In the world of fashion, branding plays perhaps the most important role in attracting consumers’ attention, interest, and dollars. The ways in which a company promotes its image and creates awareness of the brand can have a positive or negative effect on the consumer depending on his or her values. The three articles below highlight different aspects of fashion branding, from the effect that color can have on the consumer to the innovative branding strategies of online retailers and sustainable fashion brands. These articles will make you more aware of the ways in which brands seek your attention–we hope you enjoy!
1. Lapolla, K. (2014). ModCloth: A case study in co-creative branding strategies. Global Fashion Brands: Style, Luxury & History, 1(1), 85-102.
This article examines how to integrate co-creation into the foundation of a brand for female millennials by using ModCloth as an innovative example. ModCloth is an American online clothing retailer that specializes in vintage, vintage-inspired and indie designer apparel. The observational research uses the building blocks of co-creation (dialogue, access, risk assessment and transparency) defined by C. K. Prahalad and V. Ramaswamy as an initial framework for understanding approaches that invite and encourage customer participation in a brand. According to Prahalad and Ramaswamy, value creation is shifting from product-centric to personalized consumer experiences based on interactions between consumers, consumer communities and companies. An analysis of ModCloth’s company, e-commerce website and online community provides insights for opportunities to enhance company/customer interaction. This analysis extends the building blocks of Prahalad and Ramaswamy and is simplified into a new framework that places dialogue at the centre of a co-creative branding strategy. As a result of this research, the framework serves to illustrate dialogue as an entry point to access, risk assessment and transparency. – Full Article Abstract
2. Ridgway, J., & Myers, B. (2014). A study on brand personality: Consumers’ perceptions of colours used in fashion brand logos. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 7(1), 50-57.
Creating a likeable, relatable brand personality is one way that fashion brands can connect with consumers and increase profits. However, few studies have investigated how consumers perceive personality traits from a fashion brand’s marketing communications. The colour used in marketing communications is a powerful tool that helps consumers to make inferences about fashion brands. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether, upon exposure to a brand logo, consumers will assign personality traits to the brand that correspond with commonly held colour associations. An online survey was conducted with a national sample to test the hypotheses of the study. Findings indicated that consumers attributed brand personality traits to brand logo colours according to commonly held colour associations for some of the colours in the study. Knowing how consumers perceive the colours used in brand logos will help marketers to convey the appropriate brand personality traits of their brand. – Full Article Abstract
3. Weiss, C., Trevenen, A., & White, T. (2014). The branding of sustainable fashion. Fashion, Style & Popular Culture, 1(2), 231-258.
The major focus of this article is to highlight the consumer’s understanding of sustainable practices in the context of fashion branding and how it relates to purchasing behaviour. The authors questioned 151 consumers through snowball surveys transmitted via social media to measure consumer receptiveness to sustainability as a marketing issue. They suggest there is potential value for both wholesale and retail companies to create sustainability standards and branding methods in order to highlight this important message; such efforts could include an industry-wide logo, trademark or rating system. The authors argue that a concerted educational campaign is needed to promote mainstream consumer awareness and adoption of sustainability standards. The results of the study show that consumers do value products made using sustainable practices. Moreover, when asked if it made a big difference in their purchasing decisions, the answer was yes, as long as the price did not increase significantly. The conundrum was that many respondents we surveyed just did not seem to fully understand the meaning of sustainability. As a result, the authors recommend a threefold action plan for the fashion industry: 1. Convey and educate in an easy, transparent way what sustainability means for the consumer, clarifying the myriad of mixed meanings within the industry; 2. Consolidate and streamline industry standards and create federal benchmarks for measuring the sustainability of fashion manufacturing processes. This will prevent companies from ‘green-washing’ their products through trumped-up advertising; and 3. Establish and publicize a standard sustainability logo, trademark or ranking system to provide consistent product labelling and allow consumers to choose sustainably manufactured products. – Paraphrased Article Abstract
Image Credit: stellafluorescent.blogspot.com
As a young academic, especially as I draw closer to the end of my PhD, I am increasingly realising the importance of getting noticed. As students enter their post-MA or post-PhD world, they inevitably need to stand out from the crowd in order to reach the next stage in their careers, whether that is a PhD scholarship, a post-doc, a museum post, or a teaching position. The easiest way to do this is to increase people’s awareness of your work. I touched on this in my posts on internships and conference papers, however this post will also look at social media and networking.
There are five main things which I feel are essential in building that vital reputation.
It is essential to gain experience in your chosen field. If you want to go into academia, get teaching experience. If you want to work in museums, volunteer and undertake internships. If you want to go into fashion journalism, write and publish. I have personally been offered paid work out of volunteering and internships, so cannot emphasise enough how useful this can be.
2) Web Presence
Although maybe young academics find posts without it, I think that building a web presence is a massive boost, but only if it is a positive one. Join twitter, write your own blog, keep an academic profile, join academia.edu, join LinkedIn. All these things are massively helpful not just in getting you noticed, but in enabling people to have a good idea about what you do. Like it or not, online academic ‘stalking’ happens. People will google your name, and the more impressive your web presence, the more engaged and active you will seem. However, you must maintain your common sense. Posts about wine at post-conference social gatherings are fine, but make sure you don’t go beyond the ‘approachable but professional‘ boundary.
3) Conference Attendance
Keep attending conferences, and keep giving conference papers. Even when you’re in your final writing up stage, and not producing any more new research, do keep your face and name out there. Even when you’ve graduated, if you’re in a stop-gap job, try to keep presenting. This keeps your name in the minds of your peers, and keeps you engaged with current research. My own conference presentations have led to offers to write articles (sometimes paid) for magazines, to write review articles for journals, and offers of work.
Although getting into publishing is a complicated business, as I explored in a previous post, it is important to keep trying. Moreover, once you’ve got something published, don’t relax and think you’ve got that box ticked. The more you have published the better. If you’re struggling to get journal publications, write a blog and write for magazines.
5) Keep working!
The hardest thing to do when you have people constantly telling you about all the extra things you should be doing is to keep your thesis afloat. It is important to remember that your thesis is your priority. If you’re struggling to juggle conferences, social media, publications and your research, your research has to come first. It is all well and good looking impressive to people, but you have to have to research to back in up.
Weren’t we taught that starting with a dictionary definition of your subject is totally uncool? Or was that unscholarly, unprofessional? Joel Dinerstein and Frank Goodyear defy that classroom convention in their new book, American Cool, by taking a page from a jazz dictionary: automatic validation. The quote comes from A Jazz Lexicon, compiled in 1964 by Robert S Gold, and it is actually an inspiring start to this big book of cool, a complement to the National Portrait Gallery exhibition of the same name happening throughout most of this year:
From the book “American Cool” by Joel Dinerstein and Frank Goodyear, 2014.
Suggested review-reading listening:
American Cool kicks off with essays by the editors, Dinerstein tackling the history of cool’s social construction and Goodyear examining how photography is inextricable from that process. Their work is academic but accessible, with thoughtful but recognizable examples, in laid-back, informed prose. The straightforward essays are highly quotable on the subject of cool, and their writing will not only appeal to but also draw in a wide crowd. There’s a lot of fun swearing that happens (part of being cool is “not giving a shit” (15)), and the relaxed intentions fit the characters introduced. The authors come up with interesting quasi-definitions of cool (while acknowledging its indefinability), and make it clear that cool is not only relative person to person but also generationally, morally, and emotionally. John Wayne is one person’s cowboy hero and another’s hyper-traditional he-man.
Bruce Lee holds it down for Asian-Americans in “American Cool” by Joel Dinerstein and Frank Goodyear, 2014. Photographer unidentified, in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
For me, the text was overshadowed by an apparent assumption that their readership doesn’t have a strong grasp of the Civil Rights Movement in America, or by a fear that we still just don’t get how racist America was). Dinerstein especially spends a lot of time explaining the racial background and makeup of both the phenomenon of cool and the book; at times borderline apologetic and acknowledging the Burden. I don’t want to discourage this kind of positive revisionist history, but it sometimes read like American Studies over-compensation.
While not exactly disconnected from the subject, the authors’ otherness shows as they write platitudes like “Such are the absurdities of a racist society” and make funny word choices such as: “For all his achievements, [Frederick Douglass] remained a black man in a deeply prejudiced nation.” Dinerstein’s frustration with the rarity of the cool woman is somewhat neutralized by his description of Louise Brooks as “luminous” and Zora Neale Hurston as “sassy” (she’s black!), while their male counterpart Malcom X has fierce, steely pride and Thelonious Monk is a genius. (15) The grammatical authority exerted by capitalizing bell hooks’ name: would that have happened in an exhibition at or book from MoMA?
The outsider position isn’t necessarily detrimental; their distance allows the subject to continue to exist on its higher, unknowable plane; something we can write about, approach with logic, but maybe not really understand (which is what we like about coolness in the first place). There is other space for writing about/presenting cool in a cool way.
It is certainly an inclusive crowd filling the pages, but not a diverse one; the only cool Asian-American dude is Bruce Lee, and Selina is one of very few Latin-American persons celebrated. Dinerstein writes that black culture IS cool culture:
“A set of conditions for generational cool are often forged at the intersection of youth culture, popular culture, and African American culture, from swing to rock and roll to funk to hip-hop, from language to dance to fashion to aesthetics. …Cool is in large part an African American concept. Black Americans invented the concepts of hip and cool–both traceable to concepts in many African cultures–and the terms first crossed over from New York’s jazz culture in the late 1940s.” (13, italics in original)
Spread of Cool and Counterculture Ladies: Joan Didion (photo copyright Julian Wasser, 1970) and Angela Davis (photo copyright Stephen Shames, 1969, in the National Portrait Gallery Collection). From the book “American Cool” by Joel Dinerstein and Frank Goodyear, 2014.
The writing supports and introduces a set of striking photographs; one of the four main criteria for inclusion in this book was that the person was caught looking cool and photographed (the one exception is Walt Whitman, whose cool was etched after a daguerrotype). The visual record is necessary for an exhibition of portraits, but here is evidence that cool is so essential to certain humans that it can be captured on film–to say nothing of the photographer’s talents.
Too cool for photography: Engraving after a daguerrotype of Walt Whitman, by Samuel Hollyer, c.1854-55. In the National Portrait Gallery collection and featured in the book “American Cool” by Joel Dinerstein and Frank Goodyear, 2014.
Dinerstein explains the selection process in his introduction:
“We created a historical rubric for cool*, and a given nominee had to pass the test. It has four central elements, and every figure here carries at least three: (1) originality of artistic vision and especially of a signature style; (2) cultural rebellion or transgression in a given historical moment; (3) iconicity, or a certain level of high-profile recognition; and (4) recognized cultural legacy.” (15)
Goodyear makes the case for photograph as the best means of capturing “cool”:
“Most basically, [photography] acts to mediate the public’s understanding of and engagement with these individuals. Photographic representations circulate more widely than those in any other medium. Like peepholes into another world, photographs make visible something special beyond our immediate grasp.” (44)
The photographs that follow are strictly American; they and their subjects exemplify the trickle-up, working-class cool that contrasted with aristocratic sprezzatura, sangfroid, and duende. Separated into four chronological sections, we examine the Roots of Cool (Before 1940), The Birth of Cool (1940-59), Cool & Counterculture (1960-79), and the Legacies of Cool (1980-present). Full-page portraits of various angles, poses, and viewpoints also constitute a history of photography, a medium which is itself considered cool, or something that cool people create.
Louise Brooks (photograph copyright Nickolas Muray, in the IMPF in Rochester, NY) and James Cagney (photograph copyright Edward Weston, in the National Portrait Gallery). Pages from the book “American Cool” by Joel Dinerstein and Frank Goodyear, 2014.
Its past outsiderism as an art form adds to the cachet of the medium to capture and exhibit the elusive characteristic of cool. Many of the photographs are in the National Portrait Gallery collection, but the curators also loaned from collections both public and private, creating a very interesting visual mix. All but two of the 76 pictures taken pre-1980 are black and white. This makes for easier comparison and nice continuity in the book; I can only imagine the impact in the gallery.
Sometimes an interesting pair is coupled; here Lenny Bruce (copyright Julian Wasser, 1960) and Malcolm X (Photograph copyright Henri Cartier Bresson, in the National Portrait Gallery). From the book “American Cool” by Joel Dinerstein and Frank Goodyear, 2014.
Oh right: clothing. It’s here; each of these historical figures uses clothing to create a persona, a personality. Dinerstein and Goodyear included a sense of style–notably not a fashion sense–as the first necessary attribute for inclusion in their Top 100. Subcultures, the fermenting pots of cool, are often identified by their clothing; it is a Bourdieuvian exercise. Everyone can identify cool, but those in the know can quickly sniff out those who are just pretending. Those on the outside, on the other hand, often stereotype or iconify a group’s sartorial markers for easy identification (leather, sunglasses; fringe, love beads; skinny jeans).
Goodyear notes: “Cool has long had its own vernacular language, but it has also developed over time its own visual vocabulary as well. The manner in which an individual wears certain clothes, styles his or her hair, and adopts a particular accessory (e.g. cigarettes, sunglasses, motorcycles, leather) suggests an allegiance to a particular code or, conversely, a disavowal of convention. Likewise, one’s expression, posture, or action can also signal the nature of a person’s relationship with a larger audience. Hard to codify, endless in their variation, yet frequently imitated and subject to incessant change, these personas are not only photogenic but also important to one’s creative expression.” (45)
Thelonious Monk, photographed by William Paul Gottlieb in 1947. Shades inside, beret, “as if hiding in plain sight.” From the book “American Cool” by Joel Dinerstein and Frank Goodyear, 2014.
Dinerstein and Goodyear make use of clothing descriptions most often to describe black celebrities’ “defiance of racism,” such as Lester Young’s sunglasses at night and porkpie hat (coupled with “impenetrable personal slang”), Monk’s glasses and beret, or Fredrick Douglass:
In particular, [Douglass] sought a sense of dignity and refinement through formal dress most commonly associated at the time with white men of stature. In this self-fashioning, he proclaimed his independence and his equality and refuted racist assumptions about black masculinity. Yet Douglass’s appropriation of white fashion did not constitute a rejections of his own blackness. (43-44)
These quotations and ideas are very important to include in a volume on self-presentation, visual splendor, and the creation of cool, but for the knowledgeable researcher these statements may echo shallowly. There’s little about how Hank Williams used his cowboy hat, for comparison. That said, no one in the book is reduced to his or her wardrobe–not even Audrey Hepburn, whose film roles and work toward redefining womanhood come before Holly’s Givenchy dress.
Missy Elliot photographed by David LaChapelle, 1999, copyright David LaChapelle. From the book “American Cool” by Joel Dinerstein and Frank Goodyear, 2014.
Like the much-admired books collecting August Sander’s portraiture, this book would be a rich visual resource for fashion and costume designers. But outside of the exhibition, where the aura of the photographic work and the impressive gallery space create a certain experience, why buy a book like this instead of searching the troves of vintage celebrity photographs on the web? The essays, certainly, which loop nicely around the chosen photographs, and the curated nature of the selections as a group. There were only a few names that might be unfamiliar to the reader; it is the context and the whole that make this book engaging. To appease those whose favorite did not make the cut, there is an “Alt-100,” an appendix of runners-up.
For a comparison study, please refer to The Impossible Cool, a tumblr that collects photographs much like these in scrollable form. Many of the faces are the same, but the range is wider and obviously less “permanent.” Dinerstein suggests that their book is “not the last word on cool, but the first one: I see this as a recuperation of cool, an attempt to provide a useful framework for an elusive concept.” (19) If American cool had lost its punch as the authors suggest, I think they give us ample proof that it still exists, and will continue to thrive and myth-make through the increasingly eternal medium of photography.
Have you been to this exhibit, or do you plan to? Do you follow any blogs, tumblrs, etc with “vintage” photos of celebrities that you want to share? What does cool mean to you, and can it be found in photographs? Let us know below!
*said no one cool, ever.
Find more book reviews on Worn Through here!
Buckland, Gail. Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History, 1955-Present. New York: Knopf, 2009.
Gladwell, Malcolm. “The Coolhunt.” The New Yorker, March 17, 1997.
Gold, Robert S. A Jazz Lexicon. New York: Knopf, 1964.
McAdams, Lewis. Birth of the Cool: Beat, Bebop, and the American Avant-Garde. New York: Free Press, 2001.
Pountain, Dick and David Robins. Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude. London: Reaktion Books, 2000.
Stearns, Peter. American Cool: Constructing a Twentieth-Century Emotional Style. New York: NYU Press, 1994.
Last night I was able to attend the last of a series of talks curated by Dr Carolyn Mair, MA course leader at London College of Fashion (LCF), and entitled ‘Looking Ahead…isms in Fashion’. Previous talks in the series have covered topics such as ageism, racism and ableism, underlining LCF’s initative Better Lives, which aims to develop our understanding of sustainaiblity within the business of fashion. This final presentation was a panel discussion between a range of diverse speakers, all asked to reflect upon what the Chair, Dr Phil Sams, suggested were ‘tools’ at our disposal in effecting positive change upon a range of long-held stereotypes within the fashion industry.
James Partridge, founder and CEO of UK charity Changing Faces
The discussion was structured around brief presentations by all the speakers and the order of service was well considered. It began with two very positive, eloquent and engaging introductions by James Partridge, the founder and Chief Executive of Changing Faces, the distinguished UK charity supporting people with disfigurements, and Caryn Franklin MBE, fashion broadcaster and co-founder of All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, an independent organization focused on challenging stereotypes of body ideals within the fashion industry.
All Walks Beyond the Catwalks 2013 campaign to diversify media representation of body shapes
Both were able to raise questions about fashion, well-being and diversity that struck a personal chord with the audience. James engaged us by revealing just how many people know someone with a disfigurement while noting how research suggests we still psychologically associate negative characteristics with people based upon their physical appearance. Caryn suggested we consider what is meant by ‘success’ not just within the fashion industry but when we get dressed every morning. Caryn asked us whether what we chose to wear was an experience of anxiety and conformity or affirmation and individualisation. This personal approach to the subject of exclusion, identity and fashion was certainly inspiring. While Caryn talked of the ‘extraordinary’ as a profitable antidote to the emphasis on normalization within the business of fashion, James highlighted a recent media campaign by Illamasqua, a cosmetics company, whose slogan ‘beauty is imperfection’ helped to recognize facial diversity within society.
Illamasqua 2013 ‘Imperfection’ campaign featuring a model with a facial birthmark
However, for me, the highlight of the panel discussion was the elucidating contributions by the last two speakers. Firstly, Dr Chris Pawson, a community psychologist and Principal Lecturer in Clinical & Community Psychology at the Institute for Research in Child Development, reminded us of how external circumstances, such as socio-economic systems, can negatively impact upon our mental well-being. As he put it, some people definitely have a rougher time of it than others. To only suggest a range of therapeutic methods that focus on self-improvement fails to address wider communal issues. Chris drew our attention to the way in which stereotypes are the products of socialization, not just cognitive hardwiring as referred to by other panel and audience members. Chris also voiced the oppression felt by young people when faced with pressure to conform to fashion trends or particular ways of dressing in order to be fully accepted into society, however, he was equally optimistic about fashion’s contribution to enhanced self-esteem.
M&S 2013 clothing campaign featuring Helen Mirren (actress), Tracey Emin (artist) and Katie Piper (philanthropist)
Chris was followed by Dr Carolyn Mair, the primary instigator behind these talks, who pointed out that fashion was still a very narrow business in terms of social representation, reflected in the fact that a third of Britain’s population are over the age of fifty yet barely seen in fashion representation. However, the fact that the clothes worn by Helen Mirren and Tracey Emin in the recent Marks & Spencer (M&S) campaign were the first to sell out clearly highlight the profits of appealing to a more diverse fashion consumer.
Both Chris and Carolyn brought a critical eye to a discussion that covered explicit themes such as the normalization of dress, identity and diversity, yet, arguably, more implicit themes of exclusion, anxiety and conformity were less considered. Here, it might have been interesting to include Daniel Miller, material anthropologist at UCL, or Rebecca Arnold, fashion historian at the Courtauld Institute of Art, who have both written about the various ways in which fashion and dress manifests anxieties around a range of issues, including perceived body ideals.
Instead, the final contribution to the discussion was given by Zowie Broach, co-creator of Boudicca, a London based design house, whose practitioner stance would offer insight into how fashion design might help to improve our lives. Unfortunately, her presentation with its focus on a recent art piece rather than the inherent structural challenges of working in fashion failed to engage me despite her being considerably moved by what the other speakers had to say. Zowie observed that the issues raised all made her feel quite ‘sad’. Yet it seems to me that if the fashion industry and the public are to move forward in terms of broadening our perception of what is ‘normal’, perhaps it is better to transform this sympathy, which rarely resolves and more often condones ‘isms’, into an empathy so we can start to imagine ourselves in the body/dress of another in an effort to see the world from their perspective.
Boudicca’s The Liquid Game, 2014 ( audio-visual installation)
The final audience discussion was disappointing, with very little time allowed to hear a range of questions, and was not helped by the panel Chair, who drew upon previously featured speakers amongst the audience for contributions rather than pursue lesser well-known faces amongst the sitting crowd. This was a missed opportunity to have a dialogue about ‘isms’ in more depth and perhaps in future, the panel might consider asking audience members for questions in advance.
Yet, despite these minor criticisms, the discussion was a useful starting point for thinking about cultural values, as both social and psychological phenomenon, and broader concerns about sustainability of the fashion industry. As Sandy Black has made clear, the notion of ethical or sustainable fashion is paradoxical: while the industry operates on wastefulness and obsolescence, it simultaneously claims to be our ecological and economic ally. This is perhaps why it is a challenge for designers such as Boudicca to be understood in a more critical light. But, last night’s discussion went some small way towards more intellectual reflection of cultural practices and their influence upon our efforts to ‘do better’ by fashion and by default by our complex, dressed social lives.
Finally, if you are studying anything to do with dress, fashion and mental health, I would love to hear from you. Recently, here in the UK, it was revealed that one in four people have a mental health disability. How might this impact upon people, especially when it is also often hidden from the normative gaze? How does the role of dress function within this newly emerging socio-cultural context?
 p252, Sandy Black ‘Ethical Fashion and EcoFashion’ in Steele, Valerie (ed) (2010) The Berg Companion to Fashion New York, Berg.
In February, Robin Givhan wrote a very interesting piece for The Cut about so-called “ethical fashion,” with Maiyet as a case study. The twist in that company’s luxury womenswear offerings is that they are produced not only by real, life artisans, but that said artisans hail from struggling countries or live in areas with few economic opportunities. Part of the profits support the establishment of the metalsmiths, the embroiderers, and the seamstresses as independent, profitable artisans in India, Kenya, Peru, and other places where hand craft skills are still practiced.
In her piece, Givhan dives into the qualifications of the founding partners, lists the big-name backers (Disney, Branson, etc), and has written a meaningful, timely piece on the effectiveness of the “ethical” brands we all love to support.
She outlines my pet protest:
The world of philanthropy has long known how to use Seventh Avenue to spur donations and raise our collective consciousness. Charities have inspired what might be called “pity purchases,” a transaction driven by liberal guilt, lefty do-goodism, or a host of other politically correct motivations rather than that most potent and enduring driver of obscenely priced fashion: pure, unadulterated desire. But ethical fashion still carries the stigma of being inelegant, precious, and a bit twee—unlike in the food industry, say, where customers eagerly pay a premium for farm-to-table bragging rights.
Examines the wonderfully real difficulties of working with craftspeople in global environments:
And then, says [Paul] Van Zyl, there are the silk weavers in India who work out of their homes and can’t work when the temperature soars because, without air conditioning, it’s too hot, and if the doors are left open, the goats come inside and get themselves tangled in the looms, and, well, it’s the kind of mess that the folks over at Hermès don’t have to worry about.
Not everyone can shop at luxury price points, but it’s there that mythology is born and reputations are built. If the luxury market can fetishize Lesage embroidery, can it not come to do the same with Varanasi silk?
“David Mulinga, Richard Ochieng, and the second Richard Ochieng.” Photographs copyright Guillaume Bonn/Global Assignments at Getty Images, 2014.
What I rather liked about this article was that the photographs accompanying the piece were of Kenyan craftspeople and the pieces they made for Maiyet. No CEO business headshot or “site visit” with a gaggle of smiling children. Givhan’s words were strengthened by portraits of Kenyan “partners” of the label, including the couple Maiyet first invested in through the Nest nonprofit. Givhan’s piece was about the business and product sides of Maiyet, but considering their apparently genuine interest in making small businesspeople visible and viable, it was nice to see the artisans lead the visual aspect of the article (accompanied by the obligatory magazine product-layout).
Watch videos about Maiyet artisans on their website here; how do beautifully-made media enhance the customer experience?
The portraits by Guillaume Bonn reminded me immediately of the work of Jim Naughten, known across the internet for his portraits of Hereros in their unique dress, featured on Worn Through in 2012.
From the “Herero” series by Jim Naughten, 2012. Photo copyright Jim Naughten, 2012.
Although I admire the Hereros series, and it may be unfair to compare the two photographic intentions, it is heartening to see people photographed for what they do, not what they wear. In their everyday dress (or work clothes?), accompanied by their tools and materials, these are just people! Very talented people, of course. I wonder if the photographs were taken outside of the Maiyet studio, or if the background was intentionally “neutral”?
How do you see “ethical fashion” companies portraying and representing their artisans and producers? Is it important that they are photographed, named, interviewed? Or is that another form of fetishization? Do you ask the same of your favorite small European brands or American producers (or would you have seven years ago)?
Leave your comments below!
Lead Photograph: Anton Onyango Otiende and Benta Otiende, metalsmiths from Kenya. Photograph copyright Guillaume Bonn/Global Assignments at Getty Images, 2014.
We were so thrilled to be able to offer our research award again this year.
This is the second time we’ve offered the award and once again there were smart and thoughtful entries. For 2014 we made some changes and offered one award for a student and one for a working professional.
If you’re wondering, the money comes from advertisers. So, please consider advertising if you work for a school, a museum, an auction house, a costume house, a publisher, or something of that nature that appeals to readers. Your money goes to a good cause!
The award is to help support researchers in apparel fields for travel, publishing, presenting, image rights, interviews, or other things of that nature. (It does not go to institutions, strictly individuals or teams).
This year’s winners are:
She is using the funds to assist with a research trip to the Fashion Institute of Technology for her project on Couturier Bob Bugnand. That project is being presented at CSA and submitted for publication soon.
She is using the funds to assist with her research at the Museum of London into Elizabethan and Jacobean clothing. She plans to help do cataloging for the museum. This work will then inform her PhD thesis.
Best wishes to them both and we look forward to their blog posts here on Worn Through detailing their experiences. Also thank you again to all who applied and we encourage you to apply again next year.
Traditionally, fashion has both celebrated and punished individuality. Over the years, men and women have been mocked for particular fashions that at other times are quite popular. We are often encouraged to be unique and be “ourselves”, but to do so within certain boundaries. In contemporary society, there is an enormous variety of styles and aesthetic ideals, almost to to the point of rendering individuality impossible. What does it mean to be an individual in today’s fashion world? What do we expect from our fashion retailers in this regard? What about from our fashion models? These three articles below explore those questions, addressing styles like the now ubiquitous Converse All Stars, the concept of fast fashion co-branding (driven by consumers’ need for uniqueness), and the once derided maxillary midline diastema (AKA “gap teeth”), which has in recent years become the calling card of several high fashion models. We hope you enjoy!
1. Lewis, K. C., Sherriff, M., & Denize, E. S. (2014). Change in frequency of the maxillary midline diastema appearing in photographs of Caucasian females in two fashion magazines from 2003 to 2012. Journal of Orthodontics, doi 10.1179/1465313313Y.0000000081.
The objective of this study is to ascertain if there has been a change in the frequency of appearance of maxillary midline diastema in two leading women’s fashion magazines over a decade. Two observers counted the frequency of maxillary midline diastema that appeared in Caucasian female models featured in British Vogue and Glamour (UK). An increase in the frequency of maxillary midline diastema appearing in both publications was observed between 2003 and 2012. This change may indicate an increase in the acceptance of the maxillary midline diastema, which may in turn influence orthodontic and aesthetic dentistry treatment planning. – Paraphrased Article Abstract
2. Mackinney-Valentin, M. (2014). Mass-individualism: Converse All Stars and the paradox of sartorial sameness. Clothing Cultures, 1(2), 127-142.
Through a study of Converse All Stars sneakers, this article explores an apparent paradox in the notion of ‘individuality’ in current fashion consumption where the potential freedom of choice among consumers in Denmark appears to have led to a sartorial sameness rather than radical pluralism. The concept of mass-individualism is used as a vehicle for understanding this paradox that is heightened both by the social value attributed to individuality in much of contemporary Western society and the image of All Stars as a symbol of individuality and self-expression. The concept is seen as part of an ambiguous strategy of status representation operating on conditions of fashion democracy. The study is interview-based and focuses on consumers aged seven to 71 in the greater Copenhagen area in which All Stars may be considered a transplanted, American cultural icon. Themes of undercoding and visual assemblage run through the exploration of mass-individualism in contemporary fashion. – Full Article Abstract
3. Shen, B., Jung, J., Chow, P-S., & Wong, S. (2014). Co-branding in fast fashion: The impact of consumers’ need for uniqueness on purchase perception. Fashion Branding and Consumer Behaviors, 101-112.
Co-branding is deemed as an effective strategy of brand development and has been largely adopted by fast fashion brands such as H&M. A fast fashion brand collaborating with a luxury designer fashion brand is recognized as “fast fashion co-branding.” This study explores the consumers’ need for uniqueness and purchase perception of fast fashion co-brands, which also relates to the consumers satisfaction and welfare. A self-administered survey questionnaire was employed in main shopping areas in Hong Kong and 175 valid respondents were obtained. The empirical results show that the consumers’ needs for uniqueness among the associated fashion brands have significant differences. The impact of their need for uniqueness on the purchase perception of fast fashion co-brands is also revealed. This study gives an important implication of fast fashion co-brands on consumer-purchasing behavior and provides managerial insights to companies’ co-branding strategies centered on fashion brands of different brand positioning. – Full Article Abstract
Image Credit: stellafluorescent.blogspot.com
‘I watched Bake Off and couldn’t believe how upset people got,’ Chinelo says. ‘Now I totally understand. At one point I couldn’t even thread a needle, my hands were shaking so much.’
The statement above was made by Chinello, one of ten contestants taking part in a BBC television programme called The Great British Sewing Bee, currently on air here in the UK. This second series succeeds the first in both size and grandeur. While the first was set over four episodes and located in a Georgian building in the heart of Dalston, East London, this one contains eight episodes and places more contestants in a lofty but grander converted warehouse by the Thames, offering everyone panoramic views of the capital city at the front while at the back, there is an extensive, well stocked haberdashery at their disposal.
The Great British Sewing Bee invites the participants to take part in weekly sewing challenges, which finds them spending two days completing three tasks: make a basic pattern, customize a piece of ready made clothing and finally making their own pattern, which must fit to a live model. Their efforts are judged not by an audience vote but by two authoritative figures, who in this case are a Woman’s Institute sewing teacher with more than forty years of experience teaching and a director of a successful tailoring company located in Savile Row, London. A television host, whose fundamental role is to mediate between the novice participants and the expert judges on behalf of the viewer, also joins them.
Contestants on The Great British Sewing Bee, Series 2
Each week, the two judges decide which contestant must leave the competition, based upon their performance across the three set challenges. The most concise and in-depth review of the programme can be found in The Daily Telegraph, where Kate Bussman highlights how the nature of television production creates much tension for the contestants as they are constantly required to stop their sewing for ongoing sound bites, camera shots and set pieces.
For me, the most interesting contestant in The Great British Sewing Bee is Chinello, a twenty-six year old dressmaker who does not use paper patterns, having learnt to cut forms directly onto the cloth. Chinello’s approach to clothesmaking is riveting because she engages with fabric directly, choosing not to mediate the process with the use of representational tools such as paper patterns. Her process involves thinking and working with design in a very three-dimensional way; Chinello is like a living, breathing 3D printer.
The setting for the series is an old Thameside warehouse, seen here in the background while Chinello, one of the contestants, is cutting out her pattern in the foreground.
Another fascinating part of the programme is the way in which the historical context and social commentary about dress is approached. Every week there is a theme explored, which might be a particular era or the type of material being used in the sewing challenges, such as stretchy fabric or patterned textiles. The television host then engages with a range of scholars and academics to discuss interesting aspects of that weekly theme. This part is fascinating because they draw upon a range of scholarly disciplines, from anthropology to consumption studies to performance and fashion, in an effort to contextualise the weekly challenges set for the contestants.
Prof. Giorgio Riello, Textile Historian, who discusses the advent of chintz and printed cottons in the 18th century
The Great British Sewing Bee provides us with a contemporary snapshot of academic interest in fashion, dress and textile studies. Craik’s (2009:264) identification of five types of fashion writing – language of fashion, fashion reportage, promotional writing, critical writing and intellectual analysis – makes no mention of the representation of these studies within the media of television yet it seems that in this one programme, there is visual evidence of all types of fashion writing taking place.
My interest in fashion and dress television programmes, particularly with a focus on historical context and cultural commentary, has its roots in a childhood spent avidly watching The Clothes Show
each week. The Clothes Show was this unique mix of contemporary affairs and intellectual discussion about fashion and dress
but whose content has now been taken over by the internet or reality television programmes that concentrate on how to improve the individual identities of ordinary people through fashion and dress. These would include Trinny and Susannah’s What Not to Wear, How to Look 10 Years Younger or Gok Wan’s How to Look Naked, to name but a few of a growing genre focused upon the daily anxiety of colloquial dress.
While the Great British Sewing Bee has a lineage that certainly relates it to reality television programmes (its sister production is The Great British Bake Off), it does go some way to filling the gap left by the likes of The Clothes Show with its efforts to discuss and inform the viewer about the wider scholarly interest in fashion and dress. In future, it could be part of a small archive of British television programmes that focus on fashion and dress history, perhaps beginning with Doris Langley-Moore’s What We Wore in 1957. I would be very grateful to hear of reading suggestions on the subject of historical dress and its representation through the medium of television. With the increasing complexity of internet coverage, it seems there is still a place for television to capture our attention with contextual discussion of dress and fashion for longer than just a brief click. Research into how this is done, with particular reference to the second half of the 20th century, is definitely worth further consideration.
As a young academic, the importance of publications is regularly reiterated to me. The often-repeated mantra of ‘publish or perish‘ rings in the ears of many of my peers. While some PhD students plunge forward into the world of journal publishing, others flounder without guidance of what, when, and where they should publish. As the editor of a history journal directed at postgraduate students, these questions often come in my direction. In this post, I will outline how the publishing process works, before giving some hints, advice, and titbits of information I have picked up.
1) When to publish
The first question many young researchers face is whether or not they have written an article of publishable standard. What is good enough? What is useful enough? Working in a very subjective field, there is no formula for ‘good enough’. Often, you won’t know if it is good enough until you start putting it out there. The best route is to try out your work at conferences, gauge reactions, and work from there. Most important though, is whether you, as a researcher, feel that you have made a contribution to your field with this work.
2) Where to publish
Once you’ve decided that you’re ready to brave the publishing experience, the first decision to make is where to publish. This post is written mainly with journals in mind, but of course there are also chapters in edited volumes, conference proceedings, and other avenues to consider.
Focusing on journals, do you publish in a postgraduate journal, or a specialist journal in your field? As the editor of a postgraduate journal, I recommend them as a first experience, but ideally with an essay from an MA, or work from early PhD research. They are a fantastic experience of how the process works, but they are not the best place for the finished research from your PhD. In the UK, we have the REF, and it is imperative to publish in REF recognised journals.
However, the best approach is simply to ask: what journal would it suit best? Which other journals have articles on similar topics? Are there any particular journals you frequently footnote? Don’t be afraid of trying your ideal journal, even if it seems scary and important. Even if they don’t accept you, the feedback will be invaluable.
3) How to submit
The important thing here is to follow guidelines exactly. Every journal will provide them, and if they don’t, request them. As an editor, mis-formatted submissions immediately receive a negative response. Not only does it create more work for the journal team, it also doesn’t look professional.
4) What will happen
Following submission, you will usually receive a response either directly rejecting the article (in which case, return to point 2 – this could simply mean you chose the wrong place), or informing you it will be going out for peer-review. In this process, two academics in your field will read and comment upon your work anonymously. These comments are returned to the editor, who in turn passes them on to you. There are three primary outcomes at this stage 1) acceptance, 2) acceptance with revisions, 3) decline. The latter two outcomes are far more usual than the first. Whatever happens, the feedback will be invaluable.
Feedback should never be ignored. Yes, it may be contradictory, and you may disagree, but these are the opinions of your peers. The editor will usually provide some guidance about what to ignore and what to follow, but aside from this, even if you are rejected, take that feedback onboard. If you disagree, make sure you still address the point – you may simply need to clarify some point they have misunderstood. The point of the process is to improve, and to publish the best possible research; and every submission, whether from a graduate student or a professor, receives the same treatment.
Everyone has to keep publishing, and every academic is scared of rejection. The key is to try, to take it in your stride, to improve, and to make your research the best it can be. That, after all, is why we do what we do.
The thrust of the collection is decidedly local. While some international designers are represented … they are dwarfed by items associated with notable Viennese personalities, such as one of Maria Theresia’s cashmere shawls, a pair of ballerina Fanny Elssler’s shoes, one of playwright Johann Nestroy’s dressing gowns, a parasol from the opening of the Suez Canal, boots belonging to Helene Vetsera… (117)
And on and on goes an impressive paragraph on the Wien Museum’s collection, ripe with meaning, personalities, and object lessons. But this excerpt also indicates Vienna’s bigger fashion issue that forms the premise of Wien Chic: it is bogged down in the city’s indefatigable history; the international items are true objects of fashion, while the local is represented best by historic dress. Susan Ingram and Markus Reisenleitner seek to identify “a locational history of Vienna fashion” that re-places Vienna into a global sphere, this time not the stylistic or the musical, but the fashionable.
Here, “fashion” becomes a byway through which the authors explore the aesthetics of the city, the multiplicity of Viennese self-identification and the spaces that at least some of those identified bodies interact with, create, enjoy. This is, after all, a locational history, and the locations are not only geographic (Vienna) but architectural or found in anecdotes on city planning. I was instead expecting a sort of glorified, academized street style book (possibly “misled” by the cover image), an understanding of how “Viennese” or “Vienna” can be expressed through clothing, fashion, and style.
In this volume, clothing/dress/style are not given primacy in the authors’ understanding of “fashion.” There was a fashion for all things Baroque (albeit by a different name), and its lasting influence on Vienna is underscored. But in the whole chapter on “Baroque Chic,” fashion/dress are never discussed, only architecture and ethos. Neither is it in the subsequent chapter on “Ringstrasse Chic,” but the leather jacket is mentioned as a visual indicator of “Prolo Chic” in the next. The section on “Ausländer (foreigner) Chic” speaks more to the role of the foreigner as portrayed in films and the changes in vocabulary that accompanied their changing ethnicities and status over the past two hundred years. As they summarize:
Baroque chic paved the way for the expression and understanding of passion and of suffering. Ringstrasse Chic put capital in charge, which restructured the city and expedited the pace of change. Prolo Chic and Ausländer Chic both participated in and responded to this change, mitigating its tendency to mythologize elites. Taken together, they provide a unique composite that fashion has had to grapple with in trying to make inroads into the Viennese urban imagery. (96)
This is all very important backstory and separate fashions, and the real strength of the book: books about fashion don’t have to be about clothes, just as in English the word “fashion” does not always mean dress or clothing. It seems here that the authors use fashion as a metonym for modernity. They note that “what is at stake in fashion is the pleasure derived from change, an all-encompassing cultural phenomenon that applies to more than dress or ornamentation.” (10) The authors’ struggle to bring the thesis back around to fashion/dress is mirrored in the struggles to achieve a balance in creating modern, forward-moving architecture while maintaining the baroque aesthetic that many in Vienna still cherish, described at length in the book: the story gets caught in a historical-interest loop. Vienna can’t commit to fashion/dress, and the authors can’t commit to it either.
Modernity means something quite different, something much more inflected and influenced by the weight of the historical, especially the baroque, in the Viennese context than it does in other modern Euro-American cities, such as London, Paris, Berlin, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. (9)
But although they “find fashion a useful heuristic wedge to open up the spatial specificity of the cultural-historical struggle inherent in the modernity of Vienna’s urban context,” [ed. note: Phew!] the wedge doesn’t seem a purposeful tool until more than 100 pages into the text (of 170). When we finally get to the applied fashion/dress section, it is split into Museum Chic and Designer Chic, reflecting the authors’ interest in the two as separate but occasionally overlapping spheres.
The introductory note to this section is quite good, using “the chics” to look very briefly at fashion (although not the other way around, as suggested above): “in the first instance, fashion is primarily staged in the city’s baroque tradition of conspicuous display.” In the Museum Chic section we are rarely treated with descriptions of the museums’ holdings, strengths, intriguing or important past fashion exhibitions (except for the passage above and a list is hidden in the notes), but most often the text jumps back into the loop for a comparison of the museums’ roles, historically and contemporarily, in Vienna’s cultural capital and landscape. However, the Wien Museum is credited with “mov[ing] the role of fashion … to the centre and giv[ing] it visibility.” Its inclusive intentions best fit with the Prolo and Ausländer chics, as a public offering with a focused mission. The MAK (Austrian Museum of Applied Arts Vienna) is most significant here for its leadership issues, Wiener Werkstätte collection, various fashion schools, and complex relationship with the category of “applied and decorative arts.”
The renowned museum cluster called the Museumsquartier (MQ) has worked with or offered spaces for fashion exploration and support, and also creates “inclusive” space for a wider public than private fashion shows (which are never truly addressed, other than to dismiss them as elitist), fulfilling an important anti-Baroque quality that the authors admire. (1).
The final chapter, Designer Chic, begins with designer Helmut Lang, offering a background on his unhappy teenage years that may have inspired him to become a designer, the schools he attended, Anna Wintour’s admiration…but not a lot about his collections, hardly an adjective or descriptor to explain his work–even from others. Is this less important than his childhood in the Styrian Alps? Is it left up to the reader to explore Lang’s work further, or does it assume a common foreknowledge of his aesthetic? The art Lang has made and shown is given more thought; it does, of course, use clothing, textiles, and garments from his label, but it is only in the guise of Artworks that these objects receive recognition and academic handling. The authors use the art to speculate about Lang’s attitude toward his clothing design, which is described as “champion[ing] the independent, proletarian heritage of jeans.” (Prolo chic!)
In their conclusion, the authors remark that:
What became apparent in our investigations is that Vienna’s urban imaginary is so intimately linked to its historical legacy that its fashion system’s inherently modern, change-oriented dynamic is constantly forced to define itself in relation to its past. (175)
And this book certainly proves that, in part due to the lack of observation of fashion; the structures, both physical and social, surrounding them were examined at length here, and occasionally applied to fashion/dress. As an explanation of why fashion has such a difficult time taking in root in Vienna, this work is excellent. Maybe it’s unfair of me to expect or desire an account of buying and wearing clothing in Vienna as opposed to Paris or Seoul, or what it is like to design in Vienna instead of New York or London (or Denver?). But instead of adding to the body of work that describes fashion/dress outside of Major Fashion Cities, this book confirms that those are the places whose fashion systems actually deserve direct examination. An insightful, apropos remark is hidden in a note:
We would not want to be misunderstood as suggesting that it is due to Helmut Lang’s influence that these [younger designers'] collections contain echoes of his; rather, we would want to see them all as part of the larger system, one, moreover, that tends to produce a quite unique, more understated look than one tends to find in the fashion capitals. (172)
While the authors stated plainly that they did not want to create simply a comparison study, that “unique look” is never discussed explicitly. By offering each of the young designers and the entire concept of “sustainability” little more than a page or a paragraph and one small photograph each at the end of the book, contemporary fashion design that is unique to Vienna is effectively an afterthought, literally an endnote.
This book can perhaps be compared to the Fashion Scandinavia book I reviewed a few months ago; while an interesting read, it offered somewhat shallow, short interviews with fashion designs from all over Scandinavia, along with photographs chosen and submitted by the designer(s). Also locational, that book intended to help spread the word about new talent as well as collecting images and words that might begin to define “Scandinavian fashion” (despite the surprisingly different cultures within that loose geographical area). Wiener Chic does not attempt this definition, but rather seems to define everything but, the physical surroundings, the people, the art, the history. Somewhere in between these two is a truly useful and dynamic resource for the fashion historian; this book’s sister publication, Berliner Chic, accomplishes its goal much more effectively.
However, I really did enjoy this book! It was a truly engaging and well-written look at various aesthetic aspects of Viennese life, and laid a foundation for a very interesting future discussion on fashion and the spaces it inhabits, fills, or is lacking. I especially like the story-telling language that gives the often heavy academic historical prose a little lift:
[The Wien Museum] included, and put on display, the holdings of the city’s armoury (the Zeughaus), where not only the weapons that armed the citizens of Vienna were store but also the spoils of the two failed Ottoman sieges of 1529 and 1683. Displays emphasized the city’s historical role as a bulwark against the threats thought to be emanating from the East and characterized Vienna as a feisty place whose spirit of independence was temporarily subdued during the early modern absolutist period of the Habsburg’s reign, only to be resurrected by the Liberals wresting away the Ringstrasse urban modernization project from the imperial rulers. (112)
I can’t decide if it honors fashion/dress to go beyond the obvious descriptions and overwrought “examinations” of designers’ collections and museum exhibitions to find a more dynamic understanding of “Urban Chic,” or if the authors’ treatment of the subject (largely ignoring the material realities and even its easily accessible aesthetics) reduces it to a lesser-than-Art byproduct of life in Vienna. It’s obvious that the authors are more interested in film, architecture, and social structures than the fashion system per se, but by playing on that word in English, it does bring the fashion/dress into those “higher” scholarly realms. It may be interesting to more closely compare this 2014 look at fashion/modernity with Adolf Loo’s turn-of-the-twentieth-century commentary on modernity and Vienna (see Stewart). Although Vienna is not included in Breward and Gilbert or in Potvin, those books are more directly relevant to “locating” fashion in specific cities, albeit mostly the more obvious ones.
There are very few books like this out there, and I want to encourage these non-predictable approaches to the subject of fashion/dress. I look forward to the continuation of the Urban Chic Series (edited by Susan Ingram), and I especially hope it continues to avoid the traditional “Fashion Cities” and will look for the more interesting stories; this seems to be the intention. I wonder which city will be next?
Have you read this book, or Berliner Chic? Which cities do you think merit or require a locational history of fashion?
(1) Speaking of which, this book is relatively academic-jargon-free, the one exception being “baroque,” despite their warning of general overuse of the word when describing Viennese culture.
Lead Image: Cover of Wiener Chic by Susan Ingram & Markus Reisenleitner. Intellect & University of Chicago Press, 2013.
Find more Book Reviews on Worn Through here!
Brandstätter, Christian et al. Vienna 1900: art, life, and culture. New York: Vendome Press, 2006.
Breward, Christopher and David Gilbert. Fashion’s World Cities. Oxford: Berg, 2006.
Gilbert, David. “World Cities of Fashion” in The Fashion Reader, Linda Welters and Abby Lillethun, eds. Oxford: Berg, 2011. [More here about space/place in Part V, "Fashion: space and place].
Ingram, Susan and Katrina Sark. Berliner Chic: A Locational History of Berlin Fashion. Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2011.
Kremer, Roberta S. Broken Threads: the destruction of the Jewish Fashion Industry in Germany and Austria. Oxford: Berg, 2007.
Kwon, Miwon. One Place After Another: Site-specific art and locational identity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.
Levine, Lawrence. Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.
Potvin, John. The places and spaces of fashion, 1800-2007. New York: Routledge, 2009.
Quinn, Bradley. The Fashion of Architecture. Oxford: Berg, 2003.
Stewart, Janet. Fashioning Vienna: Adolf Loos’ cultural criticism. London: Routledge, 2002.
Thun-Hohenstein, Christoph. Contemporary Vienna: architecture, art, design, film, literature, music. Wien: Schlebrügge, 2010.
Walkner, Martin et al. No fashion, please!: Photography between gender and lifestyle. Wien: Kunsthalle Vien, 2011.