5 minutes with… Archive

Why Art History Matters

We read with distress the AQA Exam Board’s decision to drop Art History as an A and AS Level – this means the qualification will no longer be offered in any UK schools.  For those of us, who, like me have spent their adult lives working within the field, this decision is deeply worrying and suggests a lack of appreciation for the subject’s significance and impact at school level.

Professor Debby Swallow, Märit Rausing Director of the Courtauld, wrote an eloquent response to this news:

“The definition of Art History as a ‘soft subject’ and the demise of its existence as an A Level seriously misunderstands a subject which is enormously important to the economy, culture and well-being of this country.  History of Art is a rigorous interdisciplinary subject, which gives its students the critical skills to deal with a world that is increasingly saturated with images. It brings together visual analysis with history, languages, literature, chemistry, and art and design to name but a few inter-related areas of study and research. Those studying it at university level have a significant impact across the cultural sector, especially in public museums and galleries. Art History as a subject needs to be much better known and not denigrated. The Courtauld Institute of Art, the oldest higher education institution in this country dedicated to its study, is deeply committed to increasing understanding and enjoyment of the study of the history of art and to working with others to ensure that it is embedded across the school curriculum and is accessible to all our school students.”

We should be seeking to expand the subject, rather than, as the government’s policies with regards to school curricula have meant, reducing the focus on Arts subjects.  As our Head of Public Programmes Henrietta Hine comments, ‘In terms of widening participation young people can’t apply to study art history at university if they don’t know it exists as a subject; ceasing to offer the A level will surely only exacerbate the situation.’  Something leading Make Up Artist Kay Montano expresses in her comment:


Comments added to our Instagram posts citing Swallow’s statement and protesting this decision have shown the wealth of support for the subject in general – and the importance of maintaining, and indeed, working to increase its presence in British schools, opening it up to a broader range of young people.  As these responses from Theo Johns, a Fine Art Dealer and Agent, Farah Ebrahimi, Art Director at e15 and Philipp Mainzer Office for Art & Design, and Leslie Camhi, a journalist and author who has written for titles including Vogue and The New York Times show – art history opens our eyes to wider cultural significances and events:

theojohnsfineart farah-ebrahimi lesliecamhi

And, as Swallow points out, in an age of increasing reliance on images to communicate diverse meanings, cutting a subject that is predicated on developing an acute eye for representation’s significance and cultural resonances is wrong-headed.  This was something many of our Instagram followers commented on, including textile designer Peter D’Ascoli, and Art Historian and Costume maker Serena Foksaner:

peterdascoli serena_fokshaner

Art History as Gateway to Careers

Our alumni destinations demonstrate the breadth of experience and transferrable skills art history graduates have – in addition to those who find jobs in museums, galleries and academic, we have many who go on to work in law, banking, journalism, design, publishing and with the government, as well as many other fields. To illustrate this, here is the latest list of where our most recent former students were working six months after graduation – and remember, this is just from The Courtauld Institute:

  • Art Cuéllar-Nathan
  • Barbican Centre
  • Bloomsbury Publishing
  • Christie’s
  • David Chipperfield Architects
  • English Heritage
  • Frieze
  • Halcyon Gallery
  • Midas PR
  • National Trust
  • Peggy Guggenheim Collection
  • Pinewood Studios
  • Rijksmuseum
  • Royal Academy of Arts
  • Saatchi Gallery
  • Sotheby’s
  • Tate
  • The Courtauld Institute of Art
  • University of Cambridge
  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Yale Center for British Art

Source: Based on the latest Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey: 6 months after graduation

Art History, Dress & Fashion

My own students in Dress History, a branch of art history that again encompasses the subject’s breadth and diversity have an equally impressive range of post-graduation employment, ranging from museums and galleries, including The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York to the Mode Museum in Antwerp and Tate Modern.  Others have worked within the fashion industry, as buyers, as journalists, for example at The Stylist, at Conde Nast and for fashion show producers.  Their success is indicative of the skills art history imparts, and the passion it instills in people to think creatively about historical and contemporary culture.

This relationship between understanding of art and dress history, again supports Hine’s comment about school level teaching opens young people up to the wider range of subjects that it is possible to explore at university level.  Something several of our Instagram followers commented on, including fashion historian Cassidy Zachary – @the_art_of_dress –


Art History A Level also plays a significant role for many British fashion journalists and designers, providing early exposure to the ways art resonates within our culture, and how it has been and can be a key influence on designs – as seen in London womens- and menswear designer Phoebe English’s reaction:


Art History should be valued as a bridge between history, geography, literature and languages, and art and design subjects – it is a way to appreciate connections between arts and humanities and science subjects, and a conduit for creative expression in practical forms – as one commenter from New Zealand highlighted:


Sarah Mower, US Voguerunway Chief Critic and British Fashion Council Ambassador for Emerging Talent has been ardent in her support for this campaign.  She credits her hugely successful career in fashion journalism to studying art history and benefitting from the myriad skills it equips us with:

“I was taught art history by Griselda Pollock and TJ Clark at Leeds University – it changed my way of being able to parse imagery, adding to what I had learned through history of art at state school, and It’s impossible to imagine being where I am without that. Fluency in art history and the ability to embed layers of meaning in clothes is a given amongst British educated fashion designers- I really believe it is deeply of the essence of our national character in fashion which others look at and envy, but cannot replicate, because these things start right back in childhood – and at school. High flyers in fashion who emerge in Britain constantly apply art history to their collections – they know how to research, and often backstage interviews are like art and fashion seminars today. Erdem’s spring collection was based on the discovery of 17th century clothes on a sunken ship, and his research in Bath museum of fashion; Mary Katrantzou quoted the art and archaeology of Knossos, Sarah Burton’s McQueen collection went into enormous depth about Scottish culture and includes a dress which uses the inspiration of a Victorian etching of a shipwreck, Phoebe Philo’s Celine quoted Yves Klein, JW Anderson borrowed from Henry V111’s portraits and discussed doublets and slashed sleeves backstage. This is just to skim the surface of the most recent round of shows – My point being: this level of creative practice is part and parcel of Britain’s commercial advantage in fashion. Fashion in the UK is worth £28 billion to the economy – take away the cultural alchemy of the creative intelligence which our designers turn into design, and you just have garments.  Whilst it is pure idiocy of a government to excise a crucial commercial weapon – if they want to look at it that way – we must look at their excuses for doing so. Firstly they complain they cannot find examiners – surely there are hundreds who are reading this who can volunteer? How do we do that? Secondly, supporting teachers and teaching – how can we, the creative community, do that in practical ways? Thirdly – I want to know how these decisions about A levels were made, and are only now being presented as a fait accompli. Frankly, it is to easy to sit around writing letters to the Guardian. Practical action has to be taken.”

We urge you to sign Courtauld alumnae Nerissa Taysom’s petition to show your support for maintaining Art History as an A Level subject and to campaign for a reversal of this decision:



Comment using the link at the bottom of The Guardian’s letter page: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/oct/16/a-level-art-history-should-never-have-been-given-the-brush-off

Click the link at the bottom of The Telegraph’s page to answer NO to the question ‘Do you support the decision to scrap A-level art history?’: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/16/art-history-cant-just-be-the-preserve-of-the-middle-class-in-a-n/


The Art Newspaper: http://theartnewspaper.com/news/news/uk-university-professors-condemn-axing-of-art-history-a-level-/

Association of Art Historians: http://aah.org.uk/campaigns

BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-37642722

Raoul Dufy for Bianchini Ferier, Gazette du Bon Ton 1920, no. 8

Raoul Dufy textile print “Longchamp” for Bianchini Ferier, Gazette du Bon Ton 1920, no. 8, Courtauld collections

Raoul Dufy for Gazette du Bon Ton, 1920, no. 1

Raoul Dufy for Gazette du Bon Ton, 1920, no. 1, Courtauld collections

Degas, Lady with a Parasol, 1870-72

Degas, Lady with a Parasol, 1870-72, Courtauld collections

5 Minutes with…Jessica Akerman








The £1 Dress!

We caught up with Jessica Akerman – artist and research forum events co-ordinator – to discuss her wardrobe. In her spare time, Jessica has been dressing for London Fashion Week (Mary Katranzou last year, Paul Smith and Topshop this year), helping the models with the quick turnaround in between shows. She obviously has an avid interest in dress and fashion, whether she realises it or not, and follows the style instagrams @vonsono and @susiebubble, in between sourcing interesting pieces from carboots, charity shops, sample sales and vintage stores.

On the sunny Thursday lunchtime that we met, Jessica was wearing a fabulous corduroy pinafore from the shop Mint in Stoke Newington, bright blue sandals from Miista in Shacklewell Lane, and a collection of jewellery that included gold bird earrings bought in Westcliff-on-Sea (in a ‘fantastic second-hand shop’); a fun Swatch watch (‘I love Swatch, I love the designs, the colours’); plastic chunky rings; and a beautiful art-deco style pendant that contained strands of hair belonging to her two children. She was obviously suspicious about the prospect of being interviewed, and had brought along a change of clothes – her 1980s ‘jazzy shirt’ – but settled on the pinafore, which had its own interesting story to tell:

‘We were having our kitchen done up, and we didn’t have a washing machine, so I was spending most of my weekends in the laundrette – waiting for the washing to finish, wearing a tracksuit and a Friends of the Earth man’s anorak. I went and found this couple of really nice Cord pinafores in the sale space of Mint, put them aside, and went back to get some money out and check on the washing. When I went back to the shop, someone had put them back on the rack, and I nearly started crying. But the man who was working there took me around all of the rails, looking for the dress and looking on the arms of all the women in the shop. And then he found it, and sort of gently wrestled it off this girl, who gave it up begrudgingly… but he told her he would give her some money off her own purchases at the till. The thing is that I never buy clothes for myself, and I can never find anything that suits me, and I was feeling like a right trugger because I was in a tracksuit, and I’d been at the launderette… but it was a happy story in the end’.

Jessica has also had her hair recently re-dyed to its natural colour, and had painted her nails gold. We felt that this was important to mention, since she pointed these details out to us, and obviously has a keen awareness (as we dress historians do) of fashion not solely in terms of items of clothing, but all of the additional modifications that we attach to or adapt our bodies with. She was also enthusiastic to tell us about her Urban Outfitters brown leather bag, which was the product of some extensive (online) research, and brought over from the U.S. by her partner, taxes in addition. Unfortunately, she was somewhat disappointed by the quality, since the lining had already begun to tear. [If you are reading this, @urbanoutfitters, then please do get in touch and we can organise getting a replacement to Jessica]

When quizzed as to how she might describe her style, Jessica responded with the usual ‘hmmmm… I don’t know really’, ultimately settling on ‘eclectic’. I asked her how she negotiates ‘off-duty’ and ‘on-duty’ clothing – combining outfits for the Courtauld, doing the school run and being creative in her Ridley Road studio in Dalston. ‘I look for practicality mostly… I suppose it doesn’t differ too much between home and work, although I wear less make-up at home, and definitely dress up less’.

One of the favourite pieces that Jessica has ever owned is a 1980s dress with ruffled sleeves in green and black that she bought for £1 at a car boot sale in Somerset. ‘I was 8 months pregnant at the time, so I didn’t actually know if it would fit. But when Kit was about 4-months old I was able to go out, and that was very exciting… it was like I’d won a prize, especially because it was so inexpensive’.

Thank you very much Jessica, it was great to hear some stories from your wardrobe. If you’d like to find out more about Jessica’s creative work please go to: jessicaakerman.com

5 Minutes with… Michaela Zöschg

Michaela Zöschg is a fourth-year Ph.D. student at The Courtauld, and Research Assistant for the upcoming V&A exhibition Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery. Her thesis is titled ‘Rich Queens, Poor Clares: Art, Space and Audience of Royal Clarissan foundations in Late Medieval Europe’. She was born in Bolzano, Italy, and moved to London in 2011 from Vienna. She now spends her time between South London, Vienna and the Tyrolean Alps (and southern Italy and Spain for research). I recently spent five minutes with Michaela to discuss her experience of dress.

Can you recall an early fashion memory?

Dark red patent leather Mary Janes I got when I was about four. I still remember the excitement of trying them on in the shop, and how I insisted on having them in my bedroom, so that I could look at their shiny prettiness before falling asleep.


Church 01

Through your research, you are connected to people (women) who lived hundreds of years ago, so, in a way, you are dealing with many mysteries and interpreting silent voices. Do you feel like you must reconstruct their identities through the material evidence they left behind?

Absolutely. More often than not, material evidence – in the form of the stones of a palace or a church, in the form of an illumination or a scribble in a book, or in the form of a sculpture or a painting – is the only evidence I have, and the only means through which I can try and re-construct some of the stories of people who have lived in the past.

Can you share any comments on your everyday approach/method to getting dressed, and its connections to your own identity construction?
I think I put my everyday wardrobe together rather instinctively, without thinking about it in a methodological way. The most important thing is that I feel comfortable in my clothes and that I don’t have to think about them once I am wearing them; looking at it from this perspective, I think they are very much part of my identity, as they form some sort of second skin.

You are a passionate, talented knitter. How did you learn? What are you currently working on?

Thank you! Many members of my family are very good at making things – my mum is an amazing knitter, and my aunt was a professional seamstress, so I grew up in an environment full of fabric, yarn, wool, needles and buttons, and picked up knitting. These days, I unfortunately do not have that much time to knit, usually I end up making small gifts for baby arrivals among my friends. But I have a stash of a beautiful grey merino-alpaca blend that will hopefully soon be turned into a cosy winter layer for myself.


Can you discuss a memorable clothing purchase from your past?

That would be a simple white cotton shirt I must have bought around the years 2000/01, which was quite expensive for my budget then. I remember going back to the store about three times before finally buying it. It was a good investment – I still wear it, and it still looks as crisp as it did when I bought it.

You are one of my favourite dressers. Your overall style seems extremely considered (but natural to you) and edited. Does the word ‘uniform’ resonate with your dressing?

Thank you! Yes, you probably could describe my clothes as ‘uniform’ – I always draw upon the same materials, shapes and colours. That I like clean shapes, high-quality materials and solid colours probably adds to this ‘uniformity’ – although I think I probably prefer the term ‘timelessness’.



Fragments of denim, linen and wool garments

Where do you get your clothing from?

I like to go hunting in all kinds of places – from your average high street store to second-hand places and nice little independent shops. It is all about the process of finding a piece that can become a good and trusted wardrobe-friend.

You are my partner in black (and other dark colours)! Do you have any comments on wearing this colour?

It has a calming effect on me, I think.

Has your way of dressing changed over the years?

Very much so! I had quite a long and intense phase of wearing very colourful and ornamented clothes – bright reds, purples – with a lot of jewellery when I was younger. A favourite piece from that phase is this massive Indian mirror belt.


Has living in London affected your dress? Does your relationship to others affect your dressing?

I think London is also visually such a buzzing place that it probably has made my clothing even more reduced and simple. I think I get a lot of inspiration from my friends, from the many creative ways how they are dressing and expressing themselves.

Can you recall any examples of difficulties in the daily process of dressing? And have you ever regretted wearing a certain outfit?

The only difficulties arise if I did not have time to do my laundry. I once possessed a pair of dungarees. Not a good idea.

5 Minutes with….Professor Deborah Swallow



Professor Deborah Swallow is Märit Rausing Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art. Before coming to the Courtauld in 2004, she worked in various museums, including the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Victoria and Albert Museum, where she was head of the Indian department. Teaching in India for a year gave her a deep interest in the culture of the country, which she explored through the discipline of social anthropology and as a curator in the context of an art museum. While at the V&A she also oversaw the creation of the Nehru Gallery of Indian Art.

What are you wearing today?

Today I am wearing an older Indian jacket. It is made from a fabric that is normally used for shawls. It is a called a Nehru jacket, and the cut is based on India’s first independence Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It’s a man’s garment, and is very similar to the Achkan, which is North Indian court dress.

Where does the inspiration for your dress come from?

I started going to India in 1969 and wore what you would describe as ‘missionary dress.’ This was in the ‘60s so skirts were very short, but that wasn’t appropriate for India, so my mother made me a longer skirt. But I felt pressure to wear a sari. So I bought one for 45 rupees, but then I was told off because the quality wasn’t good enough for someone who would be lecturing at a university. So I stopped wearing saris because I couldn’t afford to buy good enough quality ones on my budget.

So I started to wear a shalwar kameez, which is long shirt over loose trousers. Now there is a very heavy Western influence on Indian dress, and Indian styles are subject to changing fashions, such as the length of the sleeves or trousers. There are also subtle regional and local variations.

Where do you get your clothes from?

I buy all my jackets readymade- I’m back and forth like a yo-yo so I’m never in India long enough to have them made for me! I get them in Jodhpur in the old town bazaar. Jodhpur trousers that are worn for horse riding actually originate in Jodhpur, because they’re horse riding people. The bazaar is seven stories tall, with really narrow staircases. It is absolutely full of textiles, both antique and new.

Do you feel that being the head of the Courtauld dictates the way you dress?

Yes, I feel I have to dress reasonably formally. I tend to wear a lot of structured clothing because it suits me. I have to wear things that are suitable for both day and evening. I wear a lot of trousers, as you might have noticed, because they are comfortable. These jackets are very practical because they can be worn over anything to be dressed up or dressed down. I can wear them over trousers like this, or over silk trousers to be more formal.

Libby [Debby’s PA] said that you keep a cupboard full of jackets at the Courtauld?

 Yes I do, to put on if I need to, but it’s not very full at the moment. This jacket is really nice- it’s quilted. There is one quilted style from Jodhpur that I really want. It’s very long and made of velvet and normally dark green. Jodhpur is in Northern India so it’s desert and can get very cold at night. So this style is perfect, it’s like being wrapped in a divan.

Any other comments or clothing secrets?

 A group of us from the Courtauld had our colours done once, so I know what goes with my complexion. I avoid yellows and browns and stick to reds and blues.

5 Minutes with… Harrison Goldman

Harrison 01

Harrison hard at work in the Courtauld Slide Library.

Detail of Harrison's jacket.

Detail of Harrison’s jacket.

Detail of Harrison's sleeve.

Detail of Harrison’s sleeve.

Harrison is a second year undergraduate at The Courtauld, currently specialising in 20th Century Modernism and Renaissance Mannerism. When he is not studying, he can often be found hard at work in the Gallery, the Research Forum, Public Programmes or the Slide Library. Harrison was the BA1 Representative for the Students Union last year, in addition to playing the role of Malvolio in the Courtauld’s first play, Twelfth Night. Beyond the Courtauld, he works as an Antiques, Collectables and Vintage Consultant, advising clients on buying and selling objects of all genres.

What are you wearing today?

Today I am wearing a navy double-breasted boating blazer, an Austin Reed pinstripe shirt, pale blue chinos and Barker shoes.

How would you describe your style?

Eclectic, vintage, traditional, sartorial.

Have you always dressed like this?

Would you believe it, no! My style emerged and developed when I discovered a love of all things old-fashioned and traditional about 5-6 years ago.

Where do you look for inspiration in how you dress?

I’m quite active in the London ‘vintage’ scene, and have met some amazing people who put real passion into their outfits. But if I see something that I like I’ll try and source one, rather than emulate an entire look.

Harrison participated in the Tweed Run on 17th May 2014, photographed here at Somerset House.

Harrison participated in the Tweed Run on 17th May 2014, photographed here at Somerset House.

How does your interest in antiques inform your style?

When handling wonderful items, in stunning settings (not to mention dealing with customers) it would be rude to wear a tee-shirt and tracksuit bottoms.

Do you have a particular dress code for the Courtauld and how does this translate when you are ‘off duty’?

We are so privileged to study in such an amazing location, steeped in history. But as I work both in and outside the Courtauld, I often need to be smartly dressed. I did however turn up in a jeans and tee-shirt for a lecture the other day, which a friend was somewhat disturbed by!

What does your look say about you?

Well that is probably in the eye of the beholder! But I hope it would suggest I take pride in my appearance.

Where do you like to shop?

Vintage shops, eBay, and the family wardrobe. I’m sometimes given things, but when buying new I try and stick to long established quality outfitters such as Cordings, Hackett, Wolsey, Jaeger etc.

Any other comments or clothing secrets?

‘Why dress down when you can dress up?’

A small part of Harrison's Gladstone bag collection.

A small part of Harrison’s Gladstone bag collection.

5 minutes with…Emma McClendon


Emma McClendon graduated from The Courtauld Institute of Art in 2011 and is now an assistant curator at the Museum at the FIT, New York. She is currently working on an exhibition on 1970s fashion by Halston and Yves Saint Laurent. She lives on the Lower East Side.

What are you wearing today?

I am wearing Alexander Wang boots and a shirtdress by Veronique Leroy. I am also wearing faux-leather shorts from Zara underneath my dress…a funny fact about New York is that in summer a lot of girls wear shorts beneath their dresses because it’s a particularly windy city! But it’s also just too hot not to wear something flowing.

How would you describe your style?

I would say minimal but with an interest in volume and different kinds of shapes and silhouettes. I wear a lot of black, white and navy. I definitely have a favourite silhouette that I wear. I tend to like chunkier shoes with skinny pants and bigger tops.

Who are your favourite designers?

Personally, I gravitate towards stuff by Alexander Wang, I wear a lot of Theory as well and I like the more minimal stuff from Opening Ceremony, based here in New York. I also wear a lot of Reformation – they are a great sustainable brand that make all of their pieces out of pre-used or upcycled materials.

What is your dress code at the FIT?

There are things I wear to work such as pencil skirts and collared shirts that I might not wear during my “off-duty time”. I probably wouldn’t wear my denim overalls, oversized sweaters and jean jackets to work. In a way, I suppose I have more tones of grunge in my off-duty look that I don’t bring to work. This is no doubt a product of having grown-up in the Nineties!

Have you ever worked on an exhibition that inspired you to dress differently?

Every exhibition that you work on affects some aspect of the way that you dress. You look at different styles and time periods every day, and you start to gravitate towards pieces. I’ve been working for the last six months on a show about 1970s fashion and since then I have invested in a jumpsuit. Also, I used to have really long hair… but after admiring a picture of Anjelica Huston on the Halston runway, I decided to cut my hair short like hers.

Did your style change whilst studying in London?

Yes. One thing that came out of me being in London was definitely black opaque tights with everything, anytime of year!

New York City summers are HOT. What are your tricks to stay cool?

You need to wear short skirts and flowing things because it is so hot here that you will die otherwise. I deal with the heat by carrying my make-up in my bag in case I need to touch-up and by leaving a jacket at work (for when it gets too cold inside with the air conditioning). One thing I would say about New York summer is that you have to embrace the heat and accept the fact that you are going to be sweaty and nasty – we are all in it together and everyone feels disgusting!

5 Minutes With… Syed Ahsan Abbas

Syed fountains
Syed rings
Syed liberty
liberty detail

What are you wearing today?
Yohji Yamamoto coat and trousers, a black Comme des Garçons t-shirt, a white Ann Demeulemeester shirt, and black Converse. Most of my wardrobe is Yohji Yamamoto, when I first tried it on, it just felt right. Like Wim Wenders says in his documentary, it’s as if he knew me. His clothes always feel comfortably worn-in, because when he designs he says that he wishes he could use fabric that was already ten years old. This means that his clothes age well, and you can buy good second-hand Yohji on the internet that still looks contemporary because he doesn’t change his line drastically from season to season.

Tell me about your jewellery?
My bracelet and skull ring are Werkstatt Munchen. The oxidised band was made for me by a friend, and I bought the agate ring in Damascus. I wear the same jewellery every day. I just got my ears pierced, so I’m on the look-out for interesting earrings.

Have you always dressed like this?
No, in the academic year of 2009/10 I used to dress crazily with lots of colour and print. I had a three-piece suit, bow-tie and pocket square. The Courtauld is a good place to dress like that because no one bats an eye-lid. Then I got ill and was away from the Courtauld for a few years. By the time I returned, I had sold everything in my wardrobe and started from scratch, because the way I was dressing and the way I wanted to dress were so different. People used to see the clothes, not me. So I stopped dressing in front of a mirror and started to wear a personal uniform. If I’m wearing all black then people think I’m wearing the same thing, but only I know about the differences in cut, proportion and line.

Can you tell me why you don’t dress before a mirror?
The way I dress is less about looking a certain way; it’s about feeling a certain way. I wanted to learn why I dress in a certain way, and it had to be a personal journey. How can you begin to understand why other people dress the way they do if you don’t understand your own choices? In one History of Dress class, Rebecca (Arnold) advised everyone to try on a corset to see how it felt. I was the only man in the class. She looked at me and said: ‘Yes, including you Syed’. I’m not a cross-dresser, but I’ve tried on a corset and a full-length gown. Womenswear is a completely different way of interacting with the world. How can you understand it if you don’t try it?

How do you store and document your clothes?
I can fit my wardrobe into a suitcase. It’s very small because I’m learning from the ground up. I never keep anything that I don’t wear, but I do keep photographs of everything I’ve bought, sold or given away. The one item I have for sentimental reasons is a tiny red sweater with ‘cheeky monkey’ on the front with a label that says ‘three to six months’. My family had very little money then, and there are no photos of me from that age, so that sweater is an important memory, it keeps me grounded.

Any other wardrobe secrets?
(Pulls out a bright Liberty-print handkerchief) I end up giving these away. When I see someone crying, which is common around exam and dissertation time, I hand them one and then through sniffles they promise to give it back to me, but I let them keep it.

5 Minutes with… Christine Quach

Christine at Somerset House, outside of The Courtauld. All photos by Jennifer Potter.

Christine at Somerset House, outside of The Courtauld. All photos by Jennifer Potter.

Perfecting the art of layering.

Perfecting the art of layering.

Melissa The Little Prince shoes

Melissa The Little Prince shoes

“S’il vous plait… Dessine-moi un mouton…”

“S’il vous plait… Dessine-moi un mouton…”

Christine’s ruffled sleeve – inspired by her love of the seventeenth century!

Christine’s ruffled sleeve – inspired by her love of the seventeenth century!

Another vintage find!

Another vintage find!

Christine hails from the ‘shire’ of Los Angeles, California. She is an MA student at The Courtauld, specialising in early modern Netherlandish art, and she is currently writing her dissertation on alchemy in seventeenth-century Dutch painting.


Tell me about what you are wearing. I am wearing a Burberry trench and a vintage French 1940s jacket over a silky blouse, decorated with hot air balloons and a little pussy bow. I paired these with a simple pair of dark jeans and my Melissa The Little Prince shoes. 


How would you describe your style? That’s a hard question because I can never actually figure out what my style is!  I think my cousin once described it as twisted and whimsical yet sophisticated. I was not exactly sure what that meant back then, but I guess now that I have developed it, that sounds about right. 


Where do you look for inspiration in how you dress? Being an art historian, I usually look at historical sources. I like to start with a theme. In the winter, for example, I am often in the mood for something Victorian, and I might dress as though I’m going hunting in the nineteenth century!


What do you think your look says about you? That I am rather eccentric.


Has being a MA student at The Courtauld influenced your fashion at all? If so, how? To be honest, unless I’m feeling good on a specific day, I often feel too stressed to dress up as often as I usually would.


Has your MA specialisation in Netherlandish art inspired your dress at all? Certainly! I always liked the seventeenth century, especially the costumes, so I like to have a lot of ruffled blouses, lace, and things like that.


What are your go-to shopping places in London? I go to a lot of sample sales. I did not realise that I would go to so many sample sales in London. 

5 MINUTES WITH… Antony Hopkins

Antony Hopkins

You would expect a librarian to be organised and efficient, and Antony Hopkins, Kilfinan Librarian, Head of Book, Witt and Conway Libraries at The Courtauld extends these professional skills into all aspects of his life. So, when I met him recently for a chat about his clothes, he had just packed away his autumn/winter wardrobe and swapped to spring/summer styles ready for the new season. This meant a pairing of crisp cotton shirt in a red and white check, and pale chinos – a suitably breezy outfit for the all too rare London sunshine.

While Antony favours American sportswear labels – today’s ensemble is all from Banana Republic – he is keen to set parameters on just how casually dressed you can be at work.  He has considered the possibility of wearing ‘a jean’ to the library, but he feels that ‘biscuit’ Calvin Klein trousers are as informal as he should go – although he has been known to wear cargo shorts in summer. And one of the things I like about Antony’s workwear is that there is always a slight holiday air to his outfits that adds to our libraries’ cheerful atmosphere.

Another aspect of Antony’s attitude to fashion that endears him to dress historians, is his consciousness of the ways clothing must not just meet your own ideas of appropriateness and style, but also – to paraphrase Erving Goffman – meet the expectations of those you will encounter in the workplace. Indeed, Antony draws on Ru Paul’s oft-quoted truism that ‘we’re born naked, and the rest is drag’, to describe his own dressing process as donning ‘work drag.’ A brilliant way to think about how we transform ourselves to – quite literally – perform our required role.

This is not to say that he ignores the more personal and intimate aspects of dressing. As he talks about his clothes, Antony continually refers to his partner and family – demonstrating how entwined our sense of self and interest in dress is with memory and relationships to others.  Thus, he describes how he and his partner share clothes – which simultaneously ‘doubles and halves your wardrobe,’ while he discusses his love of Crocs as in part a result of heredity. Since, as his Grandma would say, ‘we’re right wide-footed [in our family].’

Ah yes, the rather controversial subject of his choice of footwear. He has a big collection of Crocs, in various styles and colours that he shares with his partner. Antony sees them as not just ‘incredibly comfortable,’ but also as having a ‘Bauhaus-ness‘ to them. This opinion has led to an ongoing – good-natured – dispute with one of The Courtauld’s professors, who fails to see the link between these moulded plastic shoes and modernist Weimar design. A lively debate that only adds to Antony’s value to the dress history community, as well as to The Courtauld’s Libraries.

5 minutes with… Carey Gibbons

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Carey Gibbons is a Fourth Year PhD student at the Courtauld Institute of Art, supervised by Professor Caroline Arscott. She was born and grew up in Memphis Tennessee, lived in New York City for ten years, and came to the Courtauld in 2009.

What are you wearing?

A black sweatshirt with a giant shark made out of rhinestones and little orange spikes for the teeth, a black fake leather skirt, black leggings and black lace-up ankle boots.

Where did you find the shark sweater?

I got it from the Forever 21 store in Chicago in January.

What has been its biggest adventure to date?

I’ve only worn it a few times, but I wore it with James (my boyfriend) to the Apple store and we took a bunch of photos on their computer. I guess you could say this shirt brings out my playful side.

Why did you want to look playful today?

It was raining and I was feeling down so I put it on and I felt more upbeat and motivated. Because a shark is a fierce creature it helps me attack my day with ferocity, perseverance and determination. Bam! (pumps the air with her fist)

Is this what you wear to the Courtauld typically?

Yes, it’s pretty typical. I like wearing clothes that incorporate animals in some way. I have a lot of clothes with animal print. I have animal jewellery. I have a shark-tooth necklace which is really important to me and a fox necklace made out of rhinestones that I really like wearing.

Is there a practical aspect to what you’re wearing?

I wear black leggings a lot because they’re really comfortable. My boots are flat… I like to wear flats or low heels so that I’m comfortable.

How does being a PhD student as opposed to a staff member or undergraduate influence how you dress?

I think if I was a staff member or a postdoctoral fellow, then I would make more of an effort to look professional, but for now I’m celebrating the opportunity to wear whatever I want and express myself through my clothes.

What makes you stand out from other Courtauldians?

(Laughs) I seek to combine the sweet and the vicious in my clothes. I would say that other Courtauldians exude a less eclectic vibe and they go for one dominant style, whereas I celebrate my contradictions!

Is there anything about your appearance or dress that marks you out as a Courtauldian?

Courtauldians imbue poise and confidence. Despite going for an eclectic look, I always try and look like I’m composed.

Has your PhD in Victorian illustration inspired your dress sense at all?

Since studying Victorian illustration I’ve become more interested in prints and I’m really into designers like Mary Katranzou and Clover Canyon. I was also captivated by the use of embroidered prints borrowed from imaginary ethnic groups in the Valentino S/S 14 collection. I like experiments with line and pattern to create a mood or evoke a fantasy world.