The Visible Self: Contest

Please consider doing our contest!


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.


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. 



[1] Interview with Mark Katrantzou by Lauren Cochrane

[2] Interview with Alistair O’Neill by Anya Lawrence



Top image: Guy Bourdin: Vogue Paris, May 1970





You Should Be Watching: Lectures from the Bard Graduate Center

The Bard Graduate Center (BGC), a graduate school in New York devoted entirely to the study of design history, material culture and the decorative arts, has been quietly uploading videos of seminars, lectures and symposiums to Youtube over the past two years. The resulting Youtube channel showcases new research by leading academics from around the world, and makes their work accessible beyond the walls of the lecture hall. The following three videos are examples of past fashion-focused lectures given at the BGC, but there are many more to be found on the institution’s Youtube channel that may interest fashion and design historians.

1. Amanda Wunder: The Spanish Farthingale: Women, Fashion, and Politics in Baroque Spain

Women’s fashion inspired great political debate during the reign of King Philip IV (1621-65) in Spain, and no garment was more controversial than the farthingale known as the guardainfante. The name “guardainfante” reflects the widespread rumor that women wore this wide-hipped hoopskirt to conceal illicit pregnancies. Despite the ubiquity of the guardainfante in Golden-Age Spanish literature and art—Princess Margarita is wearing one at the center of Velázquez’s Las Meninas—very little is known about the material construction of these farthingales or the historical experiences of the women who wore them. An interdisciplinary methodology combining research in archival, visual, and literary sources uncovers the diverse experiences that women had with the guardainfante and reveals their contributions to the political culture of Baroque Spain as the makers, wearers, defenders, and detractors of this iconic fashion. – Full Lecture Abstract

2. Ines Rotermund-Reynard: Beads and Buttons from Briare: A Global Industrial Success Story from 19th Century France

In her talk at the BGC, Rotermund-Reynard will discuss the cultural history of 19th-century bead-making in the French town of Briare. Inventor of a new manufacturing process for the production of buttons and beads, Jean-Félix Bapterosses (1813-1885) was also an outstanding example of the moral qualities of the bourgeois industrialist in 19th-century French society. Rather than describe the economic development of the Briare beads and buttons production, Rotermund-Reynard will focus on the material object itself, in particular on its expressive character, from which emerges the portrait of a collective identity. This approach, in which an attempt is made to decipher the whole by examining the detail, leads us to question the bead itself: What does the material of which it is made tell us about the time it was created? What does its form tell us about the newly invented technical procedure? What does its color tell us about the social conditions of both the society that created these beads and the societies that received and adopted them? Doesn’t it seem that the Briare bead and its thousand-fold reproduction bear the signature of 19th-century Europe, as the philosopher Walter Benjamin might say? – Full Lecture Abstract

3. Birgit Borkopp-Restle: How To Do Things with Textiles: Maria Antoinette at the Courts of Vienna and Versailles

The French queen Marie Antoinette is often associated with extravagant fashions and the lavishing of huge sums of money on elaborate dresses and exquisitely furnished interiors—so much so that she is sometimes viewed as a “Pandora” who almost single-handedly brought on the French Revolution. Textiles—woven silks, tapestries, furnishing fabrics and embroideries—indeed had a prominent part in the images she presented to the world. A closer look at these objects reveals, however, that her choices were motivated less by extravagance, personal taste, or a desire for self-expression than by dynastic traditions and established political strategies and conventions. Textiles were of paramount importance at early modern European courts: tapestries with their narrative sequences of images, embroideries encompassing a wide variety of materials and forms, and woven silks with elaborate patterns all contributed to the splendid and highly charged interiors in which court festivals and ceremonies were held. Rulers themselves had to appear in robes of state and embody magnificence as their cardinal virtue. Marie Antoinette was no exception to this rule, strategically employing textile objects as significant elements of a language that was read and understood within the aristocratic society of her time. – Full Lecture Abstract

In addition, the upcoming symposium Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette, to be held at the BGC on March 27, 2015, will be streamed live for viewing on Youtube along with several other planned seminars and lectures this spring.


CFP: Hillwood Museum Scholar-in-Residence

Hillwood Scholar-in-Residence Program, Washington​, D.C.

Application Deadline Extended: March 2, 2015

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens announces a new scholar-in-residence program. PhD candidates or higher and any qualified applicants are encouraged to apply. There is no application form. Applicants should submit a curriculum vitae and a proposal, not to exceed 500 words, stating the necessary length of residence, materials to be used and/or studied, and the project’s relevance to Hillwood’s collections and/or exhibition program including, but not limited to: art and architecture, landscape design, conservation and restoration, archives, library and/or special collections, as well as broader study areas such as the history of collecting or material culture. The project description should be accompanied by two letters of recommendation and will be reviewed by the selection committee.

There are three potential types of awards:

Type #1: 1- 2 weeks 
Hillwood will arrange and pay for travel costs to and from the museum; housing near campus; shop and café discounts; free access to all public  programs.

Type #2: 1-3 months
Hillwood will arrange and pay for travel costs to and from the museum; shop and café discounts; free access to all public programs; a stipend of up to $1,500 per month depending on length of stay.

Type #2: 3-12 months 
Hillwood will arrange and pay for travel costs to and from the museum; shop and café discounts; free access to all public programs; visa support (if necessary); a stipend of up to $1,500 per month depending on length of stay.

Hillwood is in a special class of cultural heritage institution as a historic site, a testament to the life of an important 20th century figure, an estate campus, magnificent garden, and a museum with world renowned special collections. Founded by Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973), heir to the Post Cereal Companies that later became General Foods, the Museum houses over 17,000 works of art. It includes one of the largest and most important collections of Russian art outside of Russia, comprising pieces from the pre-Petrine to early Soviet periods, an outstanding collection of French and European art, and jewelry, textile, fashion and accessories collections. As part of the visitor experience, and in conjunction with a robust offering of public and educational programs, the Museum presents two changing special exhibitions annually that bring together objects and thematic content that highlight the acknowledged strengths of its permanent collection.

Scholars will have full access to Hillwood’s art and research collections. The Art Research Library has over 38,000 volumes including monographs, serials, annotated and early auction catalogs, and electronic resources; the Archives contain the papers of Marjorie Merriweather Post, her staff, and family members.

We will announce the award recipient(s) by March 17, 2015

For inquiries or to submit an application please contact one of the following:

Wilfried Zeisler
Associate Curator of 19th Century Art

Kristen Regina
Head of Archives & Special Collections


The Visible Self: Contest

Please consider doing our contest!


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.


On Teaching Fashion: Gender Neutral Design

Gender neutral design is making news again with Prada’s Spring 2015 Menswear  collection including remarks from the designer that  “…more and more, it feels instinctively right to translate the same idea for both genders.” Selfridges has also announced their new Agender project described as “a fashion exploration of the masculine, the feminine and the interplay…found in between.”


A previous article titled Gender Neutral Fashion discussed this topic back in 2012, including student’s views on gender roles regarding fashion history. For the past few years, we also have students at our university that are interested in designing gender neutral clothing. This year, an apparel design student named Billie Green, is creating a senior fashion collection inspired by his experience growing up in a family with a strong female role model. He is also interested in the “Free the Nipple” Campaign. Billie is making a leather bodice that will be molded onto a male mannequin but a female model will wear it in his fashion show. His goal is “to let women have a different perspective and feel like a man walking around without a shirt on and not be arrested.” Another apparel design student, Mary Beth Newton, is creating a collection of non-gender specific clothing. Her senior fashion collection inspiration is taken from her memories of playing sports as a youth with all the kids and then as she got older noticing that “they separated the boys and girls into different teams.” She hopes that people will feel they can be themselves regardless of gender and is making artistic, classic shapes that flatter any body type. The students have been advised to look at other designers working in this category of design including couture designer RadHourani who has been creating unisex collections on the Paris runway for a few seasons. Looking at his designs, one can see that the clothes are versatile so that a jacket can be worn in any direction regardless of gender or pattern making rules which has historically been right side over left for women and left side over right for men.

Ixchel Rosal, the Executive Director of Student Diversity Initiatives at UT Austin, spoke with me about this growing trend in gender neutral clothing. Rosal asked if it “is even important to determine if clothing is ultimately male or female since people want more room to express themselves” and also added that based on observations “this trend is a result of a slowly growing movement built on previous movements that addressed similar issues.” It is good to know that we have students today in our department that are helping to keep this conversation alive and adding to a movement in reimagining our apparel while challenging societal views to allow for all humans to freely express themselves with fashion. Are your students influenced by gender neutral design? Do you notice any other trends in your classroom? Please leave a comment. I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


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.


Fashion-Focused Digital Resources: Apps and Podcasts


Many lists of top apps for mobile devices can be found online, but none rate apps relating to historical fashion–likely because apps that focus on this aspect of fashion are few, and are not usually bestsellers in app stores. I’ve done some digging for you, and found a number of apps and podcasts that cover fashion and textile history. Most of the apps are from museums and were designed for learning, while the podcasts will keep you entertained and informed. Did I miss your favorite? Let us know your recommendations in the comments.

Apps for Apple and Android devices

Europeana Apple and Android
I highlighted Europeana’s digital archive in last month’s post. From the description: The Europeana Open Culture app lets you explore hand-picked and beautiful image collections from some of Europe’s top cultural institutions. You can browse, share and download for free more than 350,000 high-resolution images.

Fashion in Antwerp Apple and Android
From the description: Tour through Antwerp’s fashion world, past and present. Separate tours guide you through fashion and textiles in Antwerp’s history; the rise of the avant-garde and the Antwerp Six; contemporary fashion; hands-on craftsmanship and where to spot the city’s most stylish residents. 

Fashion@ISGM Apple and Android
A companion app for the exhibition Carla Fernández: The Barefoot Designer: A Passion for Radical Design and Community, which “explored the traditions and techniques of indigenous Mexican artisans and how they can be applied to modern fashion and styles.”

Gaultier: His Fashion World Apple and Android
The Gaultier app provides extra content related to the exhibition The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk that showed last year at the Brooklyn Museum and the Barbican. Includes behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the curators.

Malmaison Costume Android
An introduction to the costume collection at the National Museum of the Château de Malmaison, including Empress Josephine’s court dresses and accessories. The costumes are not on permanent display at the Museum, and this app aims to make them accessible to all.

1stdibs Apple
Browsing the exorbitantly priced, museum-worthy pieces for sale on the online antique shop 1stdibs is my guilty pleasure. Their new app was just released last week. Now I know how I’ll amuse myself next time I’m standing in line.


A History of the World in 100 Objects
I was introduced to this podcast in a textile history class. Segments of interest to fashion historians include #19, “Mold Gold Cape,”#24, “Paracas Textile,” #50, “Silk Princess Painting,” #87, “Hawaiian Feather Helmet,” plus many for decorative arts scholars.

American Fashion
Described as a “weekly conversation about the fashion industry” with special guests, several episodes turn to historic fashion. In #30, Phyllis Dillon, researcher for the upcoming documentary Dressing in America, “talks pre-historic textiles, the rise of ready to wear garments in America, and the history of Jewish immigrants in the garment industry.”

On this public radio program, American historians and callers discuss U.S. history. Check out the episodes “Counter Culture: A History of Shopping” and “American Apparel: A History of Fashion.” You can also check the broadcast schedule if you want to listen live.

Colonial Williamsburg Past & Present
From the descriptionSince 2005, “Past and Present” has taken you behind the scenes to meet interpreters, chefs, tradesmen, musicians, historians, curators, and more. 

Costume Café
An in-depth look at historic costumes in many areas of the costume design industry, from the perspective of practitioners and scholars.

Frock Flicks
Hilarious takedowns of “Hollywood’s attempt at historical costuming” in period films and TV shows. Though, I don’t think networks like Showtime or HBO ever claimed to care more about accuracy than hotness.

Stuff You Missed in History Class
HowStuffWorks turns to lesser-known, “strange” stories in world history. Episodes of note are “Rose Bertin: The First Fashion Designer” and “Missed In History: House of Worth.”

Talking Design
From RMIT University in Australia, design experts are interviewed, including fashion photographers, interior designers, and more.

Thread Cult
A great mix of academic and contemporary fashion reviews and discussions. From the description: Journalist and sewing blogger Christine Cyr Clisset interviews master craft people and creators in the home sewing, textile, and fashion communities.

Voices on Cloth
From the description: Voices on Cloth features presentations from luminaries in the textile and fiber arts. Recorded live at the Maiwa Textile Symposium, held in Vancouver Canada, the presentations are from an international collection of writers, travellers, craftspeople, and artists.

Image credit: Women and Technology Project


Domestic Affairs: Hollywood Costume Review Teaser!

I had fully intended to write up a review of the Hollywood Costume exhibition, which I had the good fortune to see this past Sunday. Unfortunately work, job and PhD applications, and jury duty have all consumed my time. So in anticipation of my review to be posted on February 25, here is an wonderful video to whet your appetites. This exhibition is nothing short of amazing and I look forward to sharing my review with you soon!

1 Comment

Museum Life: the exhibition film

Banner for Exhibition on Screen,

Banner for Exhibition on Screen,

Continuing on the theme of last month’s Museum Life post, another relatively new approach in reaching audiences is the exhibition film. Recreations of the exhibition experience have been around for a while now, with interactive panoramas, dedicated websites, or static photographs or videos of each gallery space displayed online through their respective institutions or organizers.  By contrast, these exhibition films are highly produced–for high-profile blockbuster shows–and are the length of a feature film. These films then go on tour, playing at theaters around the country for a brief period or single-showing.  While this kind of costly production isn’t possible for every institution, it’s an interesting idea and I think could be executed with varying degrees of production, achieving the same end of bringing an exhibition to a wider audience.

I wonder if this departure from the usual exhibition presentations (catalog, brochures and postcards, websites) was inspired by the 2002 film, Russian Ark–a single-shot take of the Hermitage, in which an unseen narrator and an actor portraying the Marquis de Custine walk through and engage with centuries of Russian art, luminaries of Russia’s past, and specific historical events.  That film could be the closest I ever get to the Hermitage, and the experience was enchanting and immersive.

I was able to see one of these exhibition films, David Bowie Is, produced by the Victoria and Albert Museum.  I was pretty excited about this showing as it combines two of my favorite activities–going to the movie theater and going to exhibitions–that experience of entering another space and potentially becoming completely, utterly immersed in what is before and around you.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 2.29.15 PM

The film began with a very brief introduction to the physical environment and mission of the V&A, and went on to include numerous shots of the gallery rooms and the objects within them, with extensive commentary by the curators, amounting to a personal tour.  There were multiple returns to a talk-show type set-up with various invited guests giving their personal impressions or memories of Bowie, such as musician Jarvis Cocker and designer Kansai Yamamoto.  To emphasize the feeling of “being there” and having a conversation with other exhibition-goers, the filmmakers returned several times to the capture of audience reactions and commentary in the galleries.  A visual bridge between transitioning to another gallery room or exhibition focus often consisted of stylized presentations of guests in frozen poses, gesticulating towards or contemplating the costumes, lyric sheets, posters, or multimedia presentations before them. These unnatural, freeze-frame poses annoyed my film-going companion, but given the highly theatrical and endless poses of Bowie, this strategy seemed fairly fitting to me.

A post on the art blog Hyperallergic briefly discusses the exhibition film in general (in a positive light) and cites concerns amongst some observers that it cannot reproduce the experience of being at the exhibition and seeing the art in person, with reference to Walter Benjamin’s famous essay.  Of course it cannot completely replicate it, but as Benjamin also observed the reproduction is not a mere carbon copy of the original and becomes something else entirely; it is true that the original is transformed and you are having a completely different experience in watching the film–not necessarily a bad thing.

The emphasis on audience thoughts, memories, and opinions spilled over offscreen to those of us in the theater watching David Bowie Is.  A woman sitting beside me, nearly in tears–a big Bowie fan like the rest of us–turned to my friend and I afterwards and implored us to do whatever it took to get up to Chicago and see. that. show.  She talked about the experience of wearing headphones and listening to Bowie’s songs while reading his hand-written lyrics, seeing the costumes up-close, and being completely surrounded by all that glorious Sound and Vision (sorry–couldn’t resist it).

The exhibition film can not only bring together interested people in one room (similar to the gallery space), but effectively transport and involve viewers from far-flung places in the exhibition experience. Access is a significant result of these cinematic exhibition representations, and on a grand, immersive scale that currently appears to have positive benefits for art lovers worldwide.