’ entail. … ‘ethical fashion’ has come to designate what is safeguarded as the core of the ethical agenda in fashion, and what is left safely outside its bounds.” (3) In Tseëlon’s view, companies choose from a number of different strategies, such as a special ethical line of clothing or beauty products that give the company “cred” while allowing them to continue less ethical practices in their other offerings, and that the consumer is willing to participate in that structure. Have you shopped H&M’s new recycled fashion line? Did you buy a $10 bikini while you were there?

Tseëlon admits that it’s not so simple: if consumers purchased fewer, nicer things, the volume of sales would drop; if the corporations take their vows to improve worker’s rights and production values, the prices would go up: sounds mutually unattractive. But is this falsified middle road more insidious? Is the appearance of transparency actually creating great opacity?

Displacing its ethical concerns onto exotic and remote people, places and practices, and maintaining a mode of engagement which is philanthropic rather than political, the industry has been able to simultaneously genuinely enjoy the fruits of this exploitation while genuinely making some contributions to cleaning up their supply chain. (italics in original; 17)

The articles in this volume offer more specific debates and/or answers. Even the keywords are aggressive and niched, as identified for the first article, “Fashionable dilemmas” by Austin Williams:

Keywords

questionable morality, ethical euphemism, ethical dogma, ethics of ‘development,’ conscience cleaning (69)

From "Fashion and Ethics: Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty," Volume 2. Edited by Efrat Tseëlon, 2014.

From “Fashion and Ethics: Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty,” Volume 2. Edited by Efrat Tseëlon, 2014.

Williams’ article continues the attack on “pick’n’mix” ethics laid out in the introduction and calls out ironies of ethical fashion: real or imagined, created or accidental. Which is the more important issue to address: animal cruelty, production waste, human rights? Why can’t we choose all of these? The Israeli fashion label Comme il faut was chosen by Tseëlon as an especially ethical business; while the label cannot reach the level of a platonic ideal, the holistic approach to an ethical mission impressed the editor. CEO Sybil Goldfiner contributed a long case study of her own company, which adds a commercial viewpoint to this volume.

Marie-Cécile Cervellon and Lindsey Carey have taken on a sociological marketing topic: what are consumers’ perceptions of ‘green’? These first-hand accounts are engaging and balance the previous article’s business-side focus; the subjects’ general skepticism and lack of knowledge support the volume’s theme neatly, but there is a generous bibliography for further reading, as with all the articles.

The ethical treatment of animals has been largely ignored by fashion theorists, writes John Sorenson in his article, “Ethical fashion and the exploitation of nonhuman animals.” While fur is a hot-button issue, the fashion industry exploits animals in a variety of ways that are overshadowed by the most obvious or egregious wrongs, like crocodile-skin bags. Sorenson argues that nonhuman animal rights are essential to an ethical fashion practice, not just an easy protest symbol. Rafi Grosglik takes a new tack, focusing on the cultural appropriation of hummus as inherently Israeli in the past few decades, making the now-popular connection between luxury/organic trends in food fashion and how those consumer choices translate to clothing fashion–or how they fail to.

The final two articles address body image and fashion modeling. The first, by Patrícia Soley-Beltran, offers models’ testimony on their experience in the business, just as in the consumer article, and equally engaging. This is the first point at which I thought, ‘Haven’t we read so much on this subject before?’ But the author’s inclusion of “the forms of symbolic violence that shape the experience of being a model” in the realm of ethical fashion broadens the definition of this topic and maintains Tseëlon’s challenge to the rote system of “ethical fashion” as it exists today. The final article adds a psychological angle to the previous topic, offering a professional opinion to the academic.

Each provides an excellent bibliography for further reading in its specific field, along with the email address of the author–a bold, inclusive choice. The book and exhibition reviews that close the volume are also on-theme: coverage of the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition, “From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” has consistently remarked on his interest in “diverse” models and non-traditional aesthetics, and the books reviewed have explicitly ethical subjects.

Fashion and Ethics: Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty offers an unflinching critical look at the greening of fashion consumption, an unbeatable source from which to gather poignant and critical quotes for a term paper or article. I’ve never put together a curriculum, but this volume provides a clear chorus of voices in a muddy subject and speaks to so many different issues that it seems a natural choice for students. Despite its presentation as a journal, this volume reads more like a book; a lot of the sources and examples are from at least four years ago, and at 250+ square pages, it’s a lot of reading. It may be evident from the tone of this review that I am sympathetic to the authors’ viewpoints, and glad to finally read something more decided and critical; I would look forward to opposing reviews from those who have read the book (write about it or link to your review in our comments section below!). The emphatic and passionate nature of Tseëlon’s arguments, as well as those voiced by other contributors, may raise some hackles; the editor’s comparison of animal cruelty to the Holocaust, for example (see: Goodwin’s Law). But that’s just the point: which sources of modern fashion criticism make you talk back to a book, get you posting on social media, or inspire you to discuss academic journals with everyone from your coworkers to your grandma?

I wonder if this journal will catch some good media attention, if Tseëlon or her contributors will be on NPR and peppered throughout the NYTimes as much as Elizabeth Cline was for her book, Overpriced: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (Penguin, 2013). Which is the most effective medium for writing about ethical fashion/fashion and ethics, and which for reaching the target audience?

 

Find more Book Reviews on Worn Through here!

Lead Image: Cover of Fashion and Ethics: Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty, Volume 2. Edited by Efrat Tseëlon, 2014. University of Chicago Press & Intellect.

 

Further Reading:

Barnett, Clive et al. Globalizing Responsibility: The Political Rationalities of Ethical Consumption. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Baumann, Zygmunt. Postmodern Ethics. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 1993.

Black, Sandy. Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2008.

Cline, Elizabeth. Overpriced: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. New York: Penguin, 2013.

Devinney, Timothy et al. The Myth of the Ethical Consumer. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Ribero, Aileen. Dress and Morality. London: Batsford, 1986.

Rivoli, Pietra. The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy. New York: Wiley, 2009.

Stigliz, Joseph. Globalization and Its Discontents. London: Penguin, 2003.

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Parisian Insights: Papier Glacé

I’m always a little suspicious when it comes to exhibition’s highlighting contemporary companies, not that I neglect the idea that a current brand has its place within a cultural institution but I always found it hard to make the difference between marketing operation and artistic project. I’ve already explored such displays here: rememberer? Dior, Alaia, Roger Vivier

Poster

Poster

When I first discovered the posters for Papier Glacé: Un Siècle de Photographie de Mode chez Condé Nast, I was truly sceptical and promised myself I wouldn’t visit an exhibition praising the glories of a publishing group: I know I can sometimes be a little narrow-minded! My professional conscience and my personal curiosity finally won and I therefore pushed the doors of the Palais Galliera staging this fashion photography display.

I think I may have said it before, I strongly appreciate this Parisian fashion museum, directed by Olivia Saillard, whom I consider to be one of the most talented fashion curators in Europe. I was thus very interested in discovering how they chose to deal with such a theme: an insight of Condé Nast fashion photography archives with 150 objects by 80 different artists.

Peter Lindbergh - Vogue Italia, 1989.

Peter Lindbergh – Vogue Italia, 1989.

First, I was really impressed by the scenography with walls painted in black and white evoking standing magazines, on which were placed the photographies: luminous and airy – great conditions to admire the photographies. The (small!) exhibition is organised following seven themes that are reminiscent of the different styles used by fashion photographers in the pages of the Condé Nast publications such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, W and Love: Décor, Fiction, Exterior – Street, The Figure, Still Life, In Praise of the Body and Portraits.

Within the ‘Décor’ display, we travel into early Vogue photographies that emphasize elegant and luxurious backgrounds that clearly echo the wealthy readers who could afford to lounge about reading a fashion magazine. Such photographers as Cecil Beaton, Baron de Meyer or Edward Steichen proposed glamorous ‘mise-en-scène’ within which high society figures and models mingled into a stylish atmosphere where chic made one between photography, fashion and design. With ‘Fiction’, the display highlights how photographers create narratives, dreamlike sceneries that feature groups of models who play theatrical roles. We clearly observe how simple a story can come to life with little tricks: showers, a wet floor and several women in bathing suits and light robes and Deborah Turbeville gives birth to an erotic atmosphere that evokes a harem where others would simply recognize a post-sports cleaning. Soon, photography went outside! At the end of the 1930s, with World War II, women engaged into more active existences and photographers installed their models in lively streets, often along cars to highlight movement…The ‘Exterior’ display identifies this aesthetic that tended to more naturalness.

Erwin Blumenfeld - American Vogue, 1945

Erwin Blumenfeld – American Vogue, 1945

Some photographers dare to erase ‘The Figure’, blurred by graphic and light effects. There is something quite ironic in shading the model and her garments for a fashion magazine whose goal is to sell clothes. In this case, fashion photography resembles art and the clothing disappear behind the concept. The exhibition also interestingly brings into light the problem of ‘Still Life’ that is so closely linked to the commercial aspect of a publication: that’s when you sell the handbags, the shoes, the cosmetics…However Papier Glacé reminds us that these still lives are also veritable artistic photographies where the object dominates the body: comes to mind and before our eyes, the image of Guy Bourdin and his sexy high heels and legs.

John Rawlings - American Vogue, 1943

John Rawlings – American Vogue, 1943

With the ‘In Praise of the Body’ section, the exposition deals with its most controversial theme. Fashion magazines dictate trends but also silhouettes with mostly surreal bodies! Beauty and health are at the centre of their thoughts and photographers beautifully stage perfect forms and features. I would have appreciated to see a little less sleek images (even though they were stunning) and more harsh photographies that would have also demonstrated how sometimes fashion photography has gone too far in its search of perfection or over-sexualisation. Finally, I loved the last section dedicated to ‘Portraits’. In this display, the model is enhanced not only as a coat-hanger but definitely appears as an inspiring muse and superstar herself alongside the photographer. We observe the complicities, the admiration and confidence diffused in powerful or soft portraits that deliver insight into these women’s intimacy.

I surely missed a little criticism (that’s where branded displays show their limits!): what about the impact of these images on women? Nothing about controversies and scandals and there have been several scandalous spreads in the pages of Vogue! Photographers fantasize the feminine body to make readers dream but they also impose an aesthetic that 99% women cannot assume…Surely that isn’t the exhibition’s goal but I assume you can pay tribute to the splendid work of artists and still give a little information about the dark sides.

Deborah Turbeville - American Vogue, 1975

Deborah Turbeville – American Vogue, 1975

What I highly enjoyed was the installation of several garments and videos between the different thematic displays to poetically recall the photographies: a sensible way to add a little sense of reality to this ‘fake” environment. I also fancied that large reading tables were installed at the beginning and the end of the room to enable visitors read several Condé Nast (of course!) publications because that’s what magazines are made for, no? Flipping frantically through glossy pages.

 

Further Resources:

Selina’s Reading List

Nathalie Herschorfer. Coming into Fashion – A century of Photography at Condé Nast. New York, Thames& Hudson: 2012.

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Global Mode: HERA

EOC-image-Hagley-Museum-and-Library

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.

Professor Regina Blaszcyzk of the University of Leeds.

Professor Regina Blaszcyzk of the University of Leeds.

“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.

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Book Trailer: Stitched Up

 

 

No book review this week, but a book trailer! Tansy Hoskins writes about eco-fashion, sustainability, and worker’s rights for websites like Business of Fashion, The Guardian, and Counterfire. Her book, Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion, was released in February and I’m looking forward to reading it!

The New Yorker says book trailers are awkward; you may already have heard how absurd Jonathan Franzen thinks they are.

There seem to be very few trailers for fashion books. Why do you think that is?

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Musings on The Gentlewoman, a fashion magazine for the thoughtful reader?

For the train journey home from a recent conference I decided to buy a fashion magazine. This was quite a big deal because I rarely buy them, due to the disappointment felt by their inability to identify with my particular fashioned self. While Entwistle (2000) suggests that magazines can connect the practice of getting dressed with both the discourse and production of fashion, I think we still don’t quite know how that happens from an academic perspective. In other words, how do people who buy fashion magazines articulate what they read/see into their daily dress? Furthermore, do people challenge or critique what they read/see through their dress, and if so, how?

It is not my intention to answer these questions right now but they do seem relevant to a more nuanced understanding of how fashion and dress interconnect through the circulation and ownership of magazines. So, with some reservation about the extent to which magazines really hope to identify with me as their reader in mind, I chose one that claims to be focused on how women ‘actually look, think and dress’ in an attempt to see whether this was possible without any reference to the consumer.

First issue, published in Spring/Summer 2010

This is how I came to read The Gentlewoman, a British based bi-annual publication whose distinguishing features include an academic editor in chief, a intellectual approach to the business of fashion and an aesthetic lineage that can be traced back to the emergence of innovative style magazines in Britain during the 1980s.

Main features includes an interview with Westwood by Deborah Orr, columnist for The Guardian, and photographed by Alasdair McLellan

The current issue features a vibrant coral front cover that creates a frame around the black and white photographic portrait of Vivienne Westwood from the shoulder upwards. This singular image is given the simple banner of ‘Vivienne’. The magazine’s title is the only other wording on the front cover and both use black Helvetica typeface. There are no further captions alluding to the content within although on opening the magazine, there are approximately 62 pages of advertorial before I reach the contents and contributors lists. Despite the very minimal exterior, the first section seems no different to any other Vogue or Harpers Bazaar. In fact, The Gentlewoman seems no less keen on being desired for its ‘must have’ status than Vogue did when Condé Nast took over at the turn of the 20th century.

Feature on yoga, photographed by Lena C. Emery

However, there are details throughout The Gentlewoman that suggest this is a magazine attuned to an audience that desires something more distinct from between its covers. Firstly, there is the use of heavy cream paper for a middle section devoted to the different ways in which ‘gentlewomen’ identify with cultural products. Here is an image of someone who practices yoga and seeks out drinking alone in bars. Someone interested in architecture as much as the latest cosmetic products. The more expensive paper is dedicated to interviews with well-established fashion related personalities, such as Westwood, by contributors known for their writing various liberal, intellectual broadsheets.

Model Saskia discusses her fine art practice, photographed by Annemarieke van Drimmelen

Secondly, the fashion editorials, which make up the third section of this particular issue, are accompanied by interviews with the featured models that reveal their intellectual and creative aptitudes. I discover that a display of swimsuits are worn by a fine artist, while a range of menswear is modeled by someone with a university degree. These models are not just clothes hangers but women who live lives beyond the two-dimensional realm of fashion imagery.

Pocket detailing photographed by Maurice Scheltens and Liesbeth Abbenes

Thirdly, everything from the pared down photography with an emphasis on natural light and minimal retouching to a series of smaller editorials discussing the semantics of detailing within dress, with reference to pockets and underwear, are all underpinned by the presence of an editor in chief known for her fashion history credentials. Penny Martin, whose commercial experience includes working for Nick Knight’s SHOWStudio, studied fashion magazines for her PhD at the Royal College of Art while working at the Fawcett Society Women’s Library. With this background, which also includes curation, Martin’s intellectual clout is what arguably enables The Gentlewoman to classify itself as a magazine for intelligent women.

Penny Martin talking to fashion journalism students at London College of Fashion in 2013

Breward (2003) suggests that magazines play a crucial role in imagining how we might play out a diverse cast of fashionable lifestyles. The published fashion image not only suggests what’s to come but allows us to dream of possibilities that are often far removed from our socio-economic realities. The difficulty with The Gentlewoman is that due to its self aware sense of academic and subcultural identity, suspension of belief is not an option. The Gentlewoman is too aware of its own ironies on the one hand, its commitment to historical accuracy on the other.

The Parlour featuring stylists being made up, photographed by Devin Blair

This is particularly noticeable in a photographic editorial that features five make up/hair stylists who are shown being made up by various assistants at branded make up counters in the department store Selfridges. The images reveal only the hands of those applying the make up while the faces of the stylists display a range of naturalistic poses. I was particularly drawn to the idea of juxtaposing the unknown make up assistant with the recognized achievements of the stylists yet neither are caught looking directly at the camera so we see a moment in action, a glimpse of both, just as we might if we were there in Selfridges.

However, I was interested to discover that the hands of the make up assistants were in fact those of two hand models and so throwing into question the entire premise of this being a documentary effort. I also wondered at the decision to recreate the experience of being at a Selfridges make up counter, how in doing so, to what extent does The Gentlewoman challenge the reader’s opportunities to dream of possible lifestyles?

Although I did find an undergraduate dissertation on the subject and would love to hear more from the student on this study, overall, not much critical analysis has emerged about The Gentlewoman. In a newspaper interview with Martin by Kate Finnegan last year, I was struck by the journalist’s description of the magazine as an ‘equivalent of Slow Food’. It suggests that while reading The Gentlewoman might be an act of subversion on the one hand, it is also imbued with the philosophical aim of eventually making the fashion world a better place on the other. The reader of The Gentlewoman is one who ultimately understands that fast fashion will rarely lead to a more authentic, and in this case, more naturalized, sartorial identity. But is that really the case?

Published in 2000, this fascinating text calls for a more embodied approach to the study of fashion and dress

As I said at the beginning, not enough has been done to understand the relationship between fashion magazines and how we dress in our everyday lives. While they have always been a means to understand the top down flow of stylistic trends, since the 1950s, they have also reflected the increasingly blurred distinctions between cultural practices and objects. In this way, fashion magazines invite the reader to identify with its language, to encourage us to learn their particular vocabulary. Yet, when it comes to academic research, we still seem to focus solely on talking to journalists, photographers and editors as important cultural mediators. Why don’t we also include discussion with the people who buy magazines, to explore how fashion as image is articulated through the embodiment of dress, as Entwistle suggests?

If you are involved in research that addresses some of these questions, please do get in touch as I would really like to hear from anyone who has either developed some of Entwistle’s ideas about dress, fashion and the body or interesting methodological approaches to documenting the daily experience of getting dressed.  Also, if you have a particular view on The Gentlewoman, please do get in touch.

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From the Archives: Global Mode: The Diesel Niqab

For Easter weekend, we will look back at my post from September 2013, in which Diesel presented interpretations of religious dress in their world-famous denim.

 

When Diesel’s first ad campaign under its new artistic director, Nicola Formichetti, came out in late August, bubbles of disapproval and disappointment and loathing about one of the many images in the Reboot campaign arose and floated around blogs, Buzzfeed, and The Huffington Post. The discussion circled around a shallow “offensive/edgy” binary deemed innate to the image, which discussion commentators (and commenters) fell into naturally: here is a semi-naked, white (?), tattooed woman wearing a niqab presumably made of Diesel denim, a studded back pocket over her face as design accent. And: go.

reboot

From Diesel’s 2013 “Reboot” advertising campaign.

Huffpo asked its readers “Did Diesel cross the line?” without really drawing one in the sand; you can imagine the comments that question encouraged. The intense disagreement suggests that the question of whether this is “offensive or not”–because it’s not provocative or daring or challenging, it’s offensive…or it’s edgy–is to be determined by the individual observer, not by the cultural observer.

Some commented on Formichetti appropriating a “sacred niqab” out of its religious context to further his career, others insisted that veils are a social–not a religious–construction, and very few noted that this garment was not meant for actual consumption, not going to be following the “plus-sized” found model and Casey Legler, other models in the campaign, down any runway. Shock factor was mentioned and determined to be in very poor taste. Opinions!

There are so many question-layers of agency in the niqab image: the core issue of the agency of women in Middle Eastern countries, their societies so often clumped together, misunderstood, and ascribed the worst social woes of each; the agency of Eastern imagery and objects in Western consumerism; the role of artistic director as artist, as representative of an international brand, as a member of the fashion system.Questions of one’s Muslim-ness and whether the image offended morphed into that age-old conversation about who is “allowed” to be offended or make pronouncements about offensiveness to Muslim women.

Many Muslim women spoke out, mainly against the ad. The threat of Islamophobia in America is very, very serious and the further complication of this garment–especially as regards sexuality–can be seen as irresponsible. Responses like that of Shruti Parekh are vital to the maintenance of real, true, and thoughtful perceptions of the diversity of Middle Eastern cultures both in America and abroad. When presented in a considered manner, the opposition to this campaign helps foster “dialogue.” But I continue to be struck by the frenetic use of our generous avenues of communication by some to exploit exploitation. What is the difference between an international brand using intentionally inflammatory images to spark conversation and a fashion blogger using intentionally inflammatory language to do the same?

One difference is, of course, that even if this garment is not for sale, the rest of the collection is. Designer Kenneth Cole is another famous seeker of controversy, criticized often and loudly for his Twitter advertising “jokes” about Syria and Egypt (and sandals and riots). Cole sees his fashion-maker status as an opportunity to get people talking, and his detractors see him as exploiting international crises and news items to drive sales.Some who disagreed with his tweets created interesting and engaging opposition, but the majority found an easy target and denied Cole the “dialogue” he supposedly seeks to incite, fighting his tactics because it looks good or because someone tweeted their inspiring disappointment first and everyone loves a trending hashtag. Is Formichetti the new Cole? Should a supposedly “off-the-cuff” tweet be considered in a different context than an orchestrated campaign?

Is the Catholic imagery in another of the Reboot campaign’s advertisements too tame to incite commentary in 2013? Is a tattooed young drag queen in a studded denim mitre expected in the fashion sphere? If boychild is naked under that robe, is it offensive, or might it be construed as a clever nod to certain scandals that have plagued the church in recent years?

diesel-reboot

From Diesel’s 2013 “Reboot” advertising campaign.

Those who are offended by the interpretation of Pope Joan above might be as disheartened by the commodification and dilution of the power of their religious garments as Sana Saeed, who wrote about the Diesel niqab: “Long dreaded the day that ‘THE VEIL’ [would] become so subversive that capitalism [would] just consume it. Then this Diesel ad.” When it comes to religiously-affiliated dress, whether Catholic or Muslim (or whatever), what is powerful and what is oppressive? I think both of the pictured garments represent both of those adjectives. Do they belong in the realm of fashion advertising?

Only one writer, Angel Millar, remarked on the nature of the material used to make the “make-shift niqab,” noting the juxtaposition of All-American Denim and its freedom/democracy/mainstream/(pop?) connotations with the staid/oppressive/religious of veils:

A denim niqab seems at once to indicate a rejection of both Western values and religious literalism, and it seems to hint at the fusion of East and West on the level of material culture.

Millar gives two examples of Islam’s influence on Western fashion: Poiret and Chalayan. The first was meant to establish the long connection between the two worlds; it may be generous to say “Islam’s influence on…” instead of “The West’s co-opting of…”, but the point is: this is not as new as some think. But the use of the niqab/burqa to intentionally provoke in the Reboot ad is perhaps better compared to Chalayan’s “Burka,” a collection from 1996, which is called “challenging” and “art” (links nsfw). If Diesel had presented this niqab in a runway show as opposed to in an advertising campaign, would it have landed differently? Does Chalayan, seen as a high-fashion artist, have more leeway to explore these themes than Diesel, seen as a mass-market brand, or are their approaches fundamentally different?

How does “I am not what I appear to be” intersect with the niqab image? What are the social questions that may be answered by society at large or by a majority, as opposed to left up to each consumer, observer, and citizen? Is there a line to be crossed here, and how would you define it? Please leave your respectful comments below.

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Domestic Affairs: Spotlight on ‘Elegance in an Age of Crisis’

1930s_vionnet

When I applied to the University of Edinburgh for post-graduate study, I was truly torn between studying the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and studying the 1920s and 1930s in dress and textiles. Their ‘History, Theory and Display’ taught programme had everything I wanted in a master’s program, except someone to supervise the latter topic, so I looked at the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in my coursework and my subsequent dissertation. I do not regret this.

However, since graduating my own research as progressively moved forward to focus on the late nineteenth century through the second World War. This means that my regret at not being able to see Elegance in an Age of Crisis at the Museum at FIT (closing April 19), is greater than for any other exhibition geographical limitations have prevented me from seeing thus far.

Thankfully, we live in the age of the internet, and the Museum at FIT has done an incredible job with their exhibition website, blog, and in the catalogue for which I am daily checking my mailbox in anticipation of its arrival (what is it Carrie Fisher says, Instant gratification isn’t fast enough?). These are so good that it is some compensation for not being able to see the exhibition myself. Thankfully as well, I am a member of Costume Society of America; at my first ever national symposium I made the acquaintance of Ariele Elia, assistant curator at the Museum at FIT, who assisted with the exhibition and contributed to said-anticipated catalogue. Ariele was kind enough to take the time this week to speak with me over the phone about the exhibition, what it aims to accomplish, how it was conceived, and the amazing things it reveals not just about fashions of the 1930s, but about the innovations in design worldwide that were happening during an age society typically associates with breadlines, stock market crashes, Dorothea Lange photos, dust bowls, and John Steinbeck.

 

The exhibition is co-curated by Patricia Mears, whose work I have long admired, and G. Bruce Boyer, whose work I am now going to pursue with almost single-minded devotion. Elegance in an Age of Crisis was conceived after Patricia read an article Bruce had written about the changes in men’s tailoring in the 1930s. She found that the deconstruction in these suits mirrored perfectly the sort of deconstruction happening in women’s fashion, and thus the first exhibition to examine both menswear and women’s clothing of the 1930s was born. Patricia and Bruce had worked together on Ivy Style, so working together to demonstrate the elegance and innovation of fashion design in the Great Depression was not as difficult as it might have been.

Featuring pieces from the museum’s permanent collection — such as tailoring patterns for the Prince of Wales, later Duke of Windsor who contributed much to the shift in menswear — MFIT was also loaned suits and jackets from the Ribonacci Museum in Naples (with whom Bruce has long worked), Fred Astaire’s shoes from the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles, and pieces from private collectors including Hamish Bowles and Beverley Birks. The exhibition aims to be truly international showing that while it features clothing from the high end of fashion, the elegance of the era matched a truly global aesthetic. There are suits from department stores in Cuba, an emphasis on Neapolitan tailoring and its contributions to the deconstruction of men’s suiting, and a collection of qipao worn by Mrs Wellington Koo, a socialite — this garment was unique in making use of traditional Chinese lines, fabrics, embroideries, and embellishments while revealing the contours of the body in a way that had never been done before in Chinese dress and which indicates the influence of modernity, the West, and cultural exchange in general.

1930s_beach-robe 1930s_swimsuit
Left, McGregor man’s beach robe, c. 1935-1940, USA. Museum purchase, P92.11.4.
Man’s swim suit, c. 1929, USA. Gift of Mike Dykeman, 89.143.1.
 
Right, Munchen swim suit, wool, circa 1930, Germany. Museum purchase, P83.8.9.

In speaking with Ariele, I was struck by the sheer amount of information, and the number of concepts and innovations the exhibition is communicating through 110 objects: 80 garments and 30 accessories. One of these innovations was the emphasis on the human body as it is as opposed to how the fashionable silhouette was recreating it in fashion, for the first time in years, possibly millennia. Having studied the 1920s extensively, I have often seen the silhouette of the 1930s characterized as a “return to Puritanism” or other such biases. What Elegance in an Age of Crisis does so well is to place the 1930s silhouette properly in the context of neoclassicism in the first part of the decade and Victorian revival in the latter half of the decade — celebrating the human body instead of contorting it has had been done in the Edwardian age, or concealing or denying it’s adult state as happened during the youthful, tubular shapes of the 1920s.

This emphasis on the body also led to a more public — if initially scandalous — acknowledgement of sport, leisure, and thus more elegant and visible sportswear and leisurewear as seen in the examples above. As Beverley Birk says in one of the accompanying videos (see below), you can’t wear a corset under a bias-cut gown. The exhibit also revives the work of Augustabernhard, who was equally talented at creating bias-cut gowns as Madame Vionnet, while revealing through the errors of a tweed coat by Charles James how tricky the bias cut was to create in an era when it was not formally taught in apprenticeships or schools — it was an open field of discovery. This deconstruction in garments was, as I’ve already said, echoed or mirrored in the deconstruction of men’s tailoring to create the soft drape of what became known as the ‘London Drape’.

1930s_augustabernard Classic Neopolitan Jacket: D/B cream silk thussor six-button jacket, 1930's
Left, Augustabernard (attributed) gown, ivory tulle. 1934, USA (licensed French copy). Gift of Mrs. Jessie L. Hills, 93.71.4.
 
Right, London House (founder: Gennaro Rubinacci, tailor: Vincenzo Attolini) classic Neopolitan jacket, silk thussor, 1930s, Italy. Lent by the Rubinnaci Museum.

There is a natural division within the show, which opens with accessories — that wonderful way in which you can make a small budget stretch — and then leads into distinct themes of active and resortwear, women’s day wear, menswear, women’s evening wear, and patterns. This decision on how to layout the pieces was not a challenge for the museum, since the divisions seemed almost pre-made by the very nature of the era and the clothing itself.

By far, for me, the most incredible aspect of the exhibition is all of the original research, and the ways in which that research has enhanced our understanding of the era not only as dress historians, but in the understanding of worldwide design and visual culture. It was truly an era of international design innovation, with an international aesthetic to accompany an international depression. And yet, through film and clothing and design, the people of the 1930s escaped those hardships and almost in defiance of their circumstances created a “golden age of fashion”, as Bruce calls it, to be elegant in a way that still inspires designers today. The detail that Bruce and Patricia put into their analysis of clothing, and their understanding of the construction and the changes that happened in clothing construction at the time is awe-inspiring.

I will not attempt to paraphrase their phenomenal work, since I would by no means do it justice, but I wholly recommend visiting the exhibition if you can. If you, like me, cannot, I recommend the blog, the catalogue, and the videos below. Which I will be watching over, and over, and over again.

Elegance in an Age of Crisis, Part 1: Hers

Elegance in an Age of Crisis, Part 2: His

 

Bottle green cotton velvet smoking jacket, cashmere trousers, black bowtie 1936
Gardner and Wooley LTD smoking jacket, green velvet, satin, 1936, London. Collection of Alan Bennett, Davies and Son.

Have any of you been to Elegance in an Age of Crisis? What were your thoughts? Did you like or dislike it?  Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. And if there are any North American exhibitions or events you would like to announce or see covered, feel free to email me.

Opening image credit: Madeleine Vionnet gown, ivory silk organza with black lace insets, 1937, France. Collection of Beverley Birks.

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