On grading fashion: Fair and unfair

It’s the end of the semester at my university in Germany and I am carefully working through about 140 pieces of written work which the students have submitted.

student-handing-in-application87347451-198x300Source here

The work needs to be graded in a fair and responsible way, justifiable in case of any relating questions and transparent.

In theoretical projects some of the contributing factors are:

– Structure, good use of language, citing sources, coherent context

– Answering the innitial question or solving the problem

– Using visual materials to support the work

Although the students have been told in advance what elements make up a perfect project or exam, there is a lot of room for my own interpretation which has not been stated anywhere in advance.


teacher-report-card-2 Source here.

The subjects I teach are theory, but in many written projects, the students had to come up with an idea, an interpretation of a subject matter or a concept. So how can one stay fair whilst using personal interpretation? How to stay away from grading “unruly” students a little worse, because they disrupted class almost every session or put their feet up on the table? How to stay objective when grading students who always stayed longer after class and politely asked questions, trying to clarify the class content? Personally, I find it requires a lot of self-reflection and self-discipline to grade fairly.

Self-reflection means noticing, when the impulse is to grade a “nice” student a little better and then disciplining oneself to stay objective. Even if this means re-evaluating all the grades one more time until it is very, very late at night.

1grading Source here.


A final important character trait for grading is to be strong-willed and not afraid of confrontation, when a unsatisfied student comes to discuss the grade. If the grade was given objectively, reasonably, justifiably then there is nothing to argue about.

o-ANGRY-EMAIL-facebook Source here.



Museum Life: Museums and Labor

Staff on strike at the National Gallery, London. Image via The Guardian, www.the guardian.com

Staff on strike at the National Gallery, London.
Image via The Guardian,
www.the guardian.com

With ongoing protests over the privatization of jobs at the National Gallery in London and the recently resolved disputes at MOMA over hikes in employee contributions towards health benefits and what exactly constitutes a living wage, there has been much focus this year on museum staff, the work they do, and how they are compensated.

Explicitly stated within a salary and working conditions is an expression of the value of that work and that position to an institution.  While it can be difficult for non-profits to compete with salaries in the private sector (and very few of us, if any, enter museum work to become wealthy–we love what we do and the collections we work with), this “love what you do ethos” is more and more being called into question, especially with the common trade-off of a low salary for a job at a prestigious institution. With student loan debts and the rising cost of living in many major cities (and these major cities rely on museums for tax revenue, tourist dollars, and in many cases, help with lagging economies), doing what you love is not enough to survive, nor is it fair to expect that of the majority of a museum workforce.  On a related subject, Worn Through discussed the ethics of unpaid internships a few years ago.

In the U.S., the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) annual conference in April 2015 centered around the theme, “The Social Value of Museums: Inspiring Change”. A “rogue session” at the conference endeavored to “turn the social lens inward” on how museums treat their staff, encouraging discussions on how museum workers can advocate for themselves for better wages, work conditions, and reasonable working schedules. Many questions were asked of participants such as, “Why are so few museums unionized? How would a unionized workforce impact the museum field?”, and “What would be the impact if AAM accreditation measures were to address museum labor practices?” You can read some of the comments and other questions and topics continuing to be discussed at the Twitter page for the session, #MuseumWorkersSpeak, as well as a page on storify.com. On the Storify page you can also download the final version of the handout distributed at the session which includes the questions for discussion.

How do these concerns affect those of us working with dress? A forthcoming paper from Mary M. Brooks will discuss the devaluing of staff with specialized knowledge and the “gendered view” of costume collections and their audiences as a major problem at UK institutions, even as the popularity of costume collections and exhibitions continues to soar (I would recommend reading the abstract of her presentation last year at the conference for the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works–see the link in the sources below).  As has been previously noted by costume scholars (mentioned in a post I wrote last year), the work of costume collections is largely accomplished through female labor. It is associated with traditionally feminine skills and activities—sewing and dressmaking–and at worst is dismissed as frivolous and “dressing up”, or is perceived as something that anyone can do, as everyone wears and is familiar with clothing.  Is it a coincidence that many costume collections worldwide, staffed largely by women, are serially underfunded and understaffed, and in some cases are undervalued in proportion to the rest of the museum collections? Perhaps, but the museum work force as a whole is largely made up of women, at least in the U.S. For example, 75 percent of the represented workforce who had a stake in the outcome of the recent negotiations at MOMA were women.  And low wages and long hours can cut across museum departments, from education to retail to archives to curatorial.

Perhaps it is more the stubbornly persistent view of costumes and fashion as “mere entertainment for a largely female audience” (Rothstein 2010:1), to quote Valerie Mendes from 1992, despite the extraordinary leaps the fields of costume and fashion studies has taken throughout the 20th century and beyond to the present day?  We have seen this again through Hayley-Jane’s last post, which noted the media’s perception of the juxtaposition of the “serious” Velasquez exhibition and the “frivolous” Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition at the Grand Palais.  This demarcation between “serious” and “fluffy” or “commercial” museum exhibitions is both out-of-date and unimaginative, simplifying how artists work in the world, how they are inspired, the kinds of materials or frameworks they use, the cultural and historical significance of dress, and of course brings up the polarizing debate of: “fashion–is it art or commerce?” (one would be hard-pressed to argue against the commercialization or commodification of fine art, with the world’s largest auction houses having their best year of profits to date with sales in the hundreds of millions).

The AAM’s annual “TrendsWatch” report for 2014 stated that “access” over “possession” is a main motivator for Millennials within a new and emerging “exchange culture”, a facet of which is increasingly referred to as the “gig economy” (Merritt 2014: 40-46). Freelancers and contracts for short-term projects can give museums flexibility with limited budgets and opportunities for those outside of museum employment, but is this at the expense of investment in and funding of full-time staff, sustained staff education and collection resources, or the valuing of deep institutional memory and collection knowledge?  Will there be a shift in what is considered important?

Projects such as Mary M. Brooks’s “Talking Textiles” are helping to shed light on the importance of costume collections, and are simultaneously looking at dealing with the immediate realities of losing staff and expertise along with budget cuts (and hence the continued high standard of care of the collections).  How can this unrecorded specialized knowledge be passed on to remaining staff, or how can the value and significance of the collections be communicated to those who may have little to no experience with or knowledge of textiles or costume?  In Brooks’s project, former or retired staff with many years of knowledge and experience are brought into the museum to teach workshops and sessions on different aspects of caring for, displaying, researching, and interpreting costumes and textiles. Lurking around the edges of this project is the question of whether those with experience and education in textiles who want to find work in museums will be able to secure this work for wages and actively apply their expertise.

Such realities as museum staff loss or wage equality are beginning to be discussed in the U.S. around the margins of mainstream organizations such as AAM, and there are risks in bringing these issues up at one’s own institution.  How will these conversations be received?  With a national conversation in the U.S. surrounding wage equality coming to the forefront with the SEC legislating that CEO to median employee pay ratio must be disclosed, issues surrounding wage equality–and for museum staff dealing with dress, how to obtain and sustain fair wages, schedules, and benefits with an ever-ramping up of activities and exhibitions–will be serious questions for museums to consider going forward.

Below are sources cited, plus a few examples of media coverage and resources on recent museum wage and benefit negotiations, strikes, museum worker’s perspectives, and museum worker statistics.

American Alliance of Museums (2012). 2012 National Comparative Museum Salary Study.

Brooks, Mary, M. (Forthcoming). Sustaining Tacit and Embedded Knowledge in Textile Conservation and Textile and Dress Collections. Conscientious Conservation: Sustainable Choices in Collection Care AIC 42nd Annual Meeting, 28-31 May 2014, San Francisco, USA, American Institute for Conservation.  Abstract of presentation accessed at http://aics42ndannualmeeting2014.sched.org/event/919773825c20910bccdb5f73d6ba3b4f#.VUrVR0syBg0

Brooks, Mary M. (2012), ‘Talking Textiles': A Monument Fellowship, York Castle Museum, 2010-2011, DATS (Dress and Textile Specialists), Spring Journal 2012, p. 18-24.  Accessed at http://www.dressandtextilespecialists.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/DATS-2012.pdf

Cascone, Sarah (2015 July 30) London National Gallery Strike to Escalate in August. artnetnews.  Accessed at https://news.artnet.com/in-brief/london-national-gallery-strike-in-august-2015-320841

Davis, Ben. (2015 June 3). What’s Behind the Museum of Modern Art’s Bitter Battle With its Own Workers? artnetnews.  Accessed at https://news.artnet.com/people/museum-modern-art-battle-workers-304397

Graves, Jen. (2015 5 June). Why Would a Museum with a $1B Endowment Cut Staff Health-Care Benefits?: Inside the Ongoing MoMA Labor Dispute. The Stranger.  Accessed at http://www.thestranger.com/blogs/slog/2015/06/05/22334078/why-would-a-museum-with-a-1b-endowment-cut-staff-health-care-benefits-inside-the-ongoing-moma-labor-dispute

Merritt, Elizabeth (2014). TrendsWatch 2014.  American Alliance of Museums.

Partesotti, Vega (2015 July 31). Gulf Labor Hips Venice Bienale Visitors to UAE Labor Abuses. Hyperallergic.  Accessed at: http://hyperallergic.com/226498/gulf-labor-hips-venice-biennale-visitors-to-uae-labor-abuses/?wt=2

Rothstein, Natalie (2010). 400 Years of Fashion. V&A Publishing. First published by V&A Publications, 1984.


On Teaching: 1960’s Revival

Today was an interesting day. I met an amazing woman who graduated from Central Saint Martin’s in London and is a practicing patternmaker. Now, that introduction may sound underwhelming to you. Many very talented and amazing people have graduated from Central Saint Martin’s. What was amazing was that she graduated in 1960. Sitting before me was a woman who lived her 20’s through the “swinging 60’s” in London and was showing off her portfolio full of her college work from when London was just breaking into the “youth revolution.”

1960 picture 1

Photo courtesy of Air Canada

Jackie* came to see me today to apply for a teaching position to pass on her decades of knowledge. Obviously, when she reached out, I was intrigued. After today, I was astounded by her story and the work she had done. Her portfolio was moving, her work samples were perfection and her technique was flawless. She demonstrated her approach to a group of my colleagues and one comment a fashion-skeptic provided was, “I have never been interested in fashion until just now. Thank you for teaching me something new and opening my eyes to a new side of your field! (Personal Communication, June 2015).”

Jackie’s portfolio showed fabric combinations and design details that were iconic examples of that time frame. The illustrations not only highlighted the new silhouettes of the time but also the accessorizing details in hair, shoes and, in some instances, jewelry. She talked about her time living in London, going to school for fashion, and how she entered the industry after she left school. The guest speakers she was able to listen to and meet are the content of dreams!

1960 picture 2

Photo courtesy of Byron’s Muse

This meeting comes just after my consideration of the London Costume Society’s call for papers discussing 1960’s fashion. I enjoy researching historical fashion. In fact, I completed an undergraduate thesis on historical fashion and completed a second bachelor’s in Art History with a focus on studying historical dress through fine art. The 1960’s was an intriguing time in fashion and London was the center of much of the fashion revolution. Think about Mary Quant and John Bates. They are considered by many as the creators of current staples in our wardrobes such as the mini skirt (Fashion, 2015; Garments, 2015)). This revisiting of previous fashion decades is familiar to the industry. This season, the 1970’s have crowded stores with bell-bottoms and “hippie” accessories (Trochu, 2015). Maybe next year we will travel another decade back to the 1960’s?

1960 picture 3

Photo courtesy of Vogue

Someone questioned my reasoning for bringing in a faculty candidate that was so “seasoned.” They were curious if she would be “current” enough to keep the student’s interest in the classroom. I will admit Jackie was not the most trendy, but her experience and passion were enough alone. Add a tendency for revival of past trends, such as 1960’s fashion, and I make my case. I think she is an invaluable resource to teach students how to approach patternmaking and fashion. Bringing her knowledge  and experience into a college classroom setting will be the true revival of the 1960’s.

Do you agree? Would you take a class from a true, 1960’s London “Youth Revolution” woman or would you think she was no longer relevant?



Fashion in 1960’s London (2015). Retrieved from http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/f/1960s-fashion-london/ on July 29, 2015.

Garments worn by Marit Allen(2015). Retrieved from http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/g/garments-worn-by-marit-allen/ on July 29, 2015.

Trochu, Eugenie (February 03, 2015). Seventies Revival. Retrieved from http://en.vogue.fr/fashion/fashion-shopping/diaporama/shopping-trends-seventies-revival/18864 on July 29, 2015.


* Name change to protect identity.

1 Comment

Interns 2015-16

Hello intern applicants:

Don’t worry we didn’t forget about you.
I know the apps were due July 15 and we are continuing to review them and will have a decision this week.

Sorry for the delay. It’s been very busy on our end.
Looking forward to working with you.


This teacher talked about ethics – Part II

This May, I wrote about a discussion that emerged in class about unethical brand behaviour. (If you want to see part I of the article click here.)

The majority of the class seemed to demonstrate that it is indeed from a different generation with a different set of values than mine, stating that discrimination, racism, exclusion are things that brands can do and that this does not even matter. Brands are entitled to exclude whoever they like.

Well here is the update on this class. The students were asked to work in groups and invent a new ad campaign for the said brand which aims to improve its ethics. So, although the students argued that none of these issues matter to them, during project time, they had to deal with them in depth.

The results were the exact opposite of what they had loudly stated in class!

During their research phase they looked at various activists and ambassadors of being ‘real’ or being ‘different’.

An insiring personality for the students: Shaun Ross.

An inspiring personality for the students: Shaun Ross.

The six groups then each took a different approach: Some created a campaign to raise awareness of plus size customers, others used a hashtag social media campaign to include all races, sizes and ethnicities. And one group had the most daring approach: It wanted to use famous personalities with disabilities who would wear the clothes and turn the brand’s ethos upside-down.

Students took inspiratoin from a spoof ad by "The Militant Baker" during their research

Students took inspiratoin from a spoof ad by “The Militant Baker” during their research


It was amazing to watch the groups present their concepts. This amazement was not only because they did a good and well-researched presentation, but because I was amazed at their thoughts. After dealing with the topic in depth they actually changed their opinions. All of the sudden they saw a new perspective.
So perhaps the Generation Y is different, because it has the ability of changing, improving and grasping concepts which don’t come to them naturally at first.

Chantelle Winnie: Another inspiration for the students.

Chantelle Winnie: Another inspiration for the students.

Have you ever experienced a 180° change of opinion whilst teaching?



Review: Cornelia Parker’s Magna Carta (An Embroidery)

I don’t usually do reviews back to back but it was impossible to ignore Cornelia Parker’s Magna Carta (An Embroidery) at the British Library, given that she is a brilliant artist and that this latest artwork involves textiles in a staggering way.  Arguably, this is not specifically about apparel but it is about thread and cloth, materials at the heart of most dress and adornment.

Walking through the British Library in central London, it would be easy to miss Cornelia Parker’s artwork. With its staggered public areas and labyrinth reading rooms, a visitor to the British Library must navigate him/herself through a three dimensional Escher painting. As a result, Parker’s contribution to the British Library’s 800th birthday of the Magna Carta is not instantly accessible. However, finding it is like discovering treasure; overwhelmingly beautiful, dazzlingly ingenious and unbeknown to most others.

A view of the entire 13 metres encased in glass, from the bottom of the Wikipedia entry

I am a huge fan of textiles as an art medium so it was no surprise to find myself drooling over Parker’s huge piece of embroidered panama cotton, almost 13 metres in length and 1.5 metres in width, which is an enlarged facsimile of the Wikipedia entry on the Magna Carta, as it appeared last year on its 799th birthday.  Made up of 87 panels stitched together, the artwork is encased in glass that covers the entire length and includes mirrors below so it is possible to see the back of the textile and the stitches.

A close up of the embroidered text

The embroidery has been done by over 2oo people, whom can be roughly organised into three groups of embroiderersThe first are a small group of inmates involved with the social enterprise Fine Cell Work, which trains them in paid creative needlework, and whom produced most of the text in the artwork.  In addition, Parker invited a range of people connected to the law and civil liberties to contribute certain words. This second group, around 160 people, consists of lawyers, judges, civil rights campaigners, artists and writers for whom embroidery is probably not something they do everyday.

Anthea stitching a small section of the Magna Carta (An Embroidery)

The third and final group was responsible for all the illustrative elements, which include logos, emblems and images that make up the virtual Wikipedia entry.  These were done by embroiderers from the Royal School of Needlework, the embroidery company Hand & Lock and members of the Embroiderers’ Guild.  According to the short video that accompanies the artwork in the exhibition, one of the images took the lady 450 hours to complete.  The quality of these reproductions is breathtaking and it is difficult not to be in awe of all their hands, as well as those of Fine Cell Work that went into creating the bulk of this fascinating artwork.

Another close up of the embroidered image representing the ‘Monarchy’ section

Parker’s idea to reproduce a Wikipedia page with a range of contributors is simultaneously clever and simple.  It takes an everyday virtual object that relies on a community of contributors and recreates it as a three dimensional haptic object, using a similiar mode of production.  As Jonathan Jones, art critic for The Guardian, points out, Wikipedia is arguably a virtual, ever changing product of our time yet in Parker’s work, a small part of it has been made to stand outside of its own timescale, immortalised in the process.

A detail from Elizabeth Wardle’s Bayeau Tapestry replica

In the accompanying text to the exhibit, Parker draws attention to the communal activity of embroidery, particularly in the case of the Bayeux Tapestry, which this artwork definitely draws parallels with.  However, I was also quite struck by how similiar Parker’s idea is to the Victorian reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry on display in Reading.  In 1886, instigated by a successful industrialist’s wife, a group of women embroidered an ‘English’ version of the historical document in just over a yearYet, while their replica was of a medieval artefact, Parker’s replica is of a contemporary artefact whose very nature is both transient and ephemeral.

Jarvis Cocker and Cornelia Parker looking for his contribution of ‘common people’

Viewing the artwork, one activity I found interesting was identifying different contributions.  It is not possible to do this from the exhibit alone.  It has to be done through detective work, cross referencing various sources including text as well as moving and still images.  I only just managed to find Jarvis Cocker’s embroidered ‘common people’ by matching an image of him looking at the installed artwork with Parker with the actual exhibition space.  Reading the reviews, I discovered that drops of blood could help discern a particular contributor and also reminded me that embroidery is not without its risks. This is nicely mirrored in the fact that several contributors to the artwork have risked much to draw our attention to global infringements of civil liberties.

Detail of the Wikipedia logo, which is beautifully rendered in needlework

A recent article in the Journal of Modern Craft raised the question of whether Parker’s artwork could have been printed and still achieved the same outcome. The author suggested that the handstitching drew upon historical connections between needlework and political suffrage.  This is clearly present in the artwork but I also think if it had been printed, the speed of the reproduction would have reduced the overall visual and conceptual impact.  To print out a Wikipedia entry would be too easy and too similiar to the original.  By having it entirely recreated with thread and fabric, the labour of reproduction becomes a vital element that reminds us about the current emphasis on speed of information, production and consumption, arguably at the expense of debate, discussion and democracy.

Cornelia Parker’s Magna Carta (An Embroidery) is on display at the British Library until Friday 24th July and is free to the public.


Parisian Insights: Yves Saint Laurent 1971 – The Scandal Collection

It’s always intriguing to observe past scandals when our contemporary eyes have become accustomed to much more outrageous! The Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent has decided to look back into its archives to propose an exhibition dedicated to the French designer’s Spring/Summer 1971 “Libération” or “Forties” Haute Couture collection. At the time, the show had instantly caused much discussion and shock as the six models had nonchalantly and insolently presented the 84 outfits inspired by the war years and in particular, the style of women living in an occupied Paris.  ‘It is with the arms of elegance and fashion, perfect manners, a cold kindness that the French woman has resisted’, had written Curzio Malaparte, in 1947, yet to 1970s commentators, the allusion was this time described under the terms ‘hideous’ or ‘tragic reference to the nazi years’.

Jacket and Trousers. Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent

Jacket and Trousers. Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent

Thus short fluid dresses, Platform shoes, square shoulders, turbans, tight waists and exaggerated make-up were some of the explicit citations Yves Saint Laurent had decided to highlight, influenced by his muse, Paloma Picasso who had promptly adopted a retro look inspired by the glamorous film stars she admired in 1940s productions and that suited better her voluptuous figure rather than the pop androgynous fashions of her time. Indeed, Yves Saint Laurent had not really invented anything, he had simply observed the outfits of his entourage – many Parisian teenagers would then rummage thrift stores to mingle 1920s, 1930s and 1940s pieces of clothing as they tended to evoke the glories of Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich as they rediscovered classic films. The French designer had also met Andy Warhol and his Factory within which individuals like Candy Darling had also adopted a nostalgic allure without ever provoking any scandal.

View of the Exhibition

View of the Exhibition

So why did Yves Saint Laurent’s provoke so much controversy? Let’s look back at the period. Cristobal Balenciaga had closed his house in 1968 at a time when France was facing drastic social changes and Gabrielle Chanel had died three weeks before Yves Saint Laurent’s show. The young designer’s presentation resonated with the end of a certain aristocracy of couture and it seemed as though, by creating that infamous collection, he was letting go of the heavy burden his mentors had left him and had refused to be considered haute couture’s prodigious child. Rejecting classicism and conventions, Yves Saint Laurent also refused the futuristic aesthetic proposed by such designers as Pierre Cardin or André Courrèges. To him, innovation laid in the past and the revival of a dramatic glamorous and sexualized allure. Thus, although the reference to World War II and occupied France was brutal and considered disrespectful to many clients and journalists that had experienced the moment, it appears that the scandal had more to do with Yves Saint Laurent’s new take on haute couture rather than the sole historical evocation. Actually, the inspirations for the show were much more diverse. One can only recognize a hint to Elsa Schiaparelli in the embroidered lips and cigarettes on a velvet coat while evening dresses ressemble Greek classic tunics. Of course, the narrative is more sensual thanks to the audacious transparency, the slits and the erotic prints.

Detain of an evening coat. Photography: Courtesy of Sophie Carré for the Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent

Detain of an evening coat. Photography: Courtesy of Sophie Carré for the Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent

Surely commentators focused on the 1940s references to emphasize their scorn but didn’t the scandal have more to do with his aim to consider a younger generation – a project initiated with the opening of the ready-to-wear Saint Laurent Rive Gauche shop, in 1966 – the mocking of the bourgeoisie and the introduction of an overtly sexy and eccentric silhouette? And most of all, how Yves Saint Laurent audaciously invited, in a highly provocative way for the time, street fashion on couture catwalks? He had declared to the French Elle: ‘What I want? Shock people, force them to think. Haute couture is now only about nostalgia and taboos. Like an old lady. What counts is that young girls that have never known this style, would want to wear it. The others, will obviously want to imitate them afterwards.’ With the help of the (only) 28 models exposed and wall blow ups of all the show’s drawn silhouettes, we can observe how boldly, Yves Saint Laurent had indeed completely repudiated the boundaries that had until then been clearly established between ready-to-wear and haute couture. We read the condemning articles and observe the cutting-edge films proposed by a younger generation that had understood and accepted the designer’s aesthetic. We also identify Francine Crescent’s radical  judgement and how as the editor of Vogue Paris, she was a rare journalist to admire the new style and feature it in the pages of the magazine, through the lens of a certain Helmut Newton: who better would have captured the sulfurous silhouettes and their sensual wearers? 1971 became a shifting year: the collection, a manifesto and the designer, the mediator of a new liberated generation – the same year, Yves Saint Laurent posed nude for Jeanloup Sieff to promote his new perfume. He introduced an aesthetic that now dominates the industry, that of the retro, but also established fashion into the world of marketing and spectacle. And thus contributed to the creation of the sophisticated scandal, the one feared and desired at once, the one that brings the attention on the brand…

 Here Hedi Slimane clearly evokes the archives (a 1971 dress) of the house he now designs for. Remember how scandalous his first collections for Yves Saint Laurent were considered? Nothing new!

Here Hedi Slimane clearly evokes the archives (a 1971 dress) of the house he now designs for. Remember how scandalous his first collections for Yves Saint Laurent were considered? Nothing new!

How ironic to see Yves Saint Laurent become a public enemy just as his mentor, Christian Dior had with his New Look when that now classic style is exactly what the young designer rejected. What are Yves Saint Laurent’s sensual evening dresses compared to Alexander McQueen’s bumsters, Hussein Chalayan provocative burqas or Vivienne Westwood’s revival of the oppressive corset? The French couturier simply initiated what would now become classic: the spectacular show: from Thierry Mugler’s blockbusters to John Galliano’s dramatic yet provocative narratives. How poorly scandalous may Yves Saint Laurent’s arrogant models appear compared to Rick Owens’ naked masculine models or Jean-Paul Gaultier’s antipodean mannequins.

With a very small display, much is said although I must admit I would have loved to be given a greater angle with a better comprehension of the context: a comparison of Yves Saint Laurent’s collection to that of fellow designers of 1971 and also, why not an opening on the greater theme that is the fashion scandal. Nonetheless a bright and pedagogic exhibition worth seeing!

The display is on until 19th July at the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent

Further Resources:

There’s an ideal responding exhibition at the FIT: Yves Saint Laurent + Halston – Fashioning the 70s

And the book: McClendon, Emma and Mears, Patricia. Yves Saint Laurent + Halston Fashioning the 70s. New York: Yale University Press, 2015.

You can have a look at the show here


Interview with Monica by The Seams


I’ve been getting to know the crew over at The Seams, which is a new podcast developed by NPR contributor Jacki Lyden.

As you may remember, we encouraged Worn Through readers to donate to their Kickstarter since the topic of their shows, storytelling about apparel, are certainly something we’d love to hear about more regularly.

Recently I did a phone interview with Jacki that was initially supposed to air on the show. It was decided that instead I’d speak about a different subject for a future airing, but the interview dives into the history of our field, some academic and social aspects of what we study, and a tad into subcultural waters.

Although it’s not going to air on the Seams/NPR, Jacki and I thought Worn Through readers would be the perfect audience and have brought it you here! Listen for me to appear in future episodes.

You can find the Seams podcast at iTunes

and on this website


Fashion and Cars – exploring common grounds in class

Have you ever proposed to your students to explore an uncommon topic? Or combine two topics that seem to have nothing in common at all? What did the students think about the approach?

I am asking you this because in June, I brought up a slightly unusual topic in class: Fashion and cars. At first, it seemed that the two subjects are hardly connected to each other so we set out to explore them. The results were quite fascinating and I would like to share a brief summary of them with you today, because whether you look at design, marketing strategy or the environmental impact, cars and fashion actually do have many parallels.


Image source here.

First of all there is a phenomenon called “car culture” which – to sum it up in a sentence – is the cultural impact cars had on society once they became mass marketed. This influence permeated the way we shop (i.e. big malls), where we work (i.e. commuting to and from suburbs) and how a car became a status and power symbol, at first mostly for men. This car culture triggered a myriad of advertising showing sexy and fashionable women and created fashion outfits to be used when driving such as the original Car Shoe and its many clones.

Car shoe for Lamborghini's 50th anniversary

Car shoe for Lamborghini’s 50th anniversary

Image source here.

When the Mini became Britain’s flagship car, it simultaneously became synonymous with cultural movements powered by Twiggy, the Beatles and the swinging sixties.

The first Mini rolled off the production line in the late fifites but became as synonymous with the "Swinging Sixties as the other, head-turning mini."

The first Mini rolled off the production line in the late fifites but became as synonymous with the “Swinging Sixties as the other, head-turning mini.”

Image source here.


Secondly, todays marketing strategy for cars includes being fashionable. Car-makers want to be associated with glamour which is why they sponsor many fashion weeks (Mercedes hosts several around the world) and even delve into bridal wear (BMW sponsors the BMW India bridal fashion week).

3 Image source here.


Futhermore, there have been dozens of collaborations of designers and car manufacturers, where an unusual and fashionable exterior and/or interior has been created. One reason that car makers want to infiltrate the fashion market is perhaps the fact that car sales are declining in the saturated markets of the USA and Europe, whilst equally growing in China, India and other Asian countries. Incidentally, for many (high-) fashion brands these are equally important emerging markets.

Chanel Fiole Concept Car 2014

Chanel Fiole Concept Car 2014

Image source here.

A third area where cars meet fashion is on the subject of sustainability. Years and years have passed where the global topic of sustainability and environmental impacts of industrialized nations have been discussed. People around the world increasingly care more about where their products came from and whether they harm the environment. The new trend in cars is to create hybrids or electric cars which consume less energy which feature new and light composite materials. Smart technology is integrated to help the driver have a more personalised experience and navigate more easily to service points (i.e. to charge the battery). Does this sound familiar? I believe it does, because fashion technology thinks along very similar lines nowadays. And the foundation for both – cars and clothes – is the textile industry, which creates smart textiles to be used for the automotive and apparel sectors.

Want-a-Green-Machine-Ten-2014-Hybrid-Cars-with-Pros-and-Cons-MainPhoto Image source here.

My students found it a bit difficult at first to delve into a topic so far away from fashion, but once the research was complete and they presented it in class, they were excited about their findings.

Should you be interested in exploring this topic some more, I can highly recommend a new marketing-savvy book entitled “Auto Brand: Building Successful Car Brands for the Future” by Dr. Anders Parment. There is a chapter on car culture, fashion, and lots of research about the strategies of car brands. A second interesting book is called “Autopia: Cars and Culture” by Peter Wollen and Joe Kerr and takes a more artistic approach of the subject.


Father’s Day and Ties


Last weekend I was quoted in the Washington Post on why ties are a persistent gift for Father’s Day.

Quite a bit of my research has been on workplace dress, and you can check it out in the Clothing and Textiles Research Journal (Punk workplace dress) and Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management (young men’s workplace dress).

Overall, some of the findings have discussed that workplace dress is highly symbolic and somewhat related to productivity, or at least to perceptions of such. Father’s Day presents may then be a tangible item to acknowledge or promote effectiveness in the workplace, which is strongly linked to a man’s overall perceptions of personal success. The catch in all of it is whether everything is legit productivity, or just perceptions, or a cycle of the two perpetuating one another, and that is a big grey area. Nonetheless, while not much of this is mentioned in the article, I’m very pleased to have a line or two.

Image pulled from here Thank you.