Work in Progress Archive

Doctoral Docs – History of Dress PhD, Lucy Moyse

Thesis title: Danger in the Path of Chic: Violence in Fashion between the World Wars, in London, Paris, and New York 
This documentary is based on my PhD on violence and trauma in interwar fashion. The short piece was produced as a part of Doctoral Docs, a pilot programme at The Courtauld organised by Dr Alixe Bovey, and shot beautifully by Mike Saunders of ProperGander Films. It was an incredible opportunity to learn how to create a film from scratch, and to present my doctoral research for a wider audience in an entirely new way. I hope you enjoy the result. The video can be viewed here.
With many thanks to Alixe, Mike, Rebecca Arnold, and Kerry Taylor Auctions.
You can read more about Lucy and her research here!

Annette Kellerman on ‘How to Swim’

With our MA Dissertations out of sight (if not quite yet out of mind), we can start to follow the tempting threads of research that have been appearing over the last few months. During my writing and research on the dress and physical performances of Australian women in Britain from 1900-1940, I was distracted time and time again by the writings of Annette Kellerman. Annette was a champion swimmer, diver and eventually Hollywood’s first onscreen ‘Mermaid’. She pioneered practical bathing suits for women as part of her advocacy for women’s health and exercise, and amongst several publications, released How to Swim, in 1919.

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Kellerman in ‘How to Swim’, demonstrating the elegant potential of swimming for women.

In How to Swim, Kellerman used her characteristically direct style of address to confront critics who would question the respectability of women becoming involved in sport:

‘Not only in matters of swimming but in all forms of activity woman’s natural development is seriously restricted and impaired by customs and costumes and all sorts of prudish and Puritanical ideas. The girl child long before she is conscious of her sex, is continually reminded that she is a girl and therefore must forego many childhood activities. As womanhood approaches these restrictions become even more severe and the young woman is corseted and gowned and thoroughly imbued with the idea that it is most unlady-like to be possessed of legs or know how to use them.’[1]

She believed swimming was the ideal form of exercise for women as it had the potential to strengthen all the muscles in the body and do away with the ‘need’ to wear corsets to maintain a feminine figure. Kellerman’s genius lay in her ability to understand the time she was living in, and the expectations and limitations women faced around the display of their bodies during physical activities. She devoted pages and pages of How to Swim to the details of dressing for swimming; differentiating between the skirted ‘bathing beach dress’ and the streamlined ‘swimming costume’, the dangers of heavy woollen swimsuits in water, and ways of maintaining (even protecting) femininity while engaging in swimming for exercise. Illustration plates in How to Swim feature Kellerman in ‘the Bathing Cape’, which allowed a woman wearing a suitably brief swimming costume to remain modest on her approach to the water, and maintain a respectable image alongside the personal freedom that exercise, and swimming in particular provided to women of the day.

how to swim 2Never one to leave a stone unturned, or an excuse unchallenged Kellerman also shares with the readers of How to Swim how she combats the particularly female problem associated with swimming—getting your hair wet. Talcum powder and a rubber bathing cap keep the hair dry and lessen the inconvenience to health and style wet hair may pose, while with a typical Kellerman flourish she suggests the inclusion of an artfully tied scarf around the head to maintain the elegance of the ensemble–because above all she maintained that an active woman was an attractive woman. For Kellerman exercise and did not erase femininity, but had the ability to enhance it.

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All images from Annette Kellerman, How to Swim, London: William Heinemann, 1919.

[1] A. Kellerman. How to Swim, London: William Heinemann, 1919. p. 45

Dissertation Discussion: Carolina

What is your title?

Between Feminism and Femininity: Tensions within the designs of Diane Von Furstenberg

What prompted you to choose this subject?

I’ve always been really interested in women’s professional wear and the role it played– and continues to play– in creating an identity outside the domestic sphere for women so I knew I wanted to write about that. Initially, inspired by our visit to the Museum at FIT in New York, I wanted to compare Claire McCardell  and Diane Von Furstenberg, because both designers used similar cutting and wrapping techniques to produce clothing that would facilitate the lives of modern women. However as the dissertation evolved, I found it was more interesting to focus on Von Furstenberg and reexamine her within her historical context, the Second Wave Feminist movement. Looking at her garments and their representation this way, it was really interesting to discover that even though she retrospectively claims to have produced feminist clothing, in many ways, they were in fact at odds with the rhetoric of the movement because they celebrated femininity, which the movement rejected.

Most inspiring research find so far?

There was so much! Overall, taking a closer look at the fashion industry in the 1970s was really inspiring. The 1970s were a real turning point for American sportswear and for women’s wear. It was fascinating to discover how the Battle of Versailles really helped to give American sportswear credibility. It was also interesting to learn that this was the moment when women gained more of a voice as consumers.

Favourite place to work?

I think I get my best work done at home as I have plenty of access to coffee and all my books. In terms of libraries though I do love Senate House, and if I need a change of scene I think the Foyle’s coffee shop is great.

Models showing off multicolored Stephen Burrow designs at the Battle of Versailles Photograph: Reginald Gray/WWD. Accessed via W Magazine, “Preview Robin Givhan’s New Book the Battle of Versailles,” March 4, 2015.

Models showing off multicolored Stephen Burrow designs at the Battle of Versailles Photograph: Reginald Gray/WWD. Accessed via W Magazine, “Preview Robin Givhan’s New Book the Battle of Versailles,” March 4, 2015.

Photograph of Diane Von Furstenberg sorting inventory of the same wrap dress she wears at her New Jersey warehouse. The image illustrates how she designed her dresses for someone exactly like herself, a working profession woman c. 1977 Photograph: unknown.

Photograph of Diane Von Furstenberg sorting inventory of the same wrap dress she wears at her New Jersey warehouse. The image illustrates how she designed her dresses for someone exactly like herself, a working profession woman c. 1977 Photograph: unknown.

The Midi- Mini crisis of 1970 represented the moment when women started rejecting Paris dictated trends. After the age of "liberating" mini skirts in the 1960s many women were upset by the unflattering midi length that hit below the knee. Life Magazine, “The Midi Muscles In” cover photograph of woman observing herself with the “midi” look whilst wearing a mini skirt. August 21, 1970. Photograph: John Dominis. Location: Bonwit Teller’s.

The Midi- Mini crisis of 1970 represented the moment when women started rejecting Paris dictated trends. After the age of “liberating” mini skirts in the 1960s many women were upset by the unflattering midi length that hit below the knee. Life Magazine, “The Midi Muscles In” cover photograph of woman observing herself with the “midi” look whilst wearing a mini skirt. August 21, 1970. Photograph: John Dominis. Location: Bonwit Teller’s.

Advertisement for Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress. A woman cycles herself and a man who reads the newspaper. May Company Catalog, 1974. Photograph: Peter Kredenser. Accessed via Journey of a Dress Exhibition catalog, 22.

Advertisement for Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress. A woman cycles herself and a man who reads the newspaper. May Company Catalog, 1974. Photograph: Peter Kredenser. Accessed via Journey of a Dress Exhibition catalog, 22.

Brazilian self-fashioning: Zee Nunes

I’m currently writing an article about fashion photographers working in Brazil for the next Photoworks annual on Fashion and Style Politics [https://photoworks.org.uk/project-news/open-submission-photoworks-annual-issue-23/]. I’m really thrilled to have been asked, and in preparation I’ve been researching some really innovative image-makers, such as Jacques Dequeker, Paulo Vainer, Guy Paganini and Henrique Gendre. Sao Paulo-based photographer Zee Nunes [www.zeenunesphotography.com], is one of my favourites. Namely because his practice is so hybrid, drawing from a range of photographic genres that encompass ethnographic, documentary, still life, ‘realist’, portrait and art photography. He re-presents these cross-disciplinary influences in subtle and nuanced ways, evoking a range of different moods, whether light-hearted, euphoric, subdued, sombre or enigmatic.

A particularly interesting example of Nunes’ practice can be seen in an April 2014 editorial shot for Vogue Brasil and entitled ‘Glamour Berbere’.[1] This shoot was the result of a collaboration between Nunes, Brazilian stylist Pedro Sales and Afro-Brazilian model, Mariana Calazans. On first glance, Calazans is presented as an exoticised, North African beauty; at one with her lush natural environment, she wears heavy gold jewellery and luxurious Orientalist ensembles constructed from rich, tactile suede and heavily patterned silks. Staged against verdant foliage, the ambiguous images are reminiscent of Jackie Nickerson’s 2002 series ‘Farm’, which documented farm labourers in Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe against their working landscapes in thought-provoking portraits that addressed the role of the camera in representing, but also constructing, identity. As a white, European-descended photographer, it might be easy to discuss inherent power imbalances between Nunes and his female Afro-Brazilian subject, drawing upon issues of racism and sexism prevalent within wider Brazilian society. But a closer look at the images easily dispels such claims. Calazans is an active subject, and these images are far too performative and collaborative to be read in such one-dimensional terms of an active (white male) photographer and a passive (black female) subject. The images highlight Calazan’s agency in self-fashioning; she poses in such a way that the distinctions between dress, body and setting are temporarily flattened, and the construction of identity becomes a fluid and performative process. Although reminiscent of European ethnographic photography, these images re-write this well-established genre of domination and objectification in a sophisticated and self-reflexive commentary that serves to erode, rather than to construct, rigid categories of race, ethnicity and nationality.

[1] Zee Nunes, ‘Glamour Berbere: Silhuetas Retas e Elegantes, traduzidas em vestidos e túnicas luxuosamente bordados na típica e rica caartela de cor do mediterrâneo e norte da áfrica’, Vogue Brasil, February 2014, pp. 294-301.

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An Auto-Ethnographic Text: Cara Delevigne for Vogue Brasil, February 2014

Cara Delevigne dominated the front cover of the February 2014 edition of Vogue Brasil, which was shot by the internationally-acclaimed Brazilian fashion photographer Jacques Dequeker. Dressed in a sparkly blue minidress by the Brazilian brand Bo.Bo., and accessorised with heavy gold jewellery designed by Lanvin and Dior, she is framed, hands on her hips, against the colourful backdrop of the Santa Marta favela. The Santa Marta favela (commonly referred to in Brazil using the more politically correct term ‘morro’, which translates literally as hill) occupies the Botafogo and Laranjeiras region of the Dona Marta hill in Rio de Janeiro. It received global media attention in 2010, when Dutch artists Jeroean Koolhas and Dre Urhahn (known as Hass & Hahn) collaborated with local residents to paint 7,000 square metres of the morro’s façade in contrasting shades of the rainbow. A symbol of pride for the local community, the Santa Marta art project featured throughout the 12-page Vogue Brasil editorial, which was entitled ‘Face to Face with the Favela: the Santa Marta hill serves as the scenario for Cara Delevigne to wear statement pieces of the season, showing that streetwear couture is the trend of the moment’.

It is not difficult to point out the strikingly asymmetrical dynamics of power in operation between the British supermodel – posing in a combination of mid to high-end Western and Brazilian fashion labels that include Prada, Chanel, Adidas Originals, Bo.Bo., Starter, Valention and John John – and the socioeconomic realities of local residents, whose own creative sartorial expressions were noticeably absent from the frame. Furthermore, it is certainly not uncommon, within ‘Western’ fashion magazines, to come face to face with similar stereotypically ‘exotic’ fashion shoots, which replace the immaculate studio for various ‘non-Western’ backdrops and cityscapes that provide an edgy and endlessly intriguing locale to display Western fashion for the curious Western viewer. Sarah Cheang discusses this at length in her fantastic article, entitled ‘’To the Ends of the Earth’: Fashion and Ethnicity in the Vogue Fashion Shoot’, wherein she comments that Western fashion frequently constructs its ‘other and self-defining conceptual opposite’ through shoots in, for example, ‘dusty Palestine, rural India, or mountainous Peru’.

But what are we to think when Vogue Brasil, with forward thinking Editor-in-Chief Daniela Falcão at the helm, turns that curious Western gaze upon itself, using the morro Santa Marta as an exotic and colourful backdrop to spice up the pages of the magazine? Certainly, there is a considerable distance between the Brazilian viewer (predominantly white European-descended women with cultural and economic capital), whose social and material reality is far divorced from that of inhabitants of the colourful morro Santa Marta, a setting which is sure to have had a cheerful aesthetic appeal for a Vogue Brasil readership. Nevertheless, it is important to situate the magazine within the cross-cultural context from which it emerged in 1975 and has since developed. Brazil is a country that sits intriguingly in between the West and the so-called non-West. In geographical terms Brazil is certainly a Western nation. Moreover, it is affiliated with the West in terms of its developing free-market economy, its large export supplies of raw materials and manufactured goods, its transition to a democratic constitution following the end of the authoritarian military regime in 1985, its high cultural institutions, and its adoption of Christianity and the Portuguese language. Yet Brazil might still be considered a non-Western nation with regard to its incomplete infrastructure, socioeconomic disparities, unequal distribution of wealth and land, poor standards of public health, and its popular and material culture which constitutes, as David Hess and Robert DaMatta have succinctly articulated, a unique site in which ‘Western culture has mixed and mingled with non-Western cultures for centuries’.

So taking this cross-cultural context into account, is it possible to discern any critical engagement in Vogue Brasil with Western and non-Western academic debates that have used the term ‘auto-ethnographic’ text or ‘auto-exotic’ gaze to refer to the way that non-Western cultures often look at themselves with Western eyes, turning their culture into an exotic product that they then offer back to the West? Mary Louise Pratt coined the term ‘auto-ethnography’ or ‘auto-ethnographic’ and used it to describe ‘text[s] in which people undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them’. These auto-ethnographic texts involve ‘a selective collaboration with and appropriation of idioms of the metropolis and conqueror. These are merged or infiltrated to various degrees with indigenous idioms to create self-representations intended to intervene in metropolitan modes of understanding’. There are numerous tropes to draw upon to demonstrate how the West has produced an exoticised image of Brazil as a site of cultural difference, usually centered on Rio de Janeiro, and on the themes of sun, sea, Caipirinhas, Copacabana beach, skimpy bikinis, and the drugs and violence associated with the favelas. So in placing this fashion shoot within the morro Santa Marta, Vogue Brasil was engaging with a well-established stereotype of Brazil that is frequently seen in the Western media; the only difference is that the violence and gun crime has been eclipsed by the dazzling beauty of the rainbow coloured buildings. Pratt writes that ‘auto-ethnographic works are often addressed to both metropolitan audiences and the speaker’s own community’ and deduces that ‘their reception is thus highly indeterminate. In using Cara Delevigne as the model, Vogue Brasil knew that this shoot would attract the attention of the Western media, which it did, appearing in newspapers such as the Daily Mail, to cite but one example, in an article by Louise Sanders entitled ‘Favela funk! Cara Delevingne rocks her signature edgy style in vivid neon brights as she works her magic in street shoot for Vogue Brazil’. Although the title suggests the Daily Mail struggled to pick up on the critical message of the shoot it nevertheless constituted, as Pratt has pointed out, ‘a marginalised groups point of entry into the dominant circuits of print culture’.

Therefore, whilst it might be easy to either dismiss this fashion shoot as an instance of Vogue Brasil following in the footsteps of Western fashion magazines, which marginalises the everyday experiences of local residents of the morro Santa Marta or, conversely, to celebrate it for its eye-catching images that frame Cara Delevigne against an intriguing backdrop, I would argue that something altogether more complicated is taking place. If understood as an auto-ethnographic text, then this shoot mobilises a far more interesting dynamic of cross-cultural contact between Brazil and the West that warrants further examination, in which Brazil is perhaps no longer subordinate to the West, but instead uses its own cultural productions to subtly fight back.

Cara Delevigne on the cover of the February 2014 issue of Vogue Brasil

Cara Delevigne on the cover of the February 2014 issue of Vogue Brasil. Image: Liz Kutesko

 

The first page of the Cara photo spread Image: Liz Kutesko

The first page of the Cara photo spread Image: Liz Kutesko

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Image: Liz Kutesko

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Image: Liz Kutesko

References

[1] Anon., ‘De Cara com a Rua: o morro Dona Marta serve de Cenario para Cara Delevigne vestir peças statement da temporada que, usadas com outras de dna Atletico, imprimem o streetwear couture que e tendencia da vez’, Vogue Brasil, February 2014, pp. 140-151.

[2] S. Cheang, ‘’To the Ends of the Earth’: Fashion and Ethnicity in the Vogue Fashion Shoot’ in Fashion Media: Past and Present, ed. By D. Bartlett, S. Cole, and A. Rocamora (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), pp. 35-45 (p. 35).

[3] D. J. Hess and R. A. DaMatta, ‘Introduction’ in Brazilian Puzzle: Culture on the Borderlands of the Western World, ed. By Hess and DaMatta (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), p. 2.

[4] M. L. Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, 2nd edn (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 8.

[5] Pratt, Imperial Eyes, p. 8.

[6] Ibid.

Dissertation Discussion: Aric

What is your title?

Madame Yevonde’s Goddess Protraits: Subverting the Surrealist Gaze

What prompted you to choose this subject?

When we visited the National Portrait Gallery in December and the archivist brought out a few of the original prints from the Goddess Series, I knew because of their stunning beauty they would be the topic of my dissertation.

Most inspiring research find so far?

I am really inspired by the depth of care Madame Yevonde took in her creative process. This ultimately resulted in her use of a cutting edge photographic techniques and color printing that created the powerful luminescence of the Goddess Series.

Favourite place to work?

I am not really a library or archive person at heart, so I spend a lot of time working coffee shops and on occasion in my flat.

Madame Yevonde, Self Portrait, 1925.

Madame Yevonde, Self Portrait, 1925.

Dissertation Discussion: Aude

What is your title?

Spectacular bodies: Paul Poiret and the display of Haute Couture (still working on it).

What prompted you to choose this subject?

I was struck by the ‘grand narratives’ that seemed to be applied to Paul Poiret’s work and life – his rise to stardom in the 1910s as the ‘king of fashion’, or as he was characterized at times Poiret ‘The Modernist,’ and his downfall in the postwar years as the couturier who would (ironically) ‘reject’ modernism. My work is an attempt at nuancing some of the assumptions that surround the couturier, notably in the years following the First World War, by looking at his involvement in the costuming of music-halls, his use of actresses in advertisements, and the relationships of power between these performers, their audience, the couture clientele and the (bourgeois) couturier.

Most inspiring research find so far?

Poiret’s acting role in Colette’s La Vagabonde (alongside Colette herself) shown at the Théâtre de l’Avenue in 1927. The fact that La Vagabonde has a sort of redemptive tone in its attempt to legitimize the hard-working actresses of the music-halls is particularly interesting in light of Poiret’s own difficulties in combining the sort of excess his persona and clothing were seen to produce and the bourgeois values of the Third Republic.

Favourite place to work?

I spent three days in Paris in the various buildings of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France for research on Poiret. The Richelieu site was a highlight, and I have to admit that consulting microfilms there made me feel that bit more professional.

The 1923 February cover of Les Modes with Mistinguett as its cover star. The gown is misattributed to Paul Poiret (the magazine apologizes in the next issue)

The 1923 February cover of Les Modes with Mistinguett as its cover star. The gown is misattributed to Paul Poiret (the magazine apologizes in the next issue)

 

Dissertation Discussion: Eleanor

What is your title?

Dressing for the Empire: Australian women in London 1900-1930

What prompted you to choose this subject?

The initial stirrings of an idea started months ago when I was trawling the British Pathé archives for another assignment and came across a gorgeous little clip from 1967 that featured models parading through a sheep shed that was reporting on uses of Australian wool in fashion for the British public. It got me thinking about the depictions of Australian fashion in the UK and particularly the depiction of the Australian woman.

Beatrice Kerr, 1907, toured Britain from 1906-1911 as 'Australia's champion Lady diver' in her patriotic, though fairly risqué swimsuit. Image via National Library of Australia.

Beatrice Kerr, 1907, toured Britain from 1906-1911 as ‘Australia’s champion Lady diver’ in her patriotic, though fairly risqué swimsuit. Image via National Library of Australia.

Most inspiring research find so far?

The most inspiring research so far have been the wonderful characters I have come across (like Beatrice Kerr, above) and they have largely determined the timeframe I’ve decided to focus on (1900-1930). The number of single Australian and New Zealand born women living in Britain during these years was incredibly high. These women largely travelled to Britain alone, with no firm plans as to employment or accommodation when they arrived. It was an incredibly bold move to take for women in this era, and fostered a particular idea about antipodean women being independent, resourceful and bit wild. With this perception already in place, and being far from the social restrictions they might face at home these women were able to transgress social norms thanks to their status as ‘outsiders’. My research is now trying to establish how these social assumptions translated into the dress and bodies of these women; the way they transgressed physically, and ways in which dress characterised transgressive femininity.

Favourite place to work?

After the necessity of trawling through old newspapers in the British Library Newsroom for a few weeks I’ve become quite attached to it. The microfiche machines mean it isn’t dead silent and there are ALWAYS tables free which means I don’t have to arrive for doors open. And the baristas at the little coffee cart inside the entrance are the only people in London who remember my coffee order. Possibly I’m there too much.

Dissertation Discussion: Leah

Title

 My working title is La Mode revee and the New York World Fair, 1939

What prompted you to choose this subject? 

I can’t quite remember how, but somehow in the course of research I stumbled across Marcel L’Herbier’s short film La Mode revee (1939), which was produced to promote Parisian couture at the New York World Fair in 1939.

Not only does the film make for fun viewing (the plot involves figures from Antoine Watteau’s painting, Pilgrimage to Cythera (1717), coming to life, escaping from the Louvre and going shopping in the top Paris couturiers), but its themes chimed directly with my own interests. I plan to explore the film in relation to the 1939 New York World Fair and questions concerning the temporality of fashion. Marcel L’Herbier is a fascinating director and one who deserves much more critical exploration and recognition.

Photo Caption: Still from La Mode revee (1939) by Marcel L’Herbier. Watteau’s painted beauties escape from their frame to go shopping in Paris’ finest couture establishments!

Photo Caption: Still from La Mode revee (1939) by Marcel L’Herbier. Watteau’s painted beauties escape from their frame to go shopping in Paris’ finest couture establishments!

Most inspiring research find so far? 

A few weeks ago I took a short study trip to Paris. In the archives at the Bibliotheque nationale de France I found some of the documents relating to the production of La Mode revee. I haven’t seen them referred to anywhere else and I didn’t unearth them until a couple of days in, so it felt like a very satisfying find! Plus, exploring new libraries is always inspiring.

Favourite place to work? 

I can be found most days in the British Library. They have (nearly!) all the books and you don’t even have to look for them on the shelves. Once you’ve ordered the book you want online the kindly librarians do all the legwork for you, so all you have to do is pick it up from the counter. That’s a win win in my opinion.

Reflections on History of Dress Essay Writing

I’m currently supervising five of my second-year students through the research, writing and editing stages of their 4,000 word dissertations. They are writing on a variety of interesting topics, which include:

The complexity of dress reflecting complicated relationships in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954);

The representation of Japanese street-style in noughties American print media;

Dress as a traveller through time, space and place in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet (1996);

A Freudian examination of British Punk fashion from 1975-85;

And, An analysis of Cecil Beaton’s dual identity in the American Vogue (March, 1951) fashion shoot, ‘The New Soft Look’.

It’s great to be helping my students tackle many of the problems I remember struggling with – structure, focus, linking the thread of the argument, avoiding colloquialisms, analysing quotations rather than simply dropping them into the text, pushing the analysis further still – and hopefully, emerging triumphant at the other end. I remember my own third-year assessed essay that I wrote in 2011, which addressed the representation of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto’s designs by the American and British fashion press in the early 1980s. I struggled with lots of aspects but thankfully had the help, not just of my supervisor Dr Rebecca Arnold, but also of the author and editor Virginia Rounding, the then Royal Literary Fellow, which is part of an amazing service the Courtauld provides for its students to help them improve their writing. For nostalgia’s sake, and because it’s fun to look back as well as ahead, I’ve included a pdf of my essay here, entitled ‘The American and British Reception and Representation of Japanese Fashion Designers in the Early 1980s’.

The American and British reception and representation of Japanese fashion designers in the early 1980s

The books of Liz's dissertation

The books of Liz’s dissertation!