You Should Be Watching: Contemporary Collecting in Museums

As many museums confront issues of limited storage space and the costs associated with maintaining and conserving their collections, the question of what artefacts are worthy of collecting has become increasingly important. At the same time, museums must be willing to adapt to the changing expectations of their visitors in an increasingly fast-paced and technologically advanced time. The following five videos from three different institutions explore different approaches to contemporary collecting in museums. What do you think of museums commissioning designed objects specifically for their collections, in the case of the ROM and the Museum of London, or collecting objects the minute they hit the headlines, in the case of the V&A? We welcome your comments below.

1. Christian Dior Haute Couture for the ROM

Two videos from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto outline the museum’s acquisition of a Christian Dior Couture coat dress, displayed in the exhibition ‘BIG‘ in 2012-2013. Named ‘Passage #5,’ the dress is from the Spring/Summer 2011 Couture collection, inspired by the illustrations of René Gruau and designed by John Galliano (in a collection which would be his last for Dior, a fact which the ROM would not have been able to predict at the time of their order, but has no doubt added value to the garment as a result). The first video, also commissioned by the ROM, follows the creation of the dress in the Paris ateliers of Christian Dior, as well as the pleating atelier Lognon and embroidery house Hurel. Beautiful shots of the Dior seamstresses at work are interspersed with footage of the dress being modelled on the catwalk. The second video briefly shows the curators at the ROM unpacking the delivery of the Dior dress and its accessories to a small, anticipating audience. The museum’s acquiring of this piece raises questions surrounding motives for collecting. The ‘Passage #5′ dress was created specifically for the ROM in standard judy measurements and traveled directly from Dior’s ateliers in Paris to the museum store room, scarcely inhabiting the ‘outside’ world and never worn by an actual person. Does this lack of provenance diminish the historical significance or value of the object, or is the ROM making a statement regarding fashion’s place in the museum, as a work of art and craftsmanship worthy of just as much admiration as a painting?

2. Rapid Response Collecting at the V&A

This Lighthouse Arts Monthly Talks video features Corinna Gardner, curator of contemporary product design at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Gardner discusses the museum’s recent ‘rapid response collecting’ strategy and its reception by the public over the past year. Seeking items that represent ‘material evidence of social, political, economic and technological change,’ the museum has acquired the world’s first 3-D printed gun, a pair of Primark cargo pants that may have been made at the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka and Christian Louboutin’s Nudes Collection high-heeled shoes. Gardner states that the V&A wants to generate ‘discussions and debates about objects in the institution while they’re still ongoing,’ but the museum has been accused by some of collecting sensationalized objects based solely on their headline-grabbing status.

Read more reactions to the V&A’s rapid response collecting from The Guardian and The Independent.

3. Sherlock Holmes Tweed for the Museum of London

Coinciding with the exhibition Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die, the Museum of London has commissioned the creation of a Sherlock Holmes Tweed fabric, as well as a deerstalker hat and three-piece suit made from this tweed. Designed and created by Lovat Mill of Hawick, Scotland, the tweed is intended to represent the city of London while incorporating colours that feature prominently in the stories of Sherlock Holmes. After a series of mesmerizing shots of the tweed in production through warping, drawing, weaving and finishing, the finished textile is cut and sewn into the detective’s iconic deerstalker hat. Meanwhile, the second video takes the newly created Sherlock Holmes tweed to Savile Row tailor Norton & Sons to create a three-piece suit for British rapper and 2015 London Collections: Men ambassador Tinie Tempah. Like the ROM’s Dior dress, the tweed fabric, deerstalker hat and three-piece suit were commissioned specifically by the museum and will enter the museum’s collection after the exhibition – however, the museum is also selling Sherlock Holmes Tweed merchandise to its visitors, adding a commercial element to the discussion surrounding these objects’ places in a museum collection. According to the press release, the entire project is ‘another milestone in the GLA and BFC supported project to position London as the home of menswear,’ but should these commissioned objects also be collected by the Museum of London to represent today’s British menswear industry?

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On Teaching Fashion: Inspiring creativity from the beginning

In the Christmas holidays I find myself reflecting on the autumn term, as the first third of the academic year. In this part of the year I undertake the most challenging projects with my students. A Fashion and Clothing course must be as wide as possible as quickly as possible. With precious time in the first year up-skilling and broadening horizons must commence.

I remember particularly the initial project I delivered in my first year of teaching, which I called ‘Radical Fashion.’ The stimulus for this came from my college days where I could be found clutching Claire Wilcox’s ‘Radical Fashion’ which was a great inspiration of textures, materials and shapes. Starting work I had great creative ideas, aiming to get the students to be innovative and outlandish to start their course. I showed images of clothes and costumes that would definitely not be found on the radar of teenagers’ high street shopping excursions or Internet buying experiences, and challenged the students to ‘think outside the box’.  Such as McQueen’s use of creative materials and how throughout his career he pushed the boundaries of acceptability.

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http://www.theguardian.com/observer/pictures/image/0,8562,-10104271309,00.html?redirection=lowercase (12/01/15)

With a class of 24 students who had a range of established knowledge as they entered the course, each member of the class also had different skill levels and preconceived areas of interest. Teaching in this sector is a fast paced environment with valuable little time; as soon as students arrive you begin by saying- where are you going to go next? At the end of their 1st year there are open days galore to attend and in the autumn of the 2nd year the University applications go off! I must say though, the biggest misconception you hear is that if you are doing ‘fashion’ it means of course you will become nothing else but ‘fashion designer.’

To inspire students in my teaching I also often refer to the work of Martin Margiela, who until he collaborated with H+M in 2012 probably was not a name teenagers entering their course would be aware of. I visited the ‘20’ retrospective at Somerset House in 2010 where his skill in history, craftsmanship and innovation was shown throughout his timeless contemporary work. Margiela is noted as an inspiration to McQueen in contemporary Fashion and part of the legendary Antwerp Six group from the late 80’s. Quoted by Marc Jacobs in 2008:

“Anybody who’s aware of what life is in a contemporary world is influenced by Margiela.”

Teaching Fashion, when initial key skills are delivered and learnt, is a very one-to-one topic. Like any creative subjects when the primary inspiration stimulus is given, students develop in different directions. Our job now is to juggle multiple projects at once. Giving varied and cutting edge visual examples and research trips inspires unique creativity in all. Also I have found inspiring students with images of work, contemporary or historical which is new to them draws in attention and develops innovation. Many of these derive from my own CPD, attending shows and exhibitions to ensure my knowledge is current. How do you inspire a new cohort of students? Do you have any techniques which you use to widen a fresh intakes’ thought process?

As I think back on my first term in work it was a rather fraught term, but a learning curve for all involved, including me.

 

 

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Italian Style: Exhibition Review

Italian Style*

Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945
Exhibition ran October 26, 2014 – January 4, 2015
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Curator at MIA: Nicole LaBouff; Curator of exhibition Sonnet Stanfill of Victoria and Albert Museum

*First image: Roberto Cavalli Leopard Print Gown
Spring/Summer 2007
Courtesy of Roberto Cavalli S.P.A.

Recently I took two visits to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to see the exhibition Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945. In my first visit I was toured through by curator Nicole LaBouff and then did an interview with her to get more background. You can read all about that by clicking here. I also put a number of additional photos in that post.

Before heading into the show I was drawn into the gift shops. I ended up spending a great deal of time enthralled by the vintage Italian designer fashion finds the museum had acquired for sale during the exhibit, as well as current Italian styles such as unique purses and furnishings, and a slew of fashion volumes perfect for holiday gifts or an indulgent self purchase.

HIGHLIGHTS AND DESCRIPTION:
Once entering the exhibition the story unfolds through a series of educational panels, numerous cases and platforms with mannequins and objects, a few video clips and slideshows, some framed wall documents and photos, and varied support pieces such as sketches, log books, fabric swatches, and muslin mock ups.

This enormous exhibition is a beautiful travel through time with room after room of displays. I tend to enjoy shows that canvas a lot of territory and explore many aspects of one theme. When a show dives too narrow it often feels like the viewer is aching to fill in the gaps. However, with a comprehensive show there’s always some challenges trying to encapass so much and do each aspect of the show the justice it deserves. It’s inevitable not all portions will be at the exact same level of quality. Overall, I’d say this show did a solid job at that, and maintained a fairly high level of visual intrigue and comprehensiveness. There were a few weak spots but those were outnumbered by the positive.

This exhibition originated at the V&A and has traveled to the MIA. Panels explained that V&A curator Sonnet Stanfill started devouring Italian Vogue as early as age 10, and took many trips all the way to Italy as a child from Alaska. These early entrances into fashion began her fascination with Italian culture and design. As she became a scholar her research indicated that there was limited study on the rise of Italian fashion; thus the catalyst of this show.

Both times I attended had fairly large crowds, primarily of women of all ages. There were groups of many sorts: students, ladies, and many multi-generational families of grandmother through toddler. All were enjoying the show using different reference points, although shared the same admiration of vibrant colors and eye catching embellishments.

The MIA ran a “living social” coupon for discounted admission, and also did an impressive showing of PR including neighborhood billboards. This was the first fashion exhibition from this museum and they were obviously making a big effort to get the word out. It’s too bad I missed the Italian fashion themed films they showed in support, however I believe those were only for museum members. It would have been an extra treat to see further activities such as an academic symposium or esteemed guest speakers. There are multiple fashion programs in the area, a strong local design and advertising community, and companies such as Target, which all create a community who would attend such events.

The educational introduction starts with WW2 and gives this as a jumping off point to see the quick rise to prominence of Italian fashion. Galleries then focus on this relatively contemporary time period and traces its rise, the shifts in its priority and design/manufacturing styles, the artistry, and name designers/stylists of the region. The entry galleries feature a beautiful array of dresses of the 1940s and 50s representing the first shows that took place at the house of a buying agent entitled Sala Bianca. Letters from buying agents and accessories add to this bright room of detailed ensembles.

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Sfilata (fashion show) in Sala Bianca, 1955
Archiveo Giorgini
Photo by G.M. Fadigati © Giorgini Archive, Florence

A highlight was gallery 3 which was focused on the traditional sartoria or dressmaker
Wardrobe of Margaret Abegg
whose husband owned a textile manufacturing company. She had a variety of garments commissioned and this gallery brings you into the world of the personal relationship between designer and wearer, as well as into the details of custom design. Also, Margaret’s clothing is a size and proportions conventional to the average woman and therefore it was refreshing to see the high-end clothes shown in non-runway sizes. I was not the only person in the room commenting on this feeling unique. While her taste was not flashy, and the items didn’t wow the spectator, this was a highlight gallery because of its thorough demonstration of how the items were employed including accessories and also the letter of bequeath to museum from Margaret.

These early rooms explain the development of their fashion shows and individualized market but also show that the informal clothes, such as some of Pucci’s were the key initial success in foreign markets as they spread for vacation use and broader appeal. The museum-goer then travels through a series of galleries such as the lively room highlighting the relationship of Italian fashion with Hollywood. Museum visitors were clustered around the movie clips and were also commenting on the sketches next to some of the garments showing the creative process. my interview with Nicole discusses the Elizabeth Taylor gems that eddie fisher gave her as a pitch to save their marriage. they were beautiful. a Vespa as well as a dress worn to Truman Capote’s black and white ball and other entertaining items.

Italian Style
Prada
Shoe with flame detail, Spring/Summer 2012
Courtesy of Prada
Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Italian specialty leather goods are featured throughout and showcased in a slideshow as well as a case of items from 1950′s and 60s. This is a bit drab of a presentation, but the items themselves are masterful. Another gallery focuses on the cult of designer and features those big names many of the guest were excited to see. This is a point that shines.

Menswear will get its due in upcoming exhibitions at other museums, but this was a useful preview as numerous mannequins demonstrated the value of the mens fashion market ranging from Hollywood style to tailoring expertise. In this section I watched many people walked right past the grand log book featuring client details and swatches, but I was fascinated by its oversized pages of fabric choices and measurements.

Embroidery and textile design were of course a crucial element of an Italian themed show and this was a section that was strong with ephemera. The viewer gained insight into Versace’s process of pattern design from inspiration through final product and advertising campaign, and Missoni’s knitwear process takes us from marker colors to yarn dye to final product. Apparently one of Missoni’s grandsons came to the show and reminisced.
Made in Italy as marketing term and less couture

The final gallery features includes some contemporary designers such as Piglisi and Dolce and Gabbana indicating that the quality is still at a very high level. The couture closing the show brings the concepts full circle back to the custom high end dress makers at its start. A final rom focused on the future showed a film about the direction of Italian fashion is going was intriguing discussing positives as well as challenges in the industry. It was hard to hear but still fun to watch because those featured were all significant in the field.

Giorgio Armani Privé gown, Spring/Summer 2010.
Giorgio Armani
Privé Gown, Spring/Summer 2010
Courtesy of Giorgio Armani

SOME CRITIQUES
As you can tell, I really liked this exhibition and I am enthusiastic that it will travel further and be viewed by many. This is not to say it is perfect though. I do have a series of notes that nagged at me that I would be remiss not to mention. I’m just going to lay them out. I do realize some would be do to time, space, and budget constraints and the fact it’s a traveling show and not from the institution itself:

    There is a narrative from room to room, but it’s a bit hard to follow and doesn’t feel like a story. I had to work to follow along. I think many people use admired the clothes but not the storyline. That’s probably completely normal though. This is exacerbated by some display choices where items are showcased that don’t seem that important (like Pucci lounge wear) and other key pieces are tucked into the crowd.
    The lighting is dim in some sections, films are quiet, fonts are small in films, and sometimes I entered a room and basically walked into a black corner when the way finding seems like I could have been directed into something more exciting rather than walking around a wall. I did hear complaints from the audience.
    Some messages are conveyed in panels but then not translated well into the exhibition design. I know a lot of people do not read the data and are visual learners so it is crucial to be visually dynamic. One example was a mention of all the stylish film actors wearing the clothes but there was limited showing of this in objects (not the Hollywood room but a second room). Another is the party atmosphere of Fiorucci but then the design of that display is very skeletal and not festive.
    People love to be near celebrities, and some of the biggest names and best stories of the show are tucked in almost indistinguishable. There’s a suit worn by JFK but it’s amid a row of other men’s suits with little fanfare. Museum guests were frequently name dropping a wish to see Jackie O’s clothing and there was none, however there was Lee Radziwill’s dress although again, not spotlighted. The curator’s favorite garment that she feels represents the highest craftsmanship is on the far side of one case and easy to walk past. Also there is an Armani suit that is a quintessential style of his career, yet the label does not share the story that designer hand picking the garment for the show (which gives it an extra special feel when that is known; Nicole let me know this story and it gave me a higher reverence for the object). Then there is a small photography section that is a focal point, but seems sort of removed from the core. Overall, this reflects hit and miss choices of which items are under a spotlight and which are quietly in the very large mix.

Irene Galitzine, silk palazzo pyjamas, c.1963.
Irene Galitzine
Silk Palazzo Pyjamas, c.1963
Courtesy Historical Archive Maison Galitzine
Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

CLOSING THOUGHTS
It’s clear this exhibition was lovingly researched and constructed. I overheard one woman said “Timeless styles” with a smile and sigh. Sure a few spots were awkwardly presented or felt dry, but this is the reality of a comprehensive exhibit as the budget and resources do have a finite point. Overall the display of iconic and lesser known names internationally gave us the fun of seeing beautiful representations of familiar brands and also introduced us to those we may not know. Upon exit there was a cute children’s section with fashion illustration and photography activities, looking at the childrens’ drawing’s left behind it was clear from this exhibition that the legacy will continue.

Exhibition Acknowledgments:
Exhibition organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Presented by Nordstrom and the Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation.
Major Sponsor: Delta Air Lines
Generous support provided by: Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Topsy Simonson

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Fashion-Focused Digital Resources: Historical Image Databases

In this new column for Worn Through, Interns Jaclyn and Michelle will explore the new and emerging field of digital resources and their potential for primary research in fashion. 

High-resolution images can greatly enrich papers, conference presentations and teaching. If you’ve ever found the perfect visual source on Tumblr that you were unable to use due to pixelation and lack of citation, you know the frustration of seeking historical images online. Below are several digital libraries that have made available millions of photographs, illustrations and more from archives and museums. In each case, searches can be limited to the public domain, and large (sometimes lossless) files are available to download. Images are cataloged with metadata such as date and creator, and are linked back to the institution that owns the original.

1. The NYPL Digital Collections include prints, photographs, maps and streaming video. The current asset count is over 800,000, and new materials are added daily. Curated collections of particular interest to fashion historians are Collections for Designers, including Dress and FashionDecorative Arts, and Public Domain, which includes thousands of fashion plates. Click the download icon to the right of an image for available filetypes and sizes.

2. The Prints & Photographs Online Catalog from the Library of Congress reflects 95% of the holdings of LOC’s Prints and Photographs Division. The collection is international in scope, but focuses on the history of the U.S. Check out the Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoon, the extensive Daguerreotypes Collection, the African American Photographs assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, and much more. Thumbnails for most images link to a small and medium JPEG download as well as a lossless TIFF.

3. Europeana is best described as a content aggregator, partnering with museums, libraries and archives all over the world to make digital collections accessible and discoverable. Boasting over 30 million items searchable in numerous languages, Europeana is very active on social media, highlighting items on Pinterest, Facebook and their blog. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the homepage, try starting at their FAQ, or take a look at beautiful images selected from the open content archive. Download links are available at the top of the page after clicking an image thumbnail.

4. Getty’s Open Content Program makes available all content from Getty Trust organizations for which they own the rights, or is in the public domain. This sub-collection is searchable via the Getty Gateway and can be downloaded for any purpose. Strengths of this collection are photographs of Italian art and architecture and the recently-added 5,000 study images of 15th to 18th-century tapestries.

Image credits: Lena Horne, from NYPL’s Friedman-Abeles Photograph CollectionWhere there’s smoke there’s fire by Russell Patterson, from LOC’s Caroline and Erwin Swann CollectionSight, Lady with Unicorn, c. 1490–1500, from Getty’s study images of tapestries.

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Domestic Affairs: A New Year of Fashion Exhibitions!

Hollywood Costume

Museums, universities, and the Costume Society of America are ringing in the new year with new events, and exhibitions new and old.

The Costume Society’s Western Region has just opened registration for its first program of the year: a guided tour of Hollywood Costume led by CSA-WR-member Dr. Deborah Nadoolman-Landis. The event will take place at the Academy of Motion Pictures museum on February 7, 2015. Registration is open until February 2. For more information and to register follow this link.

Also in Los Angeles, the FIDM Museum is preparing to open the 23rd Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition. Open from February 10 through April 25, 2015 and the main FIDM campus, I understand they have costumes from Maleficent among many others.

At the Phoenix Art Museum, well-known fashion and textile scholar Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell will be giving a lecture today, January 14th, on her new book, Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The lecture begins at 12:30 and will be preceded by a luncheon at 11:30. While there you should see the museum’s current fashion exhibition: Fashioned in America which opened in October and is up until March 15.

In New York, the Bard Graduate Center has announced that they will be featuring Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette, opening April 3 and up until July 26. At the Museum at FIT, their latest exhibition, Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits is on display until April 25.

At Kent State, Geoffrey Beene: American Ingenuity will open on January 29 and be up until August 30. While there you can also check out American Jewelry Design Council: Variations on a Theme: 25 Years of Design, The Great War: Women and Fashion in a World at War (which I previously did a virtual review of here), Entangled: Fiber to Felt to Fashion (entering its last weeks), and Fashion Timeline.

I am most grateful to reader, Leesa, in Toronto for telling me about Politics of Fashion/Fashion of Politics at the Design Exchange museum, which will be closing on January 25.

Are there any events or exhibitions you would like to promote here on Worn Through? Have you been to any of these exhibitions or events? What did you think? Feel free to share your thoughts or event and exhibit recommendations in the comments below. Or to email me the information.

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Museum Life: audience surveillance and curation

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As we enter another new year and look ahead to what’s coming up in exhibitions and future activities within the museum world, I thought it might be interesting to readers to highlight an article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal last month, “When the Art is Watching You”, which raises some interesting questions about the future of museum curation.  The use of data culled from social media sites and audience feedback from platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have been of interest to museums for a while now, but the installation of cameras and electronic beacons within the galleries, recording in real time visitor’s movements, perceived object preferences, and the immediate sending of related contextual or promotional information to visitors, is a relatively new venture. How long a visitor spends in front of an object, the heights or depths of audience interest in a particular exhibition, and the extension of the exhibition beyond the gallery space through retail-inspired offers of rewards and themed experiences have become new targets of focus for planning and shaping what is displayed or examined.

Much of the article’s inquiry focuses on privacy and the scope and depth of visitor surveillance.  But how would this approach, if vigorously utilized, affect fashion and costume curation and display? I would imagine it could have some significant impact for curators, conservators, collection managers, and exhibition preparation staff.  I think it’s fair to assume, based on decades of successful and well-attended—in some cases phenomenally attended—shows, that costume and fashion exhibitions are popular with the public.  But would advance public notice of exhibition ideas or scrutiny of the intensity of stops in the gallery result in a permanent heavy slant towards exhibitions of well-known names or showstopping couture, for example?

To “curate or adjust in real time”—is this exciting or terrifying? Curation changes responding to the lightning pace of social media favorites or daily gallery traffic could increase strain on already small and stretched departments, not to mention the objects themselves. For costume, very short-term displays are often anything but advantageous, and such an approach disregards the slow, long-term work and research and many behind-the-scenes steps that go into making an exhibition and creating a narrative within a space, virtual or physical. I find the most satisfying exhibitions, no matter how large or small or if they are crowd-pleasers or unexpected offerings, are those that are strong in focus and carefully considered.

With the gift shop potentially following the visitor throughout the galleries, would the fashion exhibition seem to those already suspicious of its merits like a mere extension of a shopping experience? More generally, do visitors want a museum “whisper[ing] in their ear”? How much do you want the museum you visit to know about you? Are visitors wanting to have their expectations so immediately and precisely met?  What about the loss of a feeling of discovery or serendipity?

Certainly there is value in museums gaining knowledge of audience interests, likes and dislikes.  There are many questions to consider, no doubt, in determining how to interpret and garner this knowledge. It will be interesting to see how the implementation and the results of these new technologies and strategies will actually impact curatorial planning and practice in the future.

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You Should Be Reading: Significant Sweaters

This week, as much of the U.S. was hit with an arctic blast, I found myself drawn to readings on sweaters. Sifting through the hundreds of stories on the prominence of the non-ironic “ugly Christmas sweater,” I was pleased to find several recent journal articles on truly iconic knitwear, sweaters that are culturally and nationally significant in their construction and patterns. In the most recent issue of Costume, the history and legend of the Aran jumper or Irish fisherman’s sweater, is investigated; a 2011 article in Formakademisk examines the Icelandic sweater, one that has its origins in the twentieth century but that is often believed to be traditional; and an in-depth 2013 article in Material Culture Review discusses the Cowichan sweater of the Pacific Northwest Coast Salish peoples, recently designated historically significant by the Canadian government.

1. Carden, S. (2014). Cable Crossings: The Aran Jumper as Myth and Merchandise. Costume, 48(2), 260-275.

The article presents an anthropological study of the Aran jumper, an Irish garment made of wool which is also known as the fisherman’s sweater, with a focus on the sweater’s representation of Irish national identity. Topics include the jumper’s myth of origin involving a fisherman lost at sea in the Aran Islands of Ireland who was identified by his sweater, Irish emigration, and symbolism in the designs of the jumpers. Irish folk art and demand for jumpers by Irish Americans are also mentioned. – Full Article Abstract

2. Helgadottir, Gudrun. (2011). Nation in a Sheep’s Coat: The Icelandic Sweater. FORMakademisk, 4(2), 59-68.

The Icelandic sweater is presented and received as being traditional–even ancient–authentically Icelandic and hand made by Icelandic women from the wool of Icelandic sheep. Even so, the sweater type, the so-called ‘Icelandic sweater’ in English, only dates back to the mid-20th century and is not necessarily made in Iceland nor from indigenous wool. Nevertheless, the sweater is a successful invention of a tradition (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1983), popular among Icelanders and tourists alike since its introduction in the mid-20th century. It has gained ground as a national symbol, particularly in times of crisis for example in the reconstruction of values in the aftermath of the Icelandic bank collapse of 2008. I traced the development of the discourse about wool and the origins of the Icelandic sweater by looking at publications of the Icelandic National Craft Association, current design discourse in Iceland and its effect on the development of the wool industry. I then tied these factors to notions of tradition, authenticity, national culture, image and souvenirs. – Full Article Abstract

3. Stopp, Marianne P. (2013). The Coast Salish Knitters and the Cowichan Sweater: An Event of National Historic Significance. Material Culture Review 76, 9-29.

Long before the arrival of Europeans, the Coast Salish First Nations of southwestern Vancouver Island turned mountain goat wool, dog hair and plant fibres into woven textiles of great value among the peoples of the Pacific Northwest. Around 1860, Coast Salish women in the Cowichan Valley were introduced to European two-needle and multiple-needle knitting and began to produce what came to be known as the Cowichan sweater. Preparation combined ancient fibre processing and spinning techniques with European knitting to produce a high-quality, iconic garment. Profit margins for the knitters were minimal, but knitting provided an economic foothold in a new and challenging market- based economy. In 2011, the Government of Canada designated the Coast Salish Knitters and the Cowichan Sweater as an event of national historic significance on the advice of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. – Full Article Abstract

Image credit: Jean Seberg in an Aran jumper, via Irelandseye.

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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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On Teaching Fashion: Guests in the Classroom

As I prepare for the new semester I am already thinking of which guests will be invited into our classroom for project critiques or lectures. We usually have outside professionals in the fashion industry visit our students and give them feedback on major projects or speak about their career path. The students enjoy this are more concerned with impressing these guests then us teachers, especially when they are celebrities or well-known designers.

Guest Speaker 

Bringing outside fashion professionals into our classrooms is beneficial as they bring in a current and unique perspective to our students. We learn about new manufacturing techniques, textile innovations, and more from our guests and the students and I really appreciate it. The opportunity for networking, possible internships and/or jobs is always welcome too. I usually seek out guests in our city and surrounding area but with current technology I can search for guests all over the world. My favorite guest was a fashion buyer and manager of a designer boutique in England. I have Skyped him into the classroom a few times as a guest lecturer with positive responses from the students. He is such a great speaker and gives excellent advice with a very different perspective than other guests. Most importantly, he knows that he is speaking to fashion students. He is honest about the fashion industry but he is careful to be encouraging and not to focus on the negative. He is reflective about his experiences when he was studying fashion design and merchandising and offers great advice. The first time I Skyped him in we had technical difficulties and it took an extra 15 minutes to figure out the problem, which left us with no video only audio, which worked out to be okay but not ideal. The 2nd time we were better prepared and had both the video and audio working properly.

As much as I appreciate the time that our guests give to our students, I have learned that they are not always aware of college life or perhaps have forgotten what it was like when they were a fashion student. I created a critique worksheet for our guests so that they could either read questions to ask students or at least use it as a guide of what to say to a student. If I have a new guest, I usually like to speak to them before I bring them in and make sure that they are aware of the project and what is expected of the students. It is often more work to bring a guest in to critique or speak to students than it is for me to just do it myself. Each student has invested so much time, money, and effort into a design and being given comments such as “trash it” or “start over” are not helpful. This type of feedback is difficult to undue in the following week and usually deflates the confidence of the student. Even with this concern, there is more benefit to both the students and myself at welcoming guests in our classroom and learning a different viewpoint. Do you bring guests into your classroom? How do you prepare your guests before they talk to your students? Please comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Fashioning Britain 2015 – Happy New Visiting!

I can’t quite believe that it was only a year ago that I became a UK based correspondent for Worn Through.  The time has spun past, writing about all the exciting fashion related events and exhibitions that happened across these fair isles! However, my 2015 resolution is to try and see more outside of London, which means I dedicate the first part of this post to some exhibitions that are very much not London!

First up is the lovely Bath Fashion Museum in the south-west, where Great Names of Fashion opens at the end of January.  A new semi-permanent display (until January 2017), the exhibition features Dior, Vionnet and Balenciaga, promising to “showcase beautiful evening dresses by a number of these great names of fashion history from the early 20th century to the present day.”

Moving up north, there is Style from the Small Screen at Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have included this as it is due to close on 18 January but thought the sight of a small display of costumes from the ‘Downton Abbey’ television series could be just what we need to keep us going through this month!  The exhibition compares the costumes with historic garments from the same period (1912-1923) of which some are on display for the very first time.

Going further north-east, there is the Bowes Museum and its exhibition Birds of Paradise – Plumes and Feathers in FashionThe exhibition asserts itself as a “tribute to the elegance of feathers used in the fashion industry past and present, featuring extravagant catwalk creations from British, Belgian, French and Italian designers including Alexander McQueen, Dries Van Noten, Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, Balenciaga, Prada and Gucci.”  Co-curated with MoMu – Fashion Museum Antwerp, this looks really exciting and the perfect excuse to make the long journey northbound before it closes on 19 April.

Returning south, the exhibition Keeping up Appearances – Fashion Through Two World Wars at the Oxfordshire Museum opens on 13 January.  With its social emphasis on the changing role of women and its impact on clothing from the 1920s to 1950s, this exhibition is a great reason to visit Oxford early this year.

Finally, in the south-east can be found Fashion Statements at Chertsey Museum, Surrey and Winter Draws On at Horsham Museum and Art Gallery, West Sussex.  Fashion Statements focuses on the Olive Matthews Collection through the themes of romantic, outrageous and classic dress and is on until 5 September. Winter Draws On looks at winter clothes through the everyday eyes of people from Horsham District and is on until May.

The second part of this post is to draw attention to London College of Fashion’s annual Better Lives Seminar Series, which begins next week on 12 January and then on 26 January, 9 February and 23 February.  The series is curated by students on the college’s Psychology and Fashion Masters programmes, MSc Applied Psychology in Fashion and MA Psychology for Fashion Professionals.  The theme for 2015 is the role of positive psychology within the fashion industries and all the lectures are open to the general public, as well as staff and students.  

Do you know about other exhibitions or events across Britain that we should visit?

 

Image credit: Thierry Mugler, Haute Couture, Collection Spring Summer 1997 ©Patrice Stable Studio Mil Pat

 

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