“This teacher talked about ethics. You’ll never believe what happened next.”

“This is a new generation,” my colleague told me, after I recounted a recent class scenario to her, because I was so surprised about the opinions and attitudes which emerged during a class discussion on a popular fashion brand.

Is this generation gap really true? We are only one generation or about 12 years apart, but the gap seems quite prominent. I would be generation X, whilst my students are Y, some young ones even Millenials. However, just like in this picture, it seems that the outlook on life can be as opposing as black and white.

Gen_X_Y

Image source here.

The said fashion brand which we looked at in class is large American-based clothing retailer who has often generated negative press. This is because the clothes were intentionally limited in size, occasionally featured racist T-shirt prints and were marketed to teens in an obviously sexualized manner (through advertising, TV commercials and half-clothed sales assistants).

ABERCROMBIE FITCH KOH LEE

Image source and news article here.

Furthermore, the long-standing CEO who suddenly left at the end of last year explicitly said that he was only interested in marketing to cool kids. So for the background information, the students looked at the brand’s visual marketing material, read the negative press articles and watched the marketing expert Jonathan Gabay talk about a recent issue where an applicant was denied a job due to wearing a headscarf to the interview.

Jonathan Gabay on BBC World News speaking on Hijab hiring scandal

Because this particular class deals with fashion advertising, I also engage the students in a discussion about ethics of advertising and marketing. My goal was not to blame the brand, but to look at its negative media coverage and think about possible new rebranding strategies, now that the visionary CEO had left. (At the end of the class, the students were given a project where they’d be inventing a new and more ethical advertising strategy for this brand.) My hope, as a teacher, was to inspire a constructive discussion and new ideas.

But here is where is turned strange. As one of those recently popular Facebook posts would say: “This teacher talked about ethics. You’ll never believe what happened next.”

urlraising hands

Image source here.

My usually timid students raised their hands and informed me that this brand’s attitude was absolutely fine with them. Joking about certain ethnicities and races is fine, too, said one student of a mixed-race ethnic background. Selling clothes in a sexual context is what young people want, said another. And discrimination? Well if you wear a head-scarf to a job interview and then don’t get the job, it’s your own fault, they said. If you don’t like the brand’s marketing you can always choose to shop (or work) somewhere else. However, the students were sure that the brand was popular for a reason, so they must have been doing something right. Or else, why would dozens of teenagers be lining the streets during a shop opening?

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Image source and article here.

When I tried to explain that there are other people on this planet (one classroom of youths in southern Germany is not representative of all global opinions) who felt differently about the specific incidents, the generation gap opened gaping wide. My plea for ethical awareness and political correctness, respect for other ethnicities or religions was met with more raised arms, all ready to contradict me. Finally, a student summarized: “It’s great that you brought up this case study, because now you know that we think differently!”

So here are my questions to you, who teach, and to myself, because I have not answered them properly yet:

- How do you deal with contradicting or controversial opinions in class?

- What was your experience with the generation gap and the shift of ethical values?

- How do you stay true to your beliefs and remain a positive role model in the position as a teacher, when students are clearly not accepting your guidance?

I would love to hear your views on this, as I am still trying to figure out the answers myself. One thing I did realize however: You can never tell in advance how a lecture will go and how students will react.

 

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On Teaching: Teaching a Fashion Millennial

As the beginning of a new quarter approaches, I find myself preparing for my classes conflicted. A part of me still feels close to my students in age and personality traits.  I remember being in college and how I thought and felt.   Another part of me feels removed.  The conversations and motivations of my students seem very different than how I acted in college.  As this inner conflict arose while preparing for this quarter, I began asking myself new questions; how do I engage these Millennial students? And beyond engagement, how do I actually teach them?

FC Tech Group

Photo courtesy of FC Tech Group.

First we must endeavor to understand a Millennial. According to Michael Wilson and Leslie Gerber (2008), Millennials are sheltered, confident, optimistic, team-oriented and are not internally driven. “Millennials respond best to external motivators… (Wilson & Gerber, 2008, pp.31).” Despite their sheltered upbringing, millennials are international consumers and show concern regarding global issues (Pasricha & Kadolph, 2009). In addition, students who choose to study fashion are “more creative and interested in the arts than students in other majors (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010, pp. 69).” The most significant motivating factor for students is the perceived professional image and a personally satisfying career (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010). Students want to “…take their love of fashion beyond an interest and turn it into a career (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010, pp. 71).” Many understand they will not graduate into their desired position but they expect to grow into it instead; others express the desire to be their own boss (Poshadlo, 2010; Hodges & Karpova, Making a major decision, 2009).

Tru Access Blog

Photo Courtesy of Tru Access Blog.

With the beginning of understanding comes the beginning of teaching theories. Some educators are responding by shortening lecture times, reshaping assignments and incorporating more technology (Wilson & Gerber, 2008). Others are simply not assigning work they know the students are not “good” at. But, just as my own conflict sways me to one side, another sound argument is presented; at what point does this “reshaping” destroy higher education (Barnes, Marateo & Ferris, 2007)? At what point do we stop the “razzle dazzle,” as one of my colleagues puts it, and we teach?

Forbes

Photo courtesy of Forbes.

The benefit of my position as the coordinator for fashion design and management programs is that I can look at the whole picture and see how new ideas can be applied to a larger construct. For these fashion millennial students, how can we tap into their motivators and provide quality education throughout their program to develop them into a successful fashion professional? Through analyzing our total curriculum, a colleague helped define an approach I believe can address this challenge. Through curriculum analysis, this hypothesis can start students at a “discovery” phase to explore and gain a foundational knowledge then lead them to critical thinking. After they critically evaluate the material, students and faculty can create a “collaborative learning environment,” which applies the course concepts, enhancing the student’s skills (Pidgeon, N., personal communication, 2014 April 2). To ensure these fashion millennials find value in this collaborative environment, applying a social concern in a service-learning activity could actively engage them (Videtic, 2009). Karen Videtic from Virginia Commonwealth University (2009) explores this concept in greater detail for fashion education and presented strong arguments supported by research completed by Anupama Pasricha and Sara J. Kadoph (2009).

I have constructed my own course content with this new progression;

  • Scavenger Hunt: The first homework assignment students will be given is a scavenger hunt. This hunt will require them to find examples of various topics, which will later be covered in the quarter. This is a discovery project and sets them up for the competencies of the course.
  • Article Analysis: Next, I lead them into a critical thinking phase. The student’s read articles related to the topic of the week. After they read the articles they must develop their original opinion on the content and create a presentation to deliver to the class the following week.
  • Socially Responsible Project: A project that involves a socially responsible component is an active engagement exercise. The students must work as a team to develop a project centered on a class-selected charity. The project is a total competency assignment summarizing the information taught throughout the quarter. Just as the scavenger hunt was a homework assignment to “discover” the content of the class, this final project is an “application” of what they have learned.

These new approaches should allow these millennial students the opportunity to embrace their learning and walk away from my courses with a deeper understanding of the content. Thanks to the insight provided by the many notable scholars on millennials, these assignments, activities and project will guide students through the learning phases in my courses.  By changing my methods to engage and teach the millenial students, my conflict remains but has lessened in importance.

I will be trying this out this quarter and will let you know how it goes! Wish me luck!

Eyedea

Photo courtesy of Eyedea.

References:

Barnes, K., R. Marateo, and S. Ferris. (2007). Teaching and learning with the net generation. Innovate, 3 (4). http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=382 (accessed April 24, 2008).

Hodges, N. & Karpova, E. (2010 March 24). Majoring in fashion: a theoretical framework for understanding the decision-making process. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 3(2), 67-76. http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/external?sid=ee4d9ae7-d4e9-4510-939f-e468c27039df%40sessionmgr115&vid=3&hid=122 (accessed March 24, 2015).

Hodges, N. & Karpova, E. (2009 July 13). Making a major decision: an exploration of why students enrol in fashion programmes. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 2(2-3), 47-57.

Pasricha, A. & Kadolph, S.J. (2009 October 6). Millennial generation and fashion education: a discussion on agents of change. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 2(2-3), 119-126.

Poshadlo, G. (2010 September 20-26). Fashion students don’t want to be part of the brain drain. Indianapolis Business Journal, pp 38.

Videtic, K. (2009 November 7). Service Learning: opportunities for deep learning in fashion design and merchandising education. The International Journal of Learning, 16, 397-403.

Wilson, M. & Gerber, L.E. (2008 Fall). How generational theory can improve teaching: strategies for working with the “Millennials”. Currents in Teaching and Learning, 1 (1), 29-44.

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Voulez-vous étudier? How international second-person pronouns can affect the student-teacher relationship.

The English language is not my first language, although I’m a near-native speaker. I find it to be a very easy-going and practical language for connecting with people. No matter whether the person you are speaking to is someone you are meeting for the first time, or a close friend, whether it is someone younger or older than you one can address him or her with “you.”

Meeting for the first time or not?

Meeting for the first time or not?

And when you teach in German, like I do at the moment, the correct use of “you” becomes an important matter in the classroom. Perhaps those who have encountered a foreign language, might have heard the various forms of the second-person pronoun “you“ and already can guess what I am referring to.

This is because in many other languages, such as French, Spanish, Italian, Russian and English (just to name a few which I happen to be familiar with) there is an entire cultural set of rules and a codex of behavior attached to this pronoun. One has to use a formal or informal pronoun based on the context of the conversation and relationship of the speakers. This is the rule for everyday life and especially important when teaching because this sets the tone for the student-teacher relationship.

"You" in other languages

“Voulez-vous étudier?“ means “do you want to study with me?” in French, and VOUS is formally used instead of th informal TU.

 

Lets have a look at Germany as an example:

In the classroom such as mine, where teaching takes place in the German language, it is vital to estabish a rule for the correct form of addressing the students from the beginning. I’ve spoken to my colleagues on this matter and they each have a personal approach. Some say that using a formal “Sie” versus the informal “Du“ is the way to go. Others offer an informal “Du“ from the getgo. So how does this affect the student-teacher relationship you may ask? And which one is the right one to apply?

fashion-management

1. SIE – Mutual respect or distance

“Sie,” the formal you, means mutual respect. „Sie“ is what a person is entitled to be called once he or she is 18. It is a sign of being an adult and by addressing a young person this way it acknowledges their adulthood. If a young person is addressed with the formal “Sie” by an elder, they have to use the same pronoun in return. So here we would establish a very formal but respectful form of communication in the classroom setting.

signs-that-you’ve-finally-become-an-adult_9

The downside of this pronoun is that it can equally create distance. In fact, sometimes it is used in speech on purpose to show superiority or even mockery.

2. DU – Friendship and equality or disrecspect

“Du,” the informal you, is mostly reserved for friends, family and children.

800px-Childhood_friends_at_a_carnival

Image credit: here.

All adults are permitted to address children or young looking people (the definition is up to the speaker!) with the “Du.”

It means: “You are a youngster, I am older. I know more.”

Children however, are in big trouble if they use “Du” with elders. Whether it is the lady selling bread at the bakery, their teacher or any adult who they are not realted to – they must not say “Du“ or else it is an insult.

bäckerin

Image credit: here.

In the past and sometimes even today, children in France or Russia were not allowed to use an informal pronoun when speaking to their own parents!

When used amongst friends, “Du” is the way to go. It means equality, informality, a comfort zone and closeness. Even adults can use this informal speech amongst each other but only if they are a) relatives, b) friends or c) have oficially offered the “Du.”

Option c) – offering to switch from “Sie“ to “Du”- is a big sign for commeradery. In Europe you might say: „If you like, we can use the informal you from now on.“ Or „You can call me by my first name and use the informal you.” (This offer implies that obliges the other person to extend the same invitation or else it will be a really tricky situation.)

 

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Image credit: here.

By now I hope that you are not too confused and still here, dear reader! As you can see, this matter is quite complex, although in most European countries one learns the rules from childhood on and knows them instinctively.

Which one did I opt for when teaching fashion? I decided to use the formal, mutually respective “Sie.”

My fashion students are young adults and have embarked on a journey of fashion education in order to pursue a career in this field. I want to respect this effort. The distance and professional setting which this formal pronoun creates adds to the seriousness of the classroom. Equally, the students have to address me the same way and thus acknoledge my position as their tutor. I call them by their last names and they have to address me by my last name.

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Image credit: here.

Here is the fun part though: Once the students have graduated and are no longer attending my class, I am allowed to offer them the informal „Du“! In this context, the elder person has to offer it first, but I will be more than happy to do that. Without explaining, this coming-of-age sort of inuendo implies something to the extent of: “You have made it. You have passed all tests and are no longer my student but my equal. Therefore we can reduce the distance and step to the same level. You can call me by my first name and use an informal pronoun.”

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Image credit: here.

Have you ever taught in a different language than English? How did you address your students? Is there a way to establish a serious working environment even when using the English “you?” How did you approach distance and closeness, formality and mutual respect in your classrom? I’m looking forward to hearing about your experiences!

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UMN Fashion and Gender Symposium

May 1-2, 2015 is the Fashion and Gender Symposium at the University of Minnesota.

This is where I teach part time and I live in the area so I’m curious if any readers will be in attendance? Drop me a line if you plan to come to town.

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How to teach fashion when you’ve stopped believing in fashion?

Fashion. It is a world of glitz and glam, fairy tales and extravaganza. Modern fashion of the last few decades needs the combination of creativity, smart business strategies and lots of hype in order to exist. I used to be someone who just loved loved loved loved! the new it-bag which retailed at GBP 500, or absolutely had to have those high heels fresh off the catwalk which only the coolest fashionistas of the world’s capitals knew about. Attending amaaaazing fashion shows, running my own small label and doing my very own shows, mixing with the “right crowd” and following the most important trends used to be my thing when I was younger.

Grace Coddington

A make-believe fashion shoot by Grace Coddington for Vogue.

At some point, however, I learned that this is a deceptive industry, a huge, multi-billion-dollar business, selling us a world of luxury, make-believe, unattainable beauty and dream aspirations. It’s not all gold that glitters, you can say, and it can be equally unfair on the consumers as well as on the creators.

Let’s start with the designers. The most talented creative minds can easily still live in a flat share well into their 30s and freelance from one job to the other, hoping to make it big one day or at least pay the next bill in the meantime. They might have masterminded that iconic T-shirt print last season, but only their friends will ever know that. (Besides, sometimes it’s the connections that help one land that job and not the honestly-earned degree.) And quite a few big designers were fighting bankruptcy on their way up, including Yves-Saint-Laurent, Christian Lacroix and Valentino just to name a few. It’s a tough business.

How about the imagery and ads? I’ve learned that the most celebrated fashion models can end up used and forgotten within a few seasons (or even very ill due to being a size zero) and it turns out that magazines and Photoshop are best friends who want consumers to believe in unattainable beauty standards.

And while we flood the high streets in order to buy whatever the magazines wrote about, we rarely think about the ones who sewed the clothes. The extreme mark-up is hardly ever justified when you look at true production cost.

There is a lot of truth to a TV series like Ugly Betty or the famous movie about an iconic editor-in-chief who wears Prada. I remember a friend who was not in the fashion industry asking me: “Are people really like that in the fashion industry?” I smiled and replied: “Of course not! They are much much worse!” Such were my observations and experiences, that at some point I felt like I did not believe in fashion anymore.

Ugly Betty

Image source here.

But I have returned to lecturing on fashion and now I need to figure out how to do it positively. After all, these young students who signed up for my classes are considering a career in the industry and need motivation on their way. So in order to get my mind back into fashion, I slowly started looking at those elements which I still love. For example, I watched the movie on Valentino, “Valentino the last Emperor,” which recounts the story of a truly gifted couturier and one of the last ones in his metier.

Valentino

Image source here.

I did not stop admiring couture and I will still drool over the perfect stitching in exclusive clothes, such as my vintage Emanuel Ungaro dress, or vintage Chanel costume. Equally I am still in awe of Martin Margiela’s one-off creation which I bought at his strore in London. That store all painted white, it was a phenomenal concept when it opened. And the 1980s Karl Lagerfeld skirt which I inherited from my mother….

Martin Margiela 0 Vest Selfie in Karl Lagerfeld skirt

[The Margiela vest on the left consists of a shirt, tie and vest stitched together, missing the sleeves and the back; and a selfie in an 80s Karl Lagerfed printed wool skirt.]

Then I went through my own vast library of books and magazines on fashion, of which some I had not touched in years. There is a book on Adrian, the man who dressed Hollywood in its most glamorous time; a September Issue of Vogue featuring Kate Moss’ wedding and a few rare magazines which I bought in Japan. Then there are my own files from my time as an MA student at Central Saint Martins in London. Oh what memories! We were all so eager and did such amazing work.

I also looked at current topics of the fashion industry. For example, I found the retail strategy of Uniqlo to be amazing, especially because I spent some time in Japan when Uniqlo was only available there. Equally amazing is the steady decline of Abercrombie & Fitch which has had difficulties breaking into the European and German market and has to finagle its way out of numerous scandals.

And then I fell in love with Olivier Rousteing. What a beautiful, talented and smart boy! Look at Balmain’s social media strategy which has catapulted the brand into another dimension all thanks to a 24-year-old “kid” whom they gave a chance.

olivier-rousteing-balmain

Image source here.

I think, after this process I have recovered my love for fashion and found a mature, adult viewpoint:

I refuse to worship the industry, but I am willing to believe in its talents and beauty. And that’s why I want the students to be alert regarding the charades of the fashion industry, including its misleading ideals. This way I can stay true to my principles whilst motivating the students. But even if they are motivated now, ultimately, only time will tell who will stay in fashion and who will choose to leave it. Because only those who really love love love fashion, despite all its setbacks, will stay in this industry. And, as it turns out, it seems that I still have a lot of love for it.

What do you think? Do you ever have mixed feelings about your industry and the topic you teach? Have you experienced the highs and lows of fashion or has your career path always been a smooth one? What do you tell your students who start their first semester, hoping to become the next Lagerfeld, the next Anna Wintour or mega-star blogger?

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From the Archives: The Great British Sewing Bee

Due to a bout of spring flu, here is my post from this time last year discussing the BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee, which had then completed its second season.  The third season has just come to a close so it’s a nice time to reflect back!

‘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.’[1]

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.[2]

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.


[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/10602931/Behind-the-scenes-of-Great-British-Sewing-Bee.html [Accessed 10 March 2014]

[2] Jennifer Craik (2009) Fashion: The Key Concepts Oxford, Berg

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Punk Style at Cornell

punk style

I’d like to let Worn Through readers know TODAY I’ll be doing a talk regarding my research into punk and subcultural style at Cornell on Thursday March 12. The talk is entitled “Punk style: The potency of subcultural dress in design, consumption, and communication.”

Here is the abstract:

The study of subcultural dress features pertinent concepts including design, consumption, identity, and communication. The book Punk Style (2014) examines the dress of one of the most varied, sustaining and influential subcultures. Comprehensive research chronicled a historical overview of punk style, as well as evaluated motivations behind dress practices and the link between subcultural style and the fashion industry. Punk is often a trend innovator with its design ideas moving into the mainstream, as exemplified by the prevalence of body modification and deconstructed garments within the mass market. Subcultural styles and the mainstream routinely intersect as visuals such as punk dress continue to grow through the Internet and youth purchasing power. The workplace is one example of a contemporary context that can be reviewed regarding its relationship with subcultural dress. The iconography of punk often contrasts with typical work dress and research highlighted the shifting appearances of individuals between work and non-work identities. Frequently they are repurposing items of dress for identity expression and increasingly diverse workplaces. Punk is a highly visible example of how the negotiation of form, viewer, and context is in constant motion, and how subcultural dress delves into numerous aspects of fashion scholarship.

My talk is part of an ongoing lecture series. If you’re unaware, Cornell has a large department related to fashion and fiber studies.

If you are in the area of Ithaca, please come by!

DETAILS:
MARCH 12, 2015
12:20 – 1:10pm
G87 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall
Cornell University
Free and open to the public

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Guest Post: How to Write a Book in Twenty Years – Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell

Worn Through is pleased to have another guest post from fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell*

KCC Cover

SEE THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST FOR A BOOK GIVEAWAY!-UPDATE WE HAVE A WINNER, THANK YOU

FROM KIMBERLY: Twenty years ago, when I first started working on the project that would become my new book Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, I loved talking about it to anyone who would listen. Ten or twelve years later, my friends and family had learned not to mention the book; I was in the midst of a dispiriting crash course in the harsh realities of academic publishing, and my frustration was painfully obvious.

Now that Fashion Victims is out at last, my unpublished colleagues keep pulling me aside and asking in hushed tones how I did it. How did I choose a publisher? How did I score 90,000 words and 220 illustrations? How I you negotiate a contract? These are the same questions I had before starting the publishing process, and I can finally say with confidence that we’re all asking the wrong questions.

If you’re thinking of writing a book about fashion, you should be asking yourself the following: How many images do I need? Where am I going to find these images? Who’s going to pay for them? Answer those three questions, and the rest will quickly start to fall into place.
I probably don’t have to convince Worn Through readers that an appropriate number of high-quality images are essential to any discussion of fashion; that number will vary depending on the particular subject and methodology, but–whether it’s ten or 200–every image should serve the text rather than simply illustrate it. Lackluster or irrelevant images are a red flag, raising doubts about the quality of the writing. The same is true, however, about books that are mostly pictures. On the other hand, I’ve happily bought lousy books just for the pictures. Images are evidence. Neglect them and you do a disservice to your readers, and, more importantly, to yourself.

The number and type of images you want to use in your book will dictate so many other factors. There are only a handful of publishers who will even consider fashion books—or illustrated books of any kind—and many of those have strict minimum and maximum image counts. A few publishers told me they’d love to publish my book with ten, twenty, or even fifty images—fine for a cultural history or museum studies book, but not nearly enough for an art historian to do justice to the infinite variety of fashionable dress under Louis XVI. Others were more generous with images but wanted me to cut half the text (and all the footnotes). Yale University Press routinely publishes books with 200 images and footnotes galore, so that’s the one I targeted. Yale’s deservedly stellar reputation in the field, its well-established distribution networks, and the chance to work with legendary editor and designer Gillian Malpass were equally strong attractions.

Two hundred images may sound like a dream come true (and it is) but someone has to pay for all those images. That means paying for both the photo itself (or, more often, the digital file) and the reproduction rights, calculated on a sliding scale based on print run, image size and placement, distribution, and so on. With academic books, it’s usually the author who pays; the picture research, captions, photo credits, and paperwork fall on the author, too. Trade publishers often give authors a budget for images, but it doesn’t go far; it’s much more expensive to license images for commercial use, and the author is still responsible legally if not financially.

For Fashion Victims, I was able to cobble together grants, savings, and favors to cover my image costs, but the process of seeking out funding was time-consuming and soul-destroying. There are not many grants out there for publishing, although academics can sometimes get subventions from their universities. And a grant application can take up to a year from start to finish, with no guarantee that it will be successful.

Fortunately, many forward-thinking museums and archives have begun to make their image libraries available to anyone, at no cost, through “open content” programs. Other institutions offer free images for academic publishing. I was able to take advantage of this welcome trend, and it was certainly something I took into consideration when making the final decisions about my images and cover image. I also got very creative about sourcing mass-produced images. Why pay a picture agency for a fashion plate when I could get it from the British Museum for free? For contemporary subjects, authors can save money by taking their own photos; I was once advised by a journal editor that licensing a movie still would be cost-prohibitive, but my own photo of a billboard for the same movie could be published legally and at no charge.

However, I fear that the open content trend is only going create new problems, as the same images from the same collections will be published over and over again while other collections remain inaccessible and unknown. I am absolutely guilty of this; more than half of the 220 images in my book come from the same five institutions, largely because they were searchable online and free (or at least inexpensive) to license. Similarly, many publishers have agreements with certain museums or picture agencies that make their images more affordable than others.

But the money I saved on open content images allowed me to have other key objects photographed and published for the first time. So for every free, familiar image, there’s one that you’ve never seen before that cost me $500. Because I work on the eighteenth century, I generally don’t have to worry about copyright, which can drive the costs even higher. But if you’re using contemporary fashion photography or publishing with a trade press, you might need to sell a kidney. If I had to do it again (and I do—I’m already working on a sequel to Fashion Victims), I’d pay more attention to image costs during the research and writing stage, rather than face sticker shock and a lengthy fundraising drive at the end. Indeed, knowing how the whole publishing process is likely to unfold has made the early stages go much more smoothly.

If dealing with the images was the hard part, negotiating the contract was the easy part. A reputable academic publisher will offer you a fairly standard agreement with little wiggle room, especially for a first-time author. (My editor graciously fought for a few additional perks, like more color pictures and extra author copies—another reason why a good editor is as important as a good publisher.) If you’re publishing with a trade press, you should have an agent or lawyer negotiate for you. If you’re hoping to make money from publishing, your time would be better spent writing textbooks, or maybe romance novels.

But there are many other compelling reasons to publish your work, like getting tenure, giving back to your field, or increasing your chances of getting a job, raise, or promotion. If you’ve already done the research and writing (for a dissertation, conference paper, or exhibition, for example), why wouldn’t you want your efforts to have a permanent, public impact in print? Personally, I’m amazed at how much great research goes unpublished—not because publishers aren’t interested, but because the authors never submit it to publishers.

Ultimately, getting Fashion Victims published—finding a publisher, revising the text, raising grant money, locating and licensing illustrations, and slogging through the year-long editing process, from copy editing to proofreading to indexing—took roughly the same amount of time as writing it in the first place: nearly two decades in total. The book started as my MA thesis, then spilled over into my PhD dissertation, only to undergo a total rewrite before I even considered submitting for publication. Over the next few years, I continued honing the text as I figured out how I was going to pay for the image rights and reproductions. It evolved from a formal and somewhat fragmentary series of chapters—many of them originally developed as stand-alone conference papers or journal articles—into an organic narrative, ironically becoming much truer to the themes that got me interested in the subject in the first place.

During the same period, I worked in some museums, had a couple of kids, attended conferences, moved house a few times, and published a bunch of journal and magazine articles and essays in edited volumes and exhibition catalogues. Along the way, I discovered new objects, images, and sources; made valuable contacts; and learned the ropes of the publishing business; all of those things ultimately benefitted the book. At the time, I was intensely annoyed with myself because I hadn’t managed to publish it yet. But, looking back now, I can see how useful that season of discontent was. Fashion Victims is much richer for it, and so am I. And it was worth waiting to work with the publisher, editor, and images I wanted all along. The book I’ve had in my head for twenty years is now in print, and it’s even more beautiful than I could have imagined.

Check it out.

Related reading:

http://getalifephd.blogspot.com/2012/04/how-to-publish-academic-book-why.html

http://dahl.at/wordpress/2013/08/04/choosing-where-to-publish-academic-books/

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/columns-and-blogs/soapbox/article/47381-it-s-not-all-academic.html

*Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles. She has worked as a curator, consultant, and educator for museums and universities around the world. She is a frequent contributor to books, scholarly journals, and magazines, as well as an experienced lecturer. Her areas of expertise include European fashion and textiles and French and British painting and decorative arts of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries

BOOK GIVEAWAY!-UPDATE WE HAVE A WINNER, THANK YOU
Trivia question: Who painted the portrait on the book cover?
First person to email Monica the right answer wins a copy.
United States and Canada only please.

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Review: Guy Bourdin: Image Maker at Somerset House, London

 

Following on from my list of upcoming exhibitions in London at the end of last year, I finally made it to Guy Bourdin: Image Maker at Somerset House last month.  I couldn’t have been more happy.  This is an excellent exhibition that not only appeals to those specifically concerned with both the business and study of fashion, but also anyone who has ever been struck by an interesting advert or editorial in a fashion magazine.  My sister, who is a midwife, and a friend who manages the secondary schools programming for the V&A came with me and we were all delighted by the content and presentation of what is the largest retrospective of Bourdin’s work in the UK since 2003.

With over a hundred prints, as well as a wealth of other objects such as polaroids, sketches, films, paintings, notebooks and transparencies, the exhibition is huge, spanning Bourdin’s prolific career from 1955 to 1987.  This is divided up into eight large display ‘spaces’ across two levels of the Embankment Galleries.  The first space focuses on a road trip around Britain Bourdin took in 1979 with his wife, son, some fashion assistants and a pair of disembodied mannequin legs.  From London to Brighton to Liverpool, Bourdin travelled up and down the country in a black Cadillac, commissioned by the shoe company Charles Jourdan to take photographs for one of many advertising campaigns he directed.  Here, for the first time, you can see them, known as the ‘Walking Legs’ series, in its entirety.  While only three were actually published, overall there were 22 images which have been blown up and printed in technicolour glory. 

Walking Legs series, 1979

Each image presents us with the mannequin legs exploring the various everyday landscapes of Britain, from the seaside to the pub, from the bus stop to a park bench.  These heeled legs engage with their surroundings as they cross roads, lean against fences, walk through doors or even take a bath in a hotel room.  As you move between the images, you want to know where these legs will find themselves next, what shoes they might sport and who they might bump into.  In a recent interview about the exhibition and the influence of Bourdin on her own work, the fashion designer Mary Katrantzou gives a nice description of how his images draw us in:

“Bourdin’s images are all about the decoration of space. There is a tension between the woman, the space and her position in an environment which might have a prop such as a sofa. The way you see her changes because of the use of space, it evokes a certain emotion. You want to know the narrative: why is she there? What is the image telling us? There is always a story behind it. You become a bit of a voyeur, and that is part of their power. You want to find out more.”[1]

An example of how Bourdin uses the shoes as a McGuffin in order to drive the story forward in this scene Guy Bourdin: Charles Jourdan, Spring 1975

The second space is a large and long mezzanine gallery that again features blown up images of photographs he created while at French Vogue during the 1960s and 1970s, as well as more from Charles Jourdan where he was apparently allowed absolute creative freedom.  As you walk from side to side, taking in what are really quite monumental images of clothes and accessories always set within a highly staged scene, it is very difficult not to be seduced by Bourdin’s dark but funny depiction of women’s fashions.  It was interesting to discover that one of his influences, besides Surrealism, was Alfred Hitchcock’s use of a McGuffin, which is a prop that distracts us for a moment while we figure out what is going on in the story but has no bearing on its conclusion.  My understanding of a McGuffin is that it’s form is unimportant but that its function is to allow us to follow a story, sometimes making us stop to look around at what’s happening.  Bourdin often used shoes and accessories as McGuffins in his photographs by drawing attention to the scene so we can follow what is always a suggested or implied narrative.

An unfinished painting; a study for a photograph

I especially liked some small displays, in this second space, dedicated to showing us how Bourdin would research, develop and design his images before executing them on photographic film.  His notebooks, sketches, polaroids, even postcards, reveal not only a skilled draughtsman but also a very technical approach in the way that he worked.  Bourdin’s notebooks are full of written descriptions and poems that attempt to capture the visual images that were in his head.  They reveal someone methodical and exacting, an ‘obsessive formalist’ as suggested by a review of the exhibition in British Vogue.  This is further supported by one of the later gallery spaces that feature his paintings and earlier work produced under the watchful eye of Man Ray in Paris during the early 1950s.  The paintings are far from emotional affairs but rather they act as research for his photographs, allowing him to better see the colour and perspective of his theatrical images.

1973 double page Charles Jourdan advertisement

His attention to all aspects of his design process is reflected  in another room that shows how much editorial control he had over his fashion images in French Vogue.  Supported by the editor at the time, Francine Crescent, he often only provided the final image and specific instructions pertaining to its layout.   Most of us will also be familiar with the fact that it was Bourdin, along with Helmut Newton, who introduced the double spread editorial to fashion magazines. 

A photograph featuring the model Nicolle Meyer

The final three spaces are dedicated to his notable interest in shoes and legs as photographic subjects, his professional work featuring the model Nicolle Meyer, whom he worked exclusively with between 1977 and 1980 and, finally, a display of his polaroids which he often used to test out locations and scene dimensions.  These galleries provided further supporting statements for his attempts at perfectionism.  In particular, I liked how, with an advertisement for Charles Jourdan shoes, he would stage an elaborate set such as two women spending time in a hotel room and then photograph it from a variety of angles, as if he was filming it frame by frame. Only by doing this did it seem he could explore scale, composition and focus in order to ‘find’ the final image he had in his head.  

A polaroid taken in the mid 1950s of Paris by Bourdin

At first, I found the final display of polaroids slightly underwhelming, presented more as contemporary works of art which it seems is how the gallery representing the Guy Bourdin Estate would like his work to now be more understood.  However, since then, I read an interview with the curator Alistair O’Neill and his following comment made me think differently about their impact:

“I think it [the gallery of Polaroids] is the most intimate way of connecting Bourdin with his process. These things were very close to him,” says O’Neill. “He pulled them out of the camera as well as taking the picture, he shook it in his hand waited for it to develop and he kept them for a long time. Contrary to some of the exhibition photographs that have only recently been printed, these are very intimately connected to the photographer.”[1]

This comment also reflects, perhaps, Bourdin’s avoidance of any exhibition or sale of his work.  However, his preference for commercial ephemera in which to place his final image is curiously juxtaposed with an elaborate design process that resulted in a range of concrete, diverse forms in order to realise his imaginations.

Guy Bourdin, Vogue Paris 1977

Although there is much debate around Bourdin’s depiction of women and whether they are objects of subjects of the viewer’s gaze, this is not discussed in great depth within the exhibition.  I did wonder if this absence of interpretation had something to do with the curators and collaborators wanting these images to be seen more as works of art and less as consumable, designed images.  Yet, overall, the exclusion of the debate did allow me to really focus on the images, soaking them in before I then ponder upon their social, political and cultural significance. 

While I agree that the most successful aspects of the exhibition are those that are more personal[3], where Bourdin’s practices and influences are revealed, I actually enjoyed how little personal background there was about him.  Bourdin was evidently a very private person and yet despite this, he would go to great lengths to create his images. According to one article about him written in 2007, this included dying the sea a different colour, covering models entirely in glue and jewels so they couldn’t breath and having a pylon repainted a slightly different shade of grey.[4] The curator’s decision to avoid speculation about his artistic character, instead emphasising the extent to which he would create a photographic illusion was a wise one, making for a subtle but significant exhibition that I highly recommend. 

 

References:

[1] Interview with Mark Katrantzou by Lauren Cochrane http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/fashion-blog/2014/nov/28/mary-katrantzou-guy-bourdin-fashion-designer-photographer-exhibition

[2] Interview with Alistair O’Neill by Anya Lawrence http://www.disegnodaily.com/article/guy-bourdin-image-maker

[3] https://www.notjustalabel.com/editorial/guy-bourdin-image-maker

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/reviews/as-bold-as-bourdin-759162.html 

Top image: Guy Bourdin: Vogue Paris, May 1970 https://girlsdofilm.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/guy-bourdin-image-maker-at-somerset-house/

 

 

 

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The Visible Self: Contest

Please consider doing our contest!

UPDATE: WE HAVE A WINNER THANK YOU!

You could win a copy of The Visible Self, a wonderful book at a value of $100!
See the interview with author Joanne Eicher for details.

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