Dissertation Discussion: Giovanna

What is your title?

Skin and Mirrors: The surface and self in the copyright albums of Madeline Vionnet.

What prompted you to choose this subject?

The subject of the first History of Dress Research Forum, Addressing Images event, was one the images from the photographic albums. After discussing the image, I went and did some research and realised that there was little writing about this rich collection of images, which were considered purely as a means of documentation for her designs and as copyright tools. My dissertation will consider how these photographs function both within and beyond the genre of ‘documentary’ and focus on how the visual tropes of skin and mirrors link to Lacanian ideas of the ‘self’.

Most inspiring research find so far?

I have just returned from a very exciting research trip to Paris! There I was able to see some actual Vionnet gowns at the Fashion Forward exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs. Unfortunately I was not able to see the actual photographic albums held in their archive collection, due to them being in conservation. However I was able to see digitised versions of all the 75 albums, which in hindsight was good thing as there were thousands of photos to get through. Seeing the unpublished album photographs was inspiring as there were shots that really surprised me, including some half body photographs that looks strangely like prison mugshots, showing shirts that look as if they were designed by Ann Demeulemeester or Yohji Yamamoto.

Favourite place to work?

I love to switch up my routine and make sure that I work at many different cafes and libraries to best use all the (caffeine and) resources available to me. Of all the London libraries my favourite one to work at is the beautiful V&A National Art Library (preferably in a window seat overlooking the John Madjeski garden), but I normally find myself working more often at the British Library because it is more local to me and open later.

Photograph from the Madeline Vionnet Copyright Album (1935)

Photograph from the Madeline Vionnet Copyright Album (1935)

Two Vionnet gowns and a Schiaparelli cape at the Fashion Forward exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris.

Two Vionnet gowns and a Schiaparelli cape at the Fashion Forward exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris