Documenting Fashion

Complicating Portraiture and Ethnography in a Photograph from National Geographic, August 1926

January 2, 2015 by Liz

Ethnography and Portraiture

A MAKU SQUAW AND HER HUSBAND: PARIMA RIVER (two photographs printed at the bottom)

Whilst flipping through a copy of National Geographic from August 1926 as part of my PhD research, which examines globalization and the representation of Brazilian dress in the magazine, I came across an intriguing image. It was of a man and woman of the Maku population, indigenous to the northwestern Amazon. On first glance, I interpreted it within the repressive protocols of an ethnographic study: a visual uniformity rendered by the full-body portrayal of the subjects, who were depicted one per frame, facing the camera in a bright, narrow space. The title of the photograph anchored such a reductive reading of the individuals depicted: ‘A MAKU SQUAW AND HER HUSBAND: PARIMA RIVER’.

Yet the caption, by contrast, set in motion a dialogue that oscillated precariously between passive objectification and subjective agency. The caption read: ‘the woman has decorated her shoulders with an old piece of cloth for the purpose of having her photograph taken’ [my italics]. The caption humanized the subject through the use of dress which rendered her as active and encouraged the viewer to interpret the photograph in terms of a self-aware and consciously styled portrait. Inherent is the suggestion that the previously marked and classified subject has deliberately and self-consciously fashioned herself for the photographer; this act suggests not simply an awareness of being on display, but a knowing and consensual performance that undermines a deterministic reading of the image.

Tamar Garb has delineated this slippage between the tradition of portraiture and racialised ethnography in her examination of the 19th-century colonial application of photography in South Africa, which she uses as a locus around which to discuss several examples of 21st century South African art photography:

‘Where the ethnographic deals in types, groups and collective characteristics, portraiture purports to portray the unique and distinctive features of named subjects whose social identities provide a backdrop for individual agency and assertion’.

Garb outlines the stipulations of ethnographic photography and portraiture and draws attention to the noticeable parallel between the characteristics that indicate the authoritarian measures of the former – full frontal exposure, visual uniformity, the minimization of light and shadow – with the individualizing tendencies of the latter. In National Geographic, this photograph can be viewed as a collaboration that reflected the choices of the individual, who was clearly a willing participant in the image-making process, choosing her own props, pose, expression and style of presentation. This willing and collaborative aspect, highlighted through the subject’s self-fashioning, displaces the institutionally imposed objectivity characteristic of ethnographic images of others, and complicates a straightforward reading of the image.


T. Garb, Figures and fictions: contemporary South African photography, (London: V & A Publishing, 2011), p. 12

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“Sweeping Guineas off the Vogue counter”: Art and Fashion, Then and Now

December 30, 2014 by Emma

Art and Fashion

On the 12th December 2014, the V & A, in collaboration with the Photographers’ Gallery London, hosted a conference entitled ‘Inventing Elegance: Fashion Photography 1910-1945’. The presented papers placed the careers of Edward Steichen, Horst P. Horst, Louise Dahl-Wolf, Cecil Beaton and Toni Frissell, to name a few, within a period of dynamic social and technological transformation. The conference was a celebration of creative collaboration – not only between individuals (photographers, art directors, editors, models, designers and artists) but also between art forms. Susanna Brown discussed the link between Horst’s bas-relief series and Classical sculpture. Oriole Cullen described the interplay between fashion illustration and fashion photography. William A. Ewing drew some remarkable similarities between painting, particularly European portraiture, and the poses adopted by Steichen’s models. Ewing also posed the idea that these photographers were in someway ennobling ‘trivial’ fashion by referencing ‘high brow’ art forms. We see a similar strategy in the early 1920s with British Vogue, under the editorship of Dorothy Todd. Todd’s intentions were to convert Vogue into a study of the contemporary world: a guide to the modernist way of dressing, living, reading, and seeing.  Virginia Woolf, along with many of her Bloomsbury compatriots, contributed to the magazine and was criticised for doing so. The anxiety between art and commerce was as ubiquitous then as it is today. Artists such as Steichen saw no problem with art for commercial purposes, as Ewing pointed out, as long as the images were ‘useful’. The commissions were certainly useful to Woolf, both economically and in circulating her name. Yet some challenged the ethics of the Bloomsbury Group’s decision to accept these commissions. Writing to Vita Sackville-West in response to criticism by Logan Pearsall Smith, who asserted that Woolf should maintain prestige by only writing for ‘serious’ newspapers. Woolf asked “whats [sic] the objection to whoring after Todd [Editor of Vogue]? Better whore [. . .] than honestly and timidly and coolly and respectably copulate with the Times Lit. Sup.” However the assignments were short lived. Conde Nast, who was unhappy with the dwindling sales and the magazine’s overtly literary path, fired Todd in 1926.

Fast-forward ninety years, and Bloomsbury yet again adorns our fashion pages. Yet this time, it is within the November 2014 issue of Harper’s Bazaar in a spread entitled ‘Among the Bohemians’, shot at Charleston, The Bloomsbury Group’s country home. Justine Picardie, editor of Bazaar, wrapped up the conference with an insightful look into the pages of Bazaar today, through the eye of the magazine’s past. Picardie spoke extensively about Bazaar’s legacy to combine fashion with wider culture, in particular art and literature. Art and fashion have always had a complex relationship. As Picardie puts it, the two inhabit the same environment and hence often overlap – in their greatest moments colliding to make something brilliant, innovative, and beautiful. The collaboration between the V&A and Bazaar on their series of V&A covers, particularly those photographed by Cathleen Naundorf, are a testament to this. Bazaar has succeeded in the upkeep of ever-strengthening links between contemporary writers and artists. Picardie’s talent lies in achieving a unique point of view, balancing the witty with the serious, the light with the dark and the high fashion with the thought-provoking journalism. All the while, Bazaar maintains a unique point of view and above all, integrity.

‘Among the Bohemians’ is a poignant piece in that it acts as a bridge between the past and the present. There is an interesting conversation between Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s eclectically designed interior seen in the background, and the colourful dresses in the foreground by diverse designers ranging from Fendi, to Paul Smith, and Louis Vuitton. The photographs celebrate the irreverent clashing colours created by merging objects from the Omega Workshops, murals, textiles, textures, couture, shocking red hair, ceramics and furniture.

Woolf used fashion to explore binaries such as surface and depth, intellect and frivolity, commerce and art. At Bazaar, fashion, art and literature combine to create something beautiful. And if artists are “sweeping Guineas off the Vogue counter” by facilitating these interchanges, then let the whoring continue.



‘Inventing Elegance: Fashion Photography 1910-1945’, 12th December 2014, V&A

A Writer’s Diary: Being Extracts From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, ed. Leonard Woolf (London: Persephone, 2012)

Cohen, Lisa, All We Know: Three Lives (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012)

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Biography of Objects at the Museum of London

December 26, 2014 by Rosily

Last week our MA History of Dress class was lucky enough to be allowed into the clothing store at the Museum of London, where over 27,000 objects of dress are conserved, catalogued and housed. This was my first experience in a museum store of any sort, so naturally I was very excited. Many of these objects enter the collection as part of a large lot bought at auction, often making it difficult to ascertain who owned it and how and when they wore it. We met one of the dress curators, Beatrice Behlen, who showed us how the key to unlocking the mystery behind the owner can often reside in the most unlikely of places: buttons, soles of shoes and pockets on jackets. Because clothing is something so personal, the 24,000 dresses, suits and shoes collected by the Museum of London, which range in date from the Tudor period to the present day, are more powerful a self portrait, than could be depicted using paint or photography, but only if the owner can be identified!


Inside the dress store at the Museum of London

We were shown a variety of different garments, including a pair of shoes made and worn during clothing rationing in the Second World War, which had been reinforced with metal studs by the owner, to prevent wear and prolong their life.

One of the most intriguing objects we were shown, and arguably my favourite, was a very small blue leotard, covered with gold spangles, and finished with metallic lace. This rather unusual garment was donated to the museum in 1928, as part of a group of clothing which dated from 1860 to 1875. The task of the curator was to determine why this garment was made and who wore it.


Leotard in the Museum of London collection

Beatrice explained to us how, by comparing the shape of the leotard, she was able to note similarities between it and costumes worn by famous acrobats in photographs taken at the time, with the distinctive deep-V neckline. This allowed her to give an approximate date to the garment.  However, external sources like photos can only take one so far. The rest of the deducting had to come from closely examining the object itself.

The metal buttons on the leotard where not all the same- they were made by two different designers, as was indicated by the tailors’ names on the surfaces. Some of the buttons came from a tailor called ‘Adolphus,’ on Leadenhall Street, while the others are labeled ‘J.W. Calver, Walthamstow.’ This simple fact alone suggests that the garment was not made professionally, although, of course, buttons may have been changed at a later date after loss or damage.  However, tracing the careers of these two tailors allowed Beatrice to confirm, with slightly more certainty, a date of creation. Aldophus went out of business in 1880, so these buttons must have been in existence before that date, while J.W. Calver only started his company in 1861. He continued working into the 1890s. This, along with comparisons made with the acrobats’ photographs, points to a date in the 1860s.

The silver lace, made of thread plated with a thin coat of silver metal, was comparable to other, much earlier examples of dress in the museum’s collection. This, along with the mismatched buttons, suggested that the leotard was made at home, reusing materials from old clothes. Its very small size indicates that a child wore it, and therefore, it is likely that it was made for (very elaborate!) fancy dress. This appears to be confirmed by the rather unprofessional style of stitching on the garment, particularly on the red rosette, which gives it an altogether homemade appearance.

It is fascinating to imagine the child who wore this costume, perhaps having been inspired by seeing an acrobat, or wanting to copy a popular celebrity of the day. This is truly an example of clothing’s ability to share the biography of its wearer. Maybe one day, someone will look through my old dressing up box, trying to piece together the story behind my childhood costumes, which, much like this leotard, were made for me by an equally doting, and equally talented, mother.


Beatrice Behlen, ‘Acrobatic Mystery… belatedly continued,’ Museum of London blog, 7 February, 2012


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The Memory Locket

December 23, 2014 by Nicole


Jewellery is a term that every woman – and man – will recognise. It is how we, as individuals, are able to supplement our bodies through personal adornment with these small and often decorative items. Personalising our bodies can visually communicate to other people about our lives and circumstances. For example, the tradition of wearing a wedding ring is identified with the fourth finger of the left hand. The wedding ring is a sentiment to love, but can also indicate wealth based upon the elaborateness of the materials and stones used. The wedding ring is therefore a clear indicator of one’s marital status. However, one piece of visible jewellery that can be recognised as bearing a more sentimental and personal relationship to its wearer is the memory locket.

My memory locket is the one piece of jewellery I wear daily. It had previously belonged to my biological grandmother, after being presented as a gift from her closest friend on her wedding day. Such a gift can be recognised as celebratory because it provides a tangible memory and link to the couple’s marriage. This aspect of the tangible memory reflects Elizabeth Wilson’s focus on the idea of acknowledging clothing as ‘congealed memories.’ Wilson’s idea can especially be applied to the function of the memory locket with regards to storing photographs. The opening of the locket reveals the place where two photographs were kept: one of my grandmother and the other of my grandfather. Although the image of my grandfather remains in tact, unfortunately the image of my grandmother has disintegrated over the years. A sense of intimacy is created between the wearer and the locket when realising that photographs of family members are stored inside. This intimacy is further heightened with where the locket is worn. Lockets are generally worn on chains around the neck and so are kept very close to the wearer’s body, and especially the heart, further expressing the intimacy and sentimental relationship between locket and wearer.

The original function of the locket was to remember and honour the couples wedding day. However, once the locket changed hands, the sentiment changed. I had not known my biological grandparents, for they had died shortly after their marriage in 1960. Furthermore, when the locket came into my possession, it served more of a funerary purpose. Therefore, these changing sentiments can be considered as integral to connecting with the narratives of the past wearers. As a result, the memory locket can be understood as encapsulating the overlap of layers of memories based upon its history and relationship to the wearer.

Elizabeth Wilson. Adorned in Dreams – Fashion and Modernity (London, 2003)

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How to Get In and Out of Taxis Wearing a Kimono

December 19, 2014 by Lisa


Kimono etiquette – from entering and exiting taxis, to sitting on a Western-style sofa


A guide to stairs, tea and doors


A variety of undergarments


To a certain degree the way we move is dictated by our choice in dress and clothing. The way we walk is governed by our choice in footwear. The way we carry our bodies is guided by the way we carry our bags. Or our length of skirt dictates the way we pick something up off the floor. But this is something that we learn for ourselves through experience, knowledge of one’s own clothing, or perhaps from embarrassing knicker-flashing mishaps. It is not taught to us, which is why, finding an instructional manual detailing how a woman should move in a kimono in contemporary situations, was entirely fascinating to me.

Upon going through my grandmother’s kimonos and possessions, I found in among the miscellaneous objects a brochure from 1969. The contents of the brochure seem bizarre and paradoxical: a clash of temporalities between the ancient traditions of the kimono and the modern Japanese woman.

The reader is instructed how to wear the kimono, showing the various undergarments and steps that build up towards the final image of the kimono we are accustomed to. However, there are also pages where the reader is taught how to move and function in modern social situations, whilst wearing a traditional kimono. One image educates a woman on how to enter and exit a taxi in the correct manner. Another shows the reader how to sit on a Western-style sofa. There are also instructions on how to conduct more traditionally Japanese activities: bowing, opening sliding doors and drinking tea without splashing hot water all up your sleeves. These instructions seem bizarre and comical in their simplicity, but demonstrate the change in the body’s movement when wearing a kimono, and how one is constantly aware of one’s actions in garments that are unfamiliar.

These instructional images and descriptions jar with our autonomous understanding of our own body’s movements and how clothes affect them. The fact that women were shown how to move, when they wore this clothing is symptomatic of the problematic position of the kimono in Japanese society, as it is a form of dress that is slowly dying, becoming a cultural relic of Japan. As the roles of modern women have changed in Japanese society, the multi-layered and restrictive kimono is worn less and less. In modern Japan, the average person will wear ‘Western’ clothing, whilst the Kimono has been sidelined to a role denoting national identity and old-world traditions. This has not only led to a decline in the silk industry and the artistry of the kimono, but has led to a loss of understanding of how a kimono is worn, something that was traditionally passed down from mother to daughter.

The brochure is revealing of attempts in the 60s and 70s to reposition the kimono in a modern society, so as to preserve its significance in Japan. The depicted alterations and accessories that create comfort and ease highlight the tensions between old and modern post-war Japan. An attempt that is still being made today with efforts to reinvigorate the Japanese silk industry, and the wearing of the kimono at important events. However, without education in how a kimono is worn, these anxieties and tensions will endure.


Kennedy, Alan. “Kimono.” The Berg Fashion Library. 2005. (accessed 15 Nov. 2014).

Milhaupt, Terry. “Kimono.” The Berg Fashion Library. Sept. (accessed 15 Nov. 2014).

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‘Unfit for Ladies’: A sensorial reading of Keats’ The Eve of St Agnes

December 16, 2014 by Emma

Madeline after Prayer (from John Keats, The Eve of St. Agnes, st

Madeline after Prayer (from John Keats, The Eve of St. Agnes, stanza XIX, lines 4-5) After Daniel Maclise, Etching and engraving of chine collè, 1871, 61.5 x 44.1 cm, Metrpolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Whilst recently browsing through Entwistle’s The Fashioned Body I came across a passage describing the shortcomings of the costume museum with regards to the understanding of a garment:

“What it cannot tell us is how the garment was worn, how the garment moved when on a body, what it sounded like when it moved and how it felt to the wearer. Without a body, dress lacks fullness and movement; it is incomplete.”[1]

This got me thinking about the body upon which she places so much responsibility. Must the body be alive? Is it a present day body? How about a static body in a photo or picture?  How about a mannequin, or a fictional body? That evening, by some uncanny coincidence, a friend passed a beautiful edition of Keats’ Selected Works over to me and I opened it up at random. I began to read and realised that I had landed on one of the most sensually arousing descriptions of a dress in nineteenth century literature. The Eve of St Agnes tells the story of a young virgin who hurries herself off to bed on this special feast night having heard that she may have “visions of delight”.[2] Meanwhile, Porphyro – a smitten young admirer- has snuck into her room to watch her undress. There is a risqué interplay of religious eroticism at work- he swoons at her piety whilst watching her rush through her evening prayers- unbeknownst to him she’s just after these sweet dreams. In this poem, clothes are endowed with life. Even before the poetic striptease begins, Keats uses an anthropomorphic image by describing the female guests at the party as “many a sweeping train /Pass by”. The personified dresses do not require a body to exude a sense of movement. At the pinnacle of the poem, Keats’ tableau vivant is quasi-religious again. Madeline’s chamber is set against a large ornate arched casement. Imagery of sensual excess surrounds this structure as Keats describes the engravings and glass as oozing with “fruits and flowers” […] stains and splendid dyes”. The moon, almost as if a theatrical spotlight, bursts onto this rich tableau – throwing “warm gules on Madeline’s fair breast” and reminding us that the object of desire here is of an erotic nature. Keats’ slow motion striptease is the apex of the poem:

“Anon his heart revives: her vespers done,
Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
Loosens her fragrant bodice; by degrees
Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:
Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,
In fancy, fair St Agnes in her bed,
But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.”

The pace of the poem is skilfully measured out linguistically- we can relate to the time consuming task of removing all the pearls from one’s hair. The jewellery pieces come off one by one and the bodice is loosened by degrees. For someone eagerly awaiting nightly visions Madeline does not seem to be in a hurry at all, and this tempo adds to the anticipation. This sensory unveiling of the body is by no means restricted to the visual senses. Madeline’s “warmed jewels” and “fragrant bodice” alongside her luxurious dress that “creeps rustling” are powerful conduits of touch, smell and sound. Keats’ gift lies in being able to communicate in words “the experience of a sound, a color, a gesture, of the feelings of arousal”[3], conjuring up, I would argue, the movement and fullness that the museum garment of Entwistle is lacking. It is this haptic immediacy that a museum lacks, and not a body. So, as debauched as Porphyro’s lingering eye may seem, we do not condemn it: the sensory description of erotic cloth is enough to give life to the dress and we, as readers, are as captivated.  In Keats’ poem, “cloth is a message carrier for both for desiring and being desired.”[4] No wonder it was deemed “unfit for ladies”.[5]

[1] Entwistle, Joanne, The Fashioned Body, (Cambridge: Polity, 2000) p.10


[3] Laura U. Marks, Touch, p.1


[5] Bennet, Andrew, Keats, Narrative and Audience (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1994) p.5

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‘Addressing Images,’ Brown Bag Discussion Group

December 15, 2014 by Rosily

collage image by Alexis Romano

collage image by Alexis Romano


Friday 6 February, 2015

12:30-14:00, Research Forum South Room, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, WC2R 0RN

This series of brown bag events opens up discussion of dress’ significance within imagery – whether paintings, prints, photographs, advertisements, film stills or drawings. It brings together dress and art historians, as well as those interested in exploring issues and meanings within representation. A single image will be shown in each session, giving participants the opportunity to re-examine familiar, and confront new representations of fashion and dress. We will rethink images through the lens of dress history, and consider what is shown from the perspective of participants’ own research. The aim is to provide a forum to debate, share reactions to images, and to consider ideas about fashion, dress and representation in an informal environment. This is part of our celebration of fifty years of History of Dress at The Courtauld, and reflects our desire to share and build upon the innovative work being undertaken in this field at the Institute with the wider community, and beyond.

Open to all, free admission.

Taking place over the lunch hour, these sessions are open to all – though it is necessary to register to attend – and a packed lunch will be provided.

Next session will be held on Friday 27 February

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Alexander Wang x H&M Collection

December 10, 2014 by Lauren

Wang H&M

Another year, another collaboration – Alexander Wang x H&M

After an endless slew of sneak peaks, ad campaign previews and instagram teasers, the highly anticipated Alexander Wang x H&M collection, announced at Coachella in April, finally hit the stores on November 6th. The inordinately long queues of eager shoppers wrapping around several blocks across many cities, many of whom slept on the pavement to ensure access to the collection, and H&M’s website crash due to excessive traffic, are testament to the collaboration’s popularity and tremendous success. It took only a few days for the majority of the collection to sell out. However those disappointed in missing out, need not fret as several of the collection’s coveted items are available on eBay, although with fairly sizeable mark ups. For instance, one puffa jacket that retailed at £249.99 is currently listed on the site for a staggering £599.99.

A distinct athletic theme runs throughout the collection, with the clothing and accessories adhering to Wang’s signature monochromatic colour palette limited to blacks and greys. The fashion show promoting the line aptly had a running track as a runway, the center of which housed a gymnasium structure replete with bars, weights and a trampoline. While sportswear has increasingly infiltrated everyday street-wear, items in this collection contain functional detailing rendering them appropriately suited for the gym. The performance potential of the clothing is evident with the use of water-resistant fabrics, reflective strips, side ventilation zips and quick-drying t-shirts. The accessories of real-life boxing gloves, goggles and a magnetized Alexander Wang trophy cup underscore the sporty theme. Above and beyond the practicality of the collection is the tough and edgy vibe of the clothing that is achieved through the use of unconventional materials, fabrics and textures. The sweatshirts, t-shirts, leggings, coats, crop tops and bralettes contain mesh, scuba and latex detailing.

The fashion frenzy Alexander Wang x H&M elicited was easy to predict given the precedent of collaborations between high-end designers and low-end retailors. Such collaborations have become an annual staple of H&M, as the company has put forth collections by Isabel Marant, Karl Lagerfeld, Lanvin, Stella McCartney and Jimmy Choo. Other retailors have jumped on the ‘high-end for low-end’ bandwagon, which has become a fashion formula that seems to ensure commercial success. For example, Target has released collections by Missoni and Phillip Lim, both of which incited levels hysteria tantamount to that of Wang’s collection.

The cachet of brand names is predominantly what attracts flocks of consumers and drives the success of such collaborations. One quickly detects a pattern when flipping through the Alexander Wang x H&M lookbook – the inclusion of ‘WANG’ is featured on virtually every article of clothing and accessory. The prominence of the designer’s name plastered throughout the collection’s items literalizes the phenomenon of brand desirability that permeates contemporary fashion culture. There is a strange pleasure that exists in wearing something discernably designer, as high-end retail is associated with exclusivity, notoriety and affluence. Introducing designer collections to more conventional stores and drastically lowering astronomical price points renders designer items accessible to the masses for a limited period of time. People feel compelled to take advantage of the rare opportunity to acquire apparel and accessories associated with a famous designer or brand name, despite the cheaper quality in comparison to actual designer products. The widespread phenomenon of brand obsession speaks to the way elements of dress are viewed as status symbols, where designer items are exalted to a position of eminence within the fashion hierarchy.



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Women Make Fashion/Fashion Make Women conference on 16 May 2015

December 9, 2014 by Rosily

Please join us to celebrate fifty years of History of Dress at the Courtauld!

Fashion Show, Barrett Street School, 1958. (Courtesy of the London College of Fashion Archives © (1958) The London College of Fashion.)

Fashion Show, Barrett Street School, 1958. (Courtesy of the London College of Fashion Archives © (1958) The London College of Fashion.)

As part of our celebration, this one-day conference, ‘Woman Make Fashion/Fashion Make Women’, explores the relationship and significance of women in designing, wearing, promoting, curating and writing about dress and fashion. Speakers will consider this both from the perspective of those working professionally in the field, and those who consume, wear and document fashion. The conference will provide the opportunity to question how changes in dress, and its representation and exploration through the media, academia, and exhibiting, have impacted upon relationships between women and fashion, since 1965.

Women, including Stella Mary Newton, who set up the first Courtauld course in the History of Dress, have been central to developing the discipline and exploring dress’ multifaceted meanings. They have also been important in the design and dissemination of fashion as a product and as an idea. This conference celebrates and critiques the role women have taken in making fashion, and, by extension, the role fashion plays in making women – by defining and constructing notions of gender, sexuality, beauty and ethnicity. We will take a global, interdisciplinary perspective to seek an overview of women’s significance to fashion and dress and vice versa. 

As part of our preparations for the conference, we are interested in hearing stories of studying dress history at The Courtauld from alumnae. If you would like to contribute a story, please send it to


Saturday, 16 May 2015

10.00 – 18.00 (with registration from 09.30), Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN

Keynote Speakers: Cheryl Buckley (University of Brighton) and Judith Clark (London College of Fashion)

Speakers: Dr Rebecca Arnold (Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles, The Courtauld), Elizabeth Kutesko (PhD candidate, The Courtauld), Dr Eugenie Shinkle (University of Westminster), Alexis Romano (PhD candidate, The Courtauld), Kathryn Brownbridge (Manchester Metropolitan University), Rosemary Harden (Fashion Museum, Bath)

Ticket/entry details: £16, £11 concessions BOOK ONLINE

Organisers: Dr Rebecca Arnold (Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles, The Courtauld), Elizabeth Kutesko (PhD candidate, The Courtauld), and Lucy Moyse (PhD candidate, The Courtauld)

For more information and updates on the conference please see the website:

We look forward to seeing you there!

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Smells Like Niche Spirit: Rodin Olio Lusso, Le Labo and Frederic Malle to Join Estée Lauder Companies

December 9, 2014 by Brianna


In the space of a calendar month, it is possible that Estée Lauder Companies have completed three of the most important acquisitions that the premium beauty and fragrance industry has seen since its partnership with Tom Ford in 2005. A departure from established brands, the coming year will see Rodin Olio Lusso, Le Labo and Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle join the conglomerates burgeoning brand portfolio, bringing with them the much needed cliental of the millennial age.

Founded by Linda Rodin in response to her disillusionment with complicated skincare regimens and the anti-ageing market, Rodin Olio Lusso has garnered a cult following within the fashion industry, establishing itself as the epitome of modern ‘back to basic’ luxury. The success of such a niche brand resonates with the fragrance heavy weights, Le Labo and Frédéric Malle, as they rely as much on their exclusivity as they do their uncompromising quality. Curated by Malle, Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle is founded upon the ideology of returning to the lost art of perfumery that has fallen victim to the superfluous range of fragrances marketed today. Each signature scent is developed by an individual nose, who begins from the premise of an‘olfactory sketch’, in which the sense of smell evokes memories that envelope the body of the wearer. This is not dissimilar to the manifesto of Le Labo’s elusive creators, who not only believe in the power of the ‘hand’ in each bottles inception, but that ‘fine perfumery must create a shock- the shock of the new combined with the intimately familiar’. For many a faithful Lauder customer, this will certainly be the case.

Whilst each brand retains an individual identity that Malle himself has assured will be ‘respected’ (which has indeed been proven by the case of Jo Malone); it is questionable to what extent the integrity of their ethos to reject marketing over the product will be upheld when according to reports at WWD, President and Chief Executive Officer Fabrizio Freda has said that their purchase is itself an attempt to ‘maintain steady annual growth’. No doubt such growth will be the by product of globalising the products outside of exclusively American, French and British markets, but with the exception of Rodin Olio Lusso, surely this can only be to the detriment of their existing customers and brand image. Indeed, it is the very heart of the fragrances’ creation and appeal that they are representative of a woman who desires the exotic and exceptional other.  This is a customer whose ‘essence’ cannot be expressed via a bottle of Youth Dew, but rather one that wishes to be the Carnal Flower amongst wallflowers.

There is however a reason why after 68 years Estée Lauder still reigns supreme over the likes of LVMH – it is because it evolves with its customer. In recognising the allure of the ‘niche’ that is founded upon quality rather than quantity, perhaps we will see Lauder reinvigorate the beauty industry for the better. If not, at least we will all smell fantastic.


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