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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Reissue of The Visible Self: Interview with Joanne Eicher

The Visible Self

2015 will see the reissue of The Visible Self, a seminal text many of us have encountered in our study of dress. Co-Author Joanne Eicher, PhD is Regents Professor Emerita from the University of Minnesota and was my professor for Dress & Culture graduate level course as well as served on my dissertation committee. She was kind enough to share with us her thoughts on the research, writing, and publishing process of The Visible Self and the state of fashion scholarship/publications today.

In conjunction with this interview, the publisher of The Visible Self, Bloomsbury, has provided a copy I can give away to one fabulous Worn Through reader! (U.S. mail address only, apologies, I need to save on postage and I’m in the U.S.). Below the interview you’ll see instructions. UPDATE: WE HAVE A WINNER THANK YOU!

M: This is the Fourth edition of The Visible Self (TVS). Why was now the right time to do an update and reissue? What is different?

J: My co-author, Sandra Evenson, and I have worked through updates for various parts of the text and wanted to take advantage of Fairchild Publishers commitment to providing ancillary materials to faculty to enhance the basic concepts in the book. A revision allows us to review the images and update them with many new examples as well as use refinement of John Bodley’s ideas regarding sociocultural systems that we relate to dressing the body as a communication system and refinement of our own ideas as well that develop over time and with our reading of current research and scholarship.

M: Do you see this as a book for undergraduates or graduates?

J: We see it as appropriate for both levels, although it will no doubt be primarily used for undergraduates. In late March, however, I am presenting a seminar in London with MA students from both History and Culture of Fashion and Fashion and Film at London College of Fashion as well as students from Critical Fashion Studies and Journalism pathways of MA Communication at Central Saint Martins. The seminar focus will be a give and take on the Definition and Classification System of Dress that we present in the first chapter of TVS.

M: What kinds of courses could it be used in?

J: The book has been a basic text for courses on understanding the sociocultural significance of dress and fashion, using a three-pronged approach of viewing the physical base of the body for dress, its aesthetic aspects, and the sociocultural significance in cultures across the world. Our book makes students think about dress in other cultures as well as viewing dress and fashion from a more limited “Western” perspective. We want them to ditch stereotypes about other cultures and what may seem exotic when looking at others from an outsider’s point of view.

M: Do you think it can be used in pieces/chapters or is best read as a course-long textbook?

J: Of course, an instructor is free to use parts of the book for various purposes, such as the initial chapters about “what is dress” and “what is its significance,” to “what do we know about dress” and “what are the sources of information,” or to use the sociocultural perspective chapters or the aesthetic chapters to fit into or enhance/supplement another course. We see the book serving the purpose effectively to provide an overview to understanding that fashion and dressing the body are mainstay activities in all societies across the world and not “special” to the immediate world around us and students.

M: Is the book intended for international audiences?

J: The revised edition, just out in August of 2014 has been adopted in other countries as well as at least 40 universities in the United States. The adoptions abroad are in Scotland, England, Wales, Bosnia-Herzogovina and Japan so far.

M: Are there differences in the way the United States and other countries are studying apparel?

J: Often, at least in the UK and Europe, textbooks are not usually chosen for use as much as basic readings from specific books. In the United States and Canada, the textbook is a more common approach that synthesizes knowledge and provides extensive bibliographic references for readers.

M: How did you address different learning perspectives in the book?

J: Our questions at the end of chapters provide a wide array of possibilities for different points of view across cultures with discussion by students and instructors.

M:The Visible Self covers a vast amount of material. It is a mix of collected writings and textbook-style explanations with a plentiful amount of images. Can you discuss the process for dealing with a large body of information and how to wrangle it into one cohesive publication?

J: Our first edition of TVS was text only with no readings, authored by Mary Ellen Roach and me as colleagues. We wrote first drafts of various chapters that came from the courses we taught at our two universities (University of Wisconsin, Madison, for her, and Michigan State University for me) which were based on the ideas, the starting point, we developed in editing our first book together, Dress, Adornment, and The Social Order in 1965. We had a very similar point of view having received our PhDs at Michigan State University in a combined Anthropology and Sociology Dept at that time. Each of our drafts were shared with the other one and then carefully scrutinized and worked over in discussion (we most frequently met in person when writing). The end result was an amalgamation of ideas, It was difficult to say at the completion, “this is mine.” You have a co-author, Sandra Lee Evenson, so dividing the work was certainly part of the process. We worked similarly to the way Roach and I began which was also true for 2e and 3e when Hazel Lutz was also a co-author. Both Sandra and Hazel had worked with me as students and we shared similar perspectives, but they brought new points of view as well. Sandra and Hazel had extensive experience in design and construction with Sandra also having retail experience and Hazel having had depth in anthropology in graduate work. The three of us shared fieldwork and knowledge of South Asia Indian dress and textiles as well.

M: You start the book with 4 chapters that compile a “systematic study of dress” with classifications, dress society and culture, records of types of dress, and writer interpretations of dress. By putting this framework first and foremost it serves as a foundation for this line of study. Do you feel the current academic apparel programs are addressing each of these issues?

J: I do not have any research about what other programs have as a base, but my impression is that many focus on the world most familiar to their students, American culture. We are committed to the idea of the basic similarities of human beings across the world with the differences that come about cross-culturally as icing on the cake.

M: You have a portion in your book on the types of scholarly publications that established the study of apparel. Thankfully in my doctoral program I took a course with Gloria Williams about the history of writing in our field. I took contemporary writing, which covered the early 20th century to the present, and I was always disappointed the course on earlier writings did not fit into my schedule. From what I can tell, these types of courses are rare. Scholarship in our field has been spreading and shifting since its inception. Each expansion provides fresh new perspectives however it does appear some of the foundation/past is not considered, and a canon in our field is dissipating. How did you decide which to include in The Visible Self and can you discuss this issue in general?

J: I am a wide reader across disciplines and the references we cite in the 4th chapter, “Written Interpretations of Dress,” reflect the three prongs I discussed earlier of focus on the physical, aesthetic, and sociocultural aspects of dress. This is an expansion/revision/update of the chapter that Roach and I were determined to include in our 1973 first edition, as we wanted readers to know how extensive the study of dress is and how broad a base it has.

M: The book addresses international dress, ethnic dress, religious dress, and how those concepts intersect with tourism in home countries and identity issues with immigration and relocation. Can you address a few of the main points from these chapters?

J: Our main purpose, again, is to have students think about the role of dress in their own lives and compare and contrast with the lives of others, whether other cultural groups in their home country, whether they are students in the US or elsewhere. There are many specific differences in the US and Canada with our histories of immigration and influx of people from all over the world, continuing to today.

M: This section of the book made me think of two things: Do you feel the mainstream press/popular media explores these concepts empathically or one dimensionally and what is the impact on public perception of ethnic/religious dress?


J: I think it depends on what press/media you cite/read. Some sources like the New York Times are very thorough in presentation of various examples. Some sources, perhaps like popular magazines, may be less so. I think you are asking what could be a research question to be pursued for its answer. Also, there is always a great deal of discussion when these markers of cultural identity are appropriated. Would your research indicate that is appreciation or misunderstanding or just an expected outcome of globalization? Not sure I understand this last part of the question. I think whatever answer comes out, depends on the specific source to be cited.

M: Can you talk a bit about publishing? What do you think is the future of academic publishing on apparel?

J: The publishing world seems to be all agog on publishing about dress and fashion, particularly picking up on the word, “fashion.” [There was] an article that was published in 2013 on the numbers of articles that are coming out on the topic of fashion…(Style and Substance: Fashion in Twenty-first Century Research Libraries) which is pretty fascinating. Just going into any bookstore or even to the fashion section on the web for Barnes and Noble or Amazon is astonishing in regard to numbers of titles and varied related topics. I am editor of two book series on dress/fashion for Bloomsbury Publishers and we have 61 titles in Dress, Body, Culture, a series that began with its first title in 1997 and two titles to date with my most recent series, Dress and Fashion Research. Journals are pouring forth along with books and many publishers are entering this field with titles.

M: Where is the scholarship going in terms of print-academic or mass market, e-books, journals, blogs, multi-media? What are the important things for a scholar/researcher to consider about when, where and how to get their ideas out there?


J: Scholarship seems to be going across all media—The Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion of ten volumes was published in hardcopy in July of 2010 and went online in September, 2010. I have been commissioning 100,000 words yearly since then to add to the online version. I think we have wide-open spaces for publishing possibilities in our field. Blogs are thriving, books and ebooks, too. Journals, magazines, newspapers, TV pick up the stories. People have begun to acknowledge that the way we dress is an important part of life and our identities.

One person (in the U.S) will be the recipient of this $100 book for free! Please email and in 50 words or less tell us why you feel you need this book. Email subject line: The Visible Self Book Giveaway. We’ll review responses through Wednesday February 18, 2015 and shortly thereafter notify the winner, who we will choose based on who wrote the most convincing appeal. Please include your U.S. mailing address. UPDATE: WE HAVE A WINNER THANK YOU!

Please email me your correct response.
Thank you.

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Who is your favourite fashion writer?

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In my bedroom is a framed article about winter sunglasses, featuring an image of Blondie, by Colin McDowell when he was Senior Fashion Writer for The Sunday Times Style magazine.  As a teenager growing up in the early 1990s, I used to pour over his cultural and historical analysis of diverse sartorial objects; these were mythologies of fashion in the making.  And, there was nothing else quite like it in any other UK newspaper or, come to think of it, fashion magazines such as Elle, Vogue or Marie Clare at the time.   Similarly, when I discovered Worn Journal in 2004, I had the same response, something I wrote about here.

Looking at my saved McDowell article, I began to think about who in the UK currently writes about fashion and dress in an interesting way, perhaps taking unusual angles on well known subjects or introducing us to unknown topics.  Who do I frequently read or refer to on the topic?  Who do others turn to?  For many, identifying with common fashioned voices can take a long time as we often have to rely on serendipity and diligent curiosity, drawing upon disparate sources in order to create some sort of shared community.  In fact, I had to wait until Worn Journal before I could really begin to identify with fashion writers, most of whom were based in North America.  But, what about UK fashion writers?

In 2013, the Guardian launched a platform for a range of fashion blogs which showed the potential for hearing new voices, seeing things differently and broadening our everyday understanding of our clothed lives.  In particular, I liked The Invisible Woman with her interest in fashion for older women and Costume and Culture, an academic interested in fashion.  Unfortunately, these diverse blogs disappeared from the Guardian website at the end of 2014, which I think is a shame given that it was advantageous to have such a range within one site.  Of course, VICE UK and ShowStudio both play an invaluable role in imaginatively covering fashion and dress stories that popular printed media tends to avoid.  But, despite their plethora of contributors, I have yet to identify specific writers there that speak directly to me about dress and clothes.

Realising I needed to start looking out for more fashion writers who inspire me, this month I came across the British journal of fashion criticism called Address, edited by Johannes Reponen and Grace Eagle. In an interview in 2013,  Reponen described how the magazine would “discuss and analyse fashion as part of our everyday experience… [and it is] much more interested in the clothes we wear rather than some extravagant creation you see on the catwalks that nobody’s ever going to wear.”  Their second issue looked at ‘care’, ‘shoes’ and ‘voice’ through the lens of fashion, however, as this was published in 2013, it looks as if the website has now replaced the printed issue.  Pretty comprehensive, online Address includes opinion pieces, analyses, reviews and definitions.  This may be the beginning of a McDowell moment!

Who is your favourite fashion writer?  Who do you read and why?

 

(Top image taken by the author, date unknown)

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Around the World with Worn Through!

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Did you know how global Worn Through is?!*

Now is a good time to check out our mast head if you haven’t before. We’ve had a few personnel changes lately and some fresh voices have joined for 2015.

As always, Worn Through features contributors from around the globe, representing international ideas in apparel scholarship.

Take a look at our bios and you’ll see we’ve got people writing in from: many places in the United States, Germany, multiple place in the UK, France, and Sweden. And that’s just where we live now, as many of our writers originate from yet more countries and have moved around for school and jobs.

We hope the varied perspectives help the breadth and depth of what you see on Worn Through! If you’d like to see more places represented or you have a new idea you think would regularly benefit our readers, drop me a line to discuss. We are considering adding one more museum professional to post monthly and would possibly like one graduate student to monthly share experiences. Those are a few ideas…

*image pulled from bellabox

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Internship Opportunity: Costume & Textile Collections at the Valentine

The application for the Valentine’s funded summer internships will be open January 1, 2015 – March 1, 2015.

Funded internships are made possible through the Bobby Chandler Internship program, which is generously funded by the Kip Kephart Foundation. These internships are awarded through a competitive application process to up to five interns each summer.  A minimum commitment of 150 hours is required. An honorarium will be provided upon completion. Funded internships are open to students enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program. Recent graduates (Spring 2015) will also be considered for this internship.

Students not looking to receive compensation for their internship may still apply for a General Summer internship at the Valentine – please indicate that you are applying for an unfunded internship in your application.

Internships, providing hands on curatorial and collections experience, are available with the following departments this Summer (click link for collection information).

To apply for a summer internship: Send a completed internship application along with your resume, cover letter, unofficial transcript and the contact information for 2-3 professional or academic references to the Assistant Director of Public Programs. Your cover letter should explain how an internship at the Valentine will help you achieve your future career and/or academic goals.

For more information about internships please visit http://thevalentine.org/programs-tours/internships# or contact mday@thevalentine.org

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