50 YEARS OF HISTORY OF DRESS AT THE COURTAULD Alumni Interviews Part Four: Sarah Brown, Courtauld Institute of Art, MA (2013)
Each month in 2015, we will post an interview with one of our alumni, as part of our celebrations of this year’s auspicious anniversary. The Courtauld’s History of Dress students have gone on to forge careers in a diverse and exciting range of areas. We hope you enjoy reading about their work, and their memories of studying here.
Sarah Brown, MA (2013)
Sarah Brown is a recent alumnus of the History of Dress MA. After working for Lord Snowden during her degree, she went on to work as a Project Assistant for Lord Snowden for a recent publication of his photographs. She went on to be an assistant at the Condé Nast archive and library, and is now an International Permissions Coordinator for Condé Nast.
You graduated fairly recently in 2013, do you miss the student life and the Courtauld?
I definitely miss student life at the Courtauld and being surrounded by like-minded people. I miss learning new things and the ability to go to exhibitions during the day – instead of on the weekends with the rest of London!
Having studied art history as an undergraduate, did you find there was a difference in mentality and discipline between history of art and history of dress?
I think I expected there to be a bigger difference than there was. History of art provided me with the perfect foundation to studying history of dress – in the sense of analysing an object, considering its historical context and relevance. However, I do think I approached history of dress in a much more interdisciplinary way. I was using sources and theories from sociology to anthropology to magazines, newspapers and films – and I loved the sense of freedom that it gave me. For me that was probably the main difference, that I could draw on a wider range of approaches.
Were fashion and the history of dress always of interest to you, or was it something entirely new to you?
History of dress was new to me in terms of studying it but not in terms of admiring and being fascinated by it! That all started when I was three years old and obsessed with the film Singin’ in the Rain. I was enthralled by the costumes and used it as my inspiration for any fancy dress game or party as a child. This extended into other ‘Old Hollywood’ films from the ‘40s to ‘60s, and when I was around 11 years old I discovered Vogue and found out the fashion world existed.
What was your favourite aspect of the course; do you have any particularly fond memories of your time at the Courtauld?
My favourite aspect of the course was visiting archives, such as the dress archive with Beatrice Behlen at the Museum of London. I loved analysing and studying actual garments, as there is only so much you can get from studying from an image or a description and it helped to bring the course to life. My fondest memories surround the people I became friends with at the Courtauld, from chatting too nosily in the library (or pub) to visiting exhibitions together. I learnt a lot from people who were not on my course – everything from 17th century Dutch art to digital and internet art, all just from chatting to people.
Have you remained in contact with the Courtauld and in particular the History of Dress department?
I have through the alumni network such as attending drinks and the summer party. I recently got to see Rebecca Arnold, which was really great, and just speaking with her reignited my passion for the subject. And I still go to fashion/ history of dress exhibitions with a friend from my course.
As a recent graduate of the Courtauld, what have you been up to since graduating?
After graduating I was straight into working as Project Assistant on a book about Lord Snowdon’s life and career as a photographer and designer. Once the book was completed early last year I worked in the Condé Nast archive and library as an assistant. My duties varied from scanning Cecil Beaton negatives and prints (it was amazing to see how he cropped and retouched the photographs and how many images he took before the final published shot) to research on the Vogue books (I researched for Shoes, Hats and Bags). I also undertook research on photographers, such as Clifford Coffin and John Deakin. I then had a brief stint at the Courtauld! I came back as the temporary events coordinator and it was great to see how the university and gallery works behind the scenes. So I have been all over the place and have learnt so much from all my different experiences, colleagues and tasks. I am now settled back at Condé Nast in the UK Permissions office.
You mentioned the photographer Lord Snowdon, what was your role working for him, and while there did you uncover some hidden gems within his archive?
I started out working on behalf of Snowdon in the Vogue archive – whilst I was still at the Courtauld. One day a week I would go and look through volumes of Vogue since the 1950s, sourcing his work that was published in the magazine. After graduating, I moved on to being the Project Assistant on the now published book Snowdon – A Life in View. It is an amazingly curated book looking at his career as a photographer and designer and includes ephemera and never before seen photographs, and largely looks at his work for Vogue in the 1950s and 1980s. I did everything from the scanning of the ephemera and Polaroids to writing the captions, fact checking and liaising with the designers, photo agencies and high profile contributors. I constantly found hidden gems whilst working in the dark room and studio, some of my favourites were the Polaroids from the 80s – one of an unrecognisable Tilda Swindon with a mane of curly golden hair! Other gems include letters from Diana Vreeland and the Queen.
You also mentioned the Condé Nast archive and your dissertation was on the ‘Worktown’ series of photographs by Humphrey Spender. Is it safe to say that photography and the role of dress in photography is of interest to you?
Absolutely! It is an ever-growing interest. I would love to study the role of dress in photography more and it is usually where I start my analysis of any photo; even if there is no people or clothes in the image I can comment on the absence of the clothes and the significance of that.
Can you talk about the photographers and images that have sparked your interest?
How long have we got? It all started with my undergraduate dissertation of August Sander and his photographs that were to be a typology of German people during the Weimar Republic. My thesis centred on his photograph Painter’s Wife. Her androgynous nature and return of the gaze, her almost aggressive stance, modern baggy, white outfit and slicked back hair intrigued me. I managed to write a whole thesis around this image and realised I wanted to continue studying photographers. Also my interest in the relationship between dress and photography probably stems from first seeing Lee Miller’s work, whilst I was an undergraduate, and being intrigued about how she could be a wartime as well as fashion photographer. Other photographers that have sparked my interest are Saul Leiter and his early colour work, Margaret Bourke White, Edith Tudor Hart, Martin Munkacsi and William Klein.
Now you’ve recently started in a new role at Condé Nast. How are you finding it?
Very interesting! I get a real insight into how the magazines are run and all the business factors that go into making them run smoothly. I deal with all the foreign editions of Condé Nast magazines, from Vogue Germany and Vogue Australia to GQ Taiwan and Glamour South Africa. I also still get to go to the archive and do research on the Vogue books and syndication requests. I love working with the international Condé Nast titles, despite not being able to read most of them. It has given me a much wider appreciation of how countries interpret the trends they see at fashion weeks and still incorporate their own style or take on them. In particular I love the fashion shoots in Vogue Italia and Vogue Korea.
Working at Condé Nast, do you feel a pressure to dress well or in a certain way for work? (By which I mean, are all the stereotypes and clichés surrounding fashion and lifestyle publications true?)
When I first started working there all I could think about was ‘what an earth am I going to wear?’ but I was put at ease immediately. There are some people who are dressed very fashionably or stylishly – which I love as you get a source of inspiration just walking down the hallway. But it is very relaxed and doesn’t play up to those fashion clichés. You can pretty much wear what you want, from smart work wear to a billowing pink skirt to jeans and trainers. So I usually dress for my mood.
Have you found that the course has shaped your career trajectory or was this always your intention?
In a way the course has completely shaped it. It was always my intention to work in fashion or dress history but I did not see it as a realistic or possible option – and the course changed that. What it taught me is that there is a whole world belonging to the history of dress and that you can get jobs in it or find different pathways that can take you there one day. The course has given me a sense of confidence that if you work hard and have passion for the subject, a career in the history of dress is possible – I couldn’t have asked for more really.
Do you have any further ambitions or goals, in either your career or personal life?
Oh yes – I guess my main goal is to be respected and distinguished in my field, which would hopefully be the history of photography and dress. Writing more for dress and photography magazines and publications would be a dream, as would becoming a curator. But right now I am focusing on the present and I am just making the most out of my current job.
If you could own one item of dress, from any period in history or by any designer, what would it be and why?
The piece that first came to mind is the Christian Dior ‘Junon’ dress from 1949. It was the first piece of clothing I ever wrote an essay on (when I was fifteen in art & design) and it has always stuck with me as it is when I realised how much I loved researching and writing about dress history. The dress has a full skirt that is covered in sequins and beads and it seems to embody the glamour and grandeur of the era of haute couture and ‘Old Hollywood’, yet it doesn’t look far from a Vivienne Westwood or Alexander McQueen design – showing its timelessness.
Do you have any words of wisdom for any current or future History of Dress students?
Live in the moment. Throw yourself into the course and you will get so much out of it. Enjoy being able to devour books in the library and always pick essay and dissertation topics that you are passionate and excited about. Even try and get an internship whilst you’re studying and stay in touch with curators you meet and each other, and, most importantly, listen to Rebecca!Categories: Interviews | Tags: 50 Years, Alumni, Courtauld, Fashion Photography, History of Dress, Photography | Comments Off
Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Makes Women: Planning our Conference to Celebrate 50 Years of Dress History at the Courtauld
The last few weeks have been increasingly busy for Dr Rebecca Arnold, Lucy Moyse and myself, as we’ve been finalising the last few details of our conference, entitled ‘Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Makes Women’, which takes place on Saturday 16th May at the Courtauld. Preparations began last year, when we decided to organise a conference as part of our celebrations running throughout this year, which commemorate 50 years since Stella Mary Newton first set up the History of Dress postgraduate course at the Courtauld in 1965.
We’ve been looking through the Stella Mary Newton archive that is held by the Courtauld Library for inspiration, and to find out more about correspondence that was sent to and from Stella during her time at the Courtauld. We’d like to thank Phillip Pearson and Anthony Hopkins for helping us to unearth this! We came across an interesting report written by Stella in 1969, which explained one of the difficulties the course had encountered in its early years:
‘The chief problem that faces this course is the scarcity of printed material of any value at all. This means that it is difficult to direct the students to read. Should they be told to read Panofsky, for instance, although he never refers to dress? The students are urged to go to all the art history lectures they can fit in and the timetable of the course is arranged so that they can do this…They find it most interesting to listen to the approach of the art historians but I try to discourage them from applying aesthetic or stylistic evidence to their own researches, naturally, since they would invalidate their own findings on the evidence of dress’.
It was interesting that Stella seemed to suggest such a division between an object-based and theoretical approach to dress history, and it made us consider how much the discipline has evolved to the way it is studied at the Courtauld today. Examining the material object in close detail is still a fundamental part of our analysis, but our judgement is also informed by many different fields and theoretical standpoints, which we allow to inform our analysis of dress and fashion as a global, interdisciplinary and multifaceted subject. We wanted our conference to reflect this diversity and draw upon the ways in which dress and fashion have been studied over 50 years, as an object and idea. We decided to split our programme into three themes: fashion media, fashion history, and fashion curation. We then invited a selection of scholars whose work we felt would highlight the significant role that women, including Stella, have played in designing, consuming, wearing, promoting and curating dress and fashion. We had a fantastic response from the speakers and chairs that we got in touch with, who were enthusiastic to be involved in the day. Of course, we’ve had to adapt and adjust our day accordingly in view of issues that inevitably arise, usually relating to speakers who wanted to be involved but have since found out that they are going to be away, or could no longer find the time within their schedules.
This then left us to the less academic side of things… organising where speakers and chairs would need to travel to/from, and booking hotels for those who were travelling from a long way away. We are particularly grateful to Jocelyn Anderson, Cynthia De Souza, Ingrid Guillot and Jessica Akerman for helping us to organize our budget and accommodate enough tea, coffee and biscuits for everyone, and, of course, a drinks reception! We’re also finalising a few other surprises, which won’t be revealed until the day, so you’ll have to wait and see…
We’re really looking forward to Saturday 16th May. If you haven’t managed to reserve your ticket yet, then tickets are selling fast, so please do so here:Work in Progress | Tags: conference, courtauld institute of art, dr rebecca arnold, fashion history, History of Dress, stella mary newton | Comments Off
My colleague Alexis passed on an interesting Moroccan-themed photoshoot that was published in French Elle in 1953, 3 years before Morocco received independence from the French colonial administration that was in place from 1912 to 1956. It featured “3 women and 60 dresses” in Morocco, the “Land of Wonders”. An interesting double-page spread titled “SOUKS” comprised of one large photograph of a model, Suzy, on the right, which took up two-thirds of the spread, and six smaller numbered snapshots of all three models, Suzy, Taina and Françoise, presented in a grid-like formation on the left, above a block of text that detailed their elegant French fashions (Balmain, Lanvin-Castillo, M. de Rauch, Jacques Fath and Dior) and activities in the souk.
Suzy, Taina and Françoise try on djellabahs (a short or longer-sleeved outer garment with a hood and slits at the bottom), barter with Arab merchants, pose by the drinking trough (where “beasts and people meet”), take morning walks, stop by each stall to admire luxurious fabrics, get pursued by small children, and finger freshly dyed wool piles, all the time holding on tightly to their designer handbags. They are dressed in streamlined lightweight French fashions which, the caption tells us, enable them to spend all day in the souks whilst maintaining the ideal body temperature: neither “too hot, nor too cold”. The models are clearly delineated from the local population by dress, pose and stature; they point their toes, flick out their skirts, and assume an air of confidence and composure by placing, for example, one hand on the hips, whilst the other clasps the lapel of a blue, beige and white striped percale jacket. The local population, dressed mostly in djellabahs, cherbil slippers and the litham (the piece of fine, translucent cloth that Moroccan women use to cover the bottom part of their faces), are used more as authenticating background props than to provide any detailed information about their changing modes of dress. There is no mention, for instance, that Arab women’s increased adoption of the djellabah during this period, usually worn with the hood draped over the head and accompanied with the veil, was a symbol of modernity that accompanied their increased public mobility. Instead, the article insinuates an underlying sense of danger within the souk, in which Morocco as an extension of France is placed as an inferior culture in need of French (fashion) guidance.
Published in April 1953, only 4 months before Mohammed V of Morocco was deposed and forced into exile by France for giving tacit support to Istiqial (the Moroccan independence party, founded in 1944), French Elle’s article ‘Maroc: Land of Wonders’, although masquerading as a cultural appreciation of the country, might also be read as an insidious attempt to reassert French authority.
Categories: Commentary | Tags: Colonial Fashion, Djellabahs, Elle magazine, French Elle, French fashion, Morocco, Souks | Comments Off
Bodies, dress and city space intersected in new ways in the 3rd May 1963 issue of Elle in an editorial that presented ready-made garments in toile, a linen textile. One photograph by Fouli Elia depicted a cross-legged model standing against the grid of the metal beams of a nondescript Modernist building that composed and dominated the photograph’s backdrop. She stared fixedly at something located off the page, and her look suggested that it was an open expanse of scenery, or an extension of her imposing architectural surroundings. Behind her, the building took on the greenish sheen of her shirt and skirt ensemble by the ready-made brand Stanley. Structure embodied the dressed model, both cast in the same hue, constructed from the same fabric. Likewise, the article’s text described clothing in spatial terms, and figure one was identified as “a large green space for this two-piece ensemble, comfortable and sweater style. In what? In toile fibranne.” This material, a rayon fabric similar to linen, was pictured alongside natural fibres in this spread. Yet the characteristics of this synthetic cloth, soft yet grainy, unstructured yet weighty, reflected paradoxes held within the fabric of the photograph. In contrast to the text, the image suggested a lack of space, through the subject’s close crop and the seemingly nonexistent distance between figure and building.
The editorial, with its images of models with outlined bodies superimposed onto buildings, appeared during a period of rapid urbanisation in France. From the 1950s and increasingly into the 1960s and 1970s, low-income housing estates, or Habitations à Loyer Moderé (HLM) were erected in cities’ suburbs to accommodate factory workers, immigrants, and Paris’ growing population. By 1964, there were at least 1,000 of these buildings in the three departments of the Parisian region. In direct contrast to deteriorating and crowded housing in Paris, the government promoted these cités, usually comprised of towers and high-rise blocks (grands ensembles) with park space, schools and other facilities, as symbols of France’s economic modernism and ‘progress.’ This language resembled that used to describe the developing French ready-to-wear, pictured increasingly in the fashion press during the 1950s and early 1960s. Articles in Elle also regularly discussed the housing transition; in 1961 for example, editor Anne-Marie Raimond surveyed women who lived in suburbs and sought to depict the vastness of these spaces and the new way of life they offered:
It is the most formidable exodus of modern time, causing the upheaval of landscapes as well as man’s customs and spirit. […] A new style is born, that of ‘garden cities,’ ‘ensembles,’ ‘residences,’ where sun and greenery come with the deed or lease. Inhabitants (almost) remain Parisian, Lyonnais, Lillois, but have changed rhythm and character. They blossom like plants uprooted from undersized pots, put into the wide earth.
As in the 1950s, descriptions such as this instilled the modernity and progress of the vast, new spaces in their female inhabitants. Elle’s 1963 article likewise conflated clothing, bodies and wide spaces, portraying garments as “very sunny dream ensemble[s],” and “To live in right away.” Yet, the incongruity between idealising text and subtly dark imagery hinted at growing criticism of these estates, and a heightened awareness of their realities.
These outer spaces likewise became normalised in magazine imagery. Pages in Elia’s editorial that displayed a fashion photograph beneath a landscape illustrated how magazines’ new definition of fashion city and urban space stretched to Paris’ suburbs and airport. One such image was cited as “Modern Paris. View from the southern highway between Paris and Orly.” Similarly, in light of Paris’ expansion, Henri Lefebvre wrote in 1970: “The urban fabric proliferates, extends itself, corrodes the residues of agrarian life.” In contrast to photographs of old, iconic, and static Paris (which traditionally upheld the symbolic construction of haute couture), these images visualised modern Paris in perpetual construction and expansion. Below this image, which stressed the vastness of suburban space and sky, a photograph pictured a model in front of a building. Like her above counterpart, the model seemed superimposed, and the frame could not contain her body. The caption identified her location as boulevard Lannes in Paris’ 16th arrondissement, the appropriate well-to-do setting for her expensive suit, in raw silk with and jersey blouse designed by Chloé, which was sold for 700 francs at the fashionable boutique Henry à la Pensée. Financial access to ready-to-wear was a constant promotional factor, which did not always correspond to reality. In this instance, readers were offered, yet barred from purchase of toile, and the ambiguous all-encompassing urban fabric of Paris.
“Faites vos plans sur la toile,” Elle, no. 906, 3 May 1963, 96, 99, 100, 102. Author’s translations.
Anne-Marie Raimond, “Une enquête une revelation une revolution: le visage et la vie des nouvelles banlieusardes,” Elle, no. 826, 20 October 1961, 84. Author’s translations.
Paul Clerc, Grands ensembles banlieues nouvelles: enquête démographique et psycho-sociologique. Paris: PUF, 1967.
Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, trans. Robert Bononno, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota, 2003 , 3.Categories: Work in Progress | Tags: 1960s, Elle magazine, French fashion, History of Dress, ready-made fashion, urban fabric | Comments Off
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.Categories: 5 minutes with... | Tags: 5 Minutes with, Courtauld, Fashion, History of Dress, Interview, Personal Dress, Professor Deborah Swallow | Comments Off
I first met Colleen Hill, associate curator at The Museum at FIT during a visit to the museum archive to research garments by Emmanuelle Khanh in 2008. We bonded over our love of 1960s fashion and French culture. I met Ariele Elia, assistant curator, in 2011 at an exhibition opening—she was dressed as an 1890s tennis player and I went in 1860s croquet wear. And on 13th January the three of us caught up over coffee on 7th Avenue.
What were your reasons for choosing this career path?
CH: I’ve loved fashion, museums, and writing for as long as I can remember. I can’t imagine a job better suited to my interests.
AE: From a young age I was exposed to the inner workings of the fashion industry. My mother started off as a fashion designer, but ended up owning a series of women’s apparel boutiques. While working in her stores I enjoyed learning about the business side of fashion, but was more fascinated with the creative process of the designers. In college I majored in Art History, and almost went on to pursue an M.A. in that field, until I realised Fashion History existed. However, this was not a viable career option in California. So I moved to New York to continue my studies and could not be happier about that decision.
Your current project?
CH: I’m opening an exhibition in February 2016 called Fairy Tale Fashion. It will use both historical and contemporary garments to illustrate more than twelve fairy tales, including well-known stories such as “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” and “Sleeping Beauty.” In addition to offering a brief history of the fairy tales and their significance, the show will highlight their direct references to fashion.
AE: Currently I am co-curating an exhibition titled Global Fashion Capitals, set to open in June 2015. The first half of the exhibition looks at dynamics that allowed Paris, New York, London, and Milan to become established as global powers in fashion. While the second half of the exhibition explores emerging cities that attempt to rise as new fashion capitals, including Istanbul, São Paulo, Seoul, Mumbai, and Shanghai.
Your current object of fascination in the collection?
CH: I’m currently researching a hooded, red cape from the eighteenth century.
AE: I am fascinated with Madeleine Vionnet’s “Little Horses” dress from 1921. While researching for Faking It, I had found a few versions of this dress that I had assumed were unauthorised copies, including the one in our collection. Recently I had discovered that Eva BOEX, a French atelier was authorised to create copies of the dress. The description of her version is very close to the one in our collection, so I am hoping to find a sketch to confirm my findings.
Can you discuss your curatorial vision? What do you enjoy most about curating? What aspect do you find most challenging?
CH: I’ve organised numerous exhibitions in the Fashion History Gallery at The Museum at FIT, which are intended to be straightforward, educational, and, of course, historical. Within those parameters, I tend to select topics that are subtly provocative. For example, I’ve curated exhibitions about the role of women in the fashion industry, gender and fashion, sustainable fashion, and lingerie. I aim to put together shows that are accessible and entertaining, but also intelligent.
I find nearly every aspect of curatorial work to be enjoyable, but identifying a small but crucial bit of research is especially rewarding.
Like most curators, I would imagine, one of the most challenging aspects of my work is meeting short deadlines.
AE: I have curated a few exhibitions in the museum’s Fashion and Textile History Gallery. I love to investigate interdisciplinary topics within fashion such as fashion and technology and fashion law.
The aspect I enjoy most about curating is studying an object. It is incredible what a garment can tell you by just observing it.
One aspect that I am constantly working to improve is editing. There is so much information a curator would like to tell their public; however a curator must synthesise the content into a digestible form. I don’t want to overwhelm someone visiting the museum for the first time, but I also want to maintain an academic standard to a fashion historian. It’s a difficult balance!
Can you name an exhibition that marked you?
CH: My earliest museum memory is going to see Colleen Moore’s fairy castle at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It’s essentially a massive, meticulously constructed doll’s house. I was completely fascinated by its beauty and intricacy, and also the way it was presented—with only one part of the castle lit at a time, allowing the visitor to focus on its details. I’m obviously still interested in fairy-tale worlds!
AE: Stylized Sculpture: Contemporary Japanese Fashion (2007) was the first fashion exhibition I had seen. I was in awe over the incredible shapes of the garments designed by Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, and Yohji Yamamoto. It was here that I realised there were other people that spoke the same language I did.
Can you discuss a personal fashion memory?
CH: I found a copy of Radical Rags by Joel Lobenthal in my local library when I was ten years old. I became completely obsessed with it. The book affected the way I dressed, my interest in music, and my future career choice.
AE: I always have fond memories of my mother getting ready for work. She was a huge fan of Donna Karan in the 90s. Her 7 easy piece collection worked perfectly for my mom and her busy schedule. She always looked so elegant in her black wrap skirt, body suit, and large gold belt. I wish I could emulate her style.
Can you discuss an item of clothing or an accessory that you no longer have but still think about?
CH: I purchased a pair of Dr. Martens when I was about 14. They were brown with a subtle cheetah print. Since the shoes were second-hand, they didn’t even fit well, but I wore them with everything.
AE: When I was about 10 I owned a pair of glitter jelly heels. In the heel was an Eiffel Tower that floated in water and glitter like a snow globe. I wish I would have kept them!
If you could be dressed by any past couturier, who would it be?
CH: André Courrèges.
AE: Charles James. I absolutely love the architectural shapes he created! He made the women he dressed look so elegant. I wish I could have his Butterfly dress remade in lavender.Categories: Interviews | Tags: Fashion, Fashion Institute of Technology, History of Dress, New York, The Museum at FIT, Vionnet | Comments Off
MA Study Trip to New York City: Voices from the past, visions for the future: a visit to Condé Nast’s New York archive.
One has only to scan the bibliographies of most major academic fashion articles to see that Vogue maintains a position of the highest authority in sartorial research, particularly concerning the interwar years. This is not to say that other contemporary fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar lack academic importance: more so that the material bound to each issue was not deemed worthy of preservation back then, in fact much of Bazaar’s archive – including prints by Richard Avedon, Man Ray and Louise Dahl-Wolfe – was destroyed in the 1980s. This was not the case with Condé Nast’s archive, which dates back to the 1920s, instigated by Mr Nast’s awareness of the monetary value of this vast collection of images. In our recent visit to the New York archive, Shawn Waldron, Senior Director of Archives and Records, showed us just how vast this collection really is. State of the art, temperature-controlled rooms house the thousands of high-quality original prints in colourful, expertly alphabetized folders. The effect is mesmerising, like a sweetshop lined with Steichens and Horsts, instead of Flying Saucers and Humbugs.
Another room boasts a staggering quantity of loose and bound copies of publications, such as Architectural Digest, Glamour and Vanity Fair and, of course, Vogue. A researcher from a well-known fashion label pores over bound copies of the latter, highlighting the scholastic potential of the archive. Loose copies of many publications are also available for perusal, offering a more haptic experience for the viewer. The archive today is a dynamic editorial asset, both from an information and commercial point of view, and a far cry from ‘The Morgue’ that it once was. Mr Nast’s business model was ahead of its time, incorporating what is known today as ‘Blue Economy’: the process of turning waste into revenue. ‘The Morgue’ transformed into the active editorial asset that it is today, generating revenue through digital licensing and distribution of images.
As an informative resource, apart from the proliferation of beautiful fashion images, the intricate daily contracts visible on each spread, detailing the names, locations and costs of each shoot, are invaluable to the historian. What emerges is the closely linked relationship between business and preservation, and business’ potential in shaping the fashion canon. Were it not for Mr. Nast’s willingness to invest in the protection of his publication’s material, alongside his fastidious account-keeping, this barometer of social and cultural change would not exist.
The archive promotes cultural research from many other trajectories; with publications, including Charm exposing what editors told young homemakers was necessary to set up home in the interwar period. Similar interdisciplinary research pathways exist within House & Garden, Architectural Digest and Condé Nast Traveler. These publications bring the past alive, and are a testament to the complexity of day-to-day concerns.
These research opportunities would not be possible without the painstakingly selective process of acquisition, organisation, and digitisation, undertaken by Waldron’s team. The resulting collection, with millions of objects, is unique in fashion publishing. Despite the challenges faced by a small team of archivists and photo editors, working with an ever-growing collection, the archive has become a valued editorial asset that can generate income, promote fashion research, and influence new interdisciplinary study.Commentary | Tags: Architectural Digest, Archives, Charm, Condé Nast, Edward Steichen, Fashion, fashion magazines, Glamour, History of Dress, Horst P. Horst, House & Garden, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Man Ray, New York, new york city, Richard Avedon, Vanity Fair, Vogue | Comments Off
On one of our museum visits in New York, we were lucky enough to be shown a selection of objects from the Fashion Institute of Technology Archives. On arrival, we were greeted by an alumnus of our course, Emma McClendon, now an assistant curator at the museum at FIT, with whom we discussed our similar academic and Courtauld experiences, and then our not so academic love of Percy Pigs that we had brought over as a souvenir from the UK.
Her colleague, Liz Wei, then brought us to a study room in which we came face-to-face with the garments, fashions and trends that have graced our books, seminars and imaginations. On a packed, non-descript clothing rail were some of the most beautiful and well-preserved examples of dress from America and Europe ranging from the 1920s to the late 60s. We were shown couture, eveningwear, daywear, sportswear, and everything-in-between-wear from European designers such as Chanel, Schiaparelli, Vionnet, and Paul Poiret. We were also shown examples of ready-to-wear and couture by American designers such as Adrian, Charles James, Phil Macdonald and Claire McCardell.
We were able to get familiar with the objects (without actually touching them) and see the minute details of stitching, beading and construction, and really gain an understanding of the craftsmanship of these beautiful garments. Having discussed these objects in an abstract manner in seminars and readings, we were able to finally see the objects themselves and fully appreciate the properties and themes that encapsulated fashion in the interwar period in a tangible way.
Unlike other fashion archives, FIT also functions as an educational institute, and so has a unique set of muslin copies of select objects. This allows design students to physically interact with garments that would otherwise be too delicate to handle. This allowed us, as dress historians, to grasp an understanding of dressmaking techniques, and see the innovative and diverse methods of construction employed by couture designers, tailors and home dressmakers in these historical garments.
Despite the feeling of deep reverence for all of the objects introduced to us, for me, there was one standout object. Unlike the other garments hanging on the clothing rail, this garment was curled up inside a square white box. Furled up in a whirl of finely pleated silk, was a stunning, peach-coloured, Mariano Fortuny dress and belt from the 1930s. When the dress was unravelled, the intricate tight pleats sprung forth to reveal the long, elegant sheath and the Venetian glass beads that decorated the seams. The pleating, loose-fit and columnar style of the dress reflected its original intent as a Tea Gown, to be worn without a corset, and on more relaxed social occasions, entertaining at home. This garment encompassed concepts of modernity, machinery and the changing activities of women in the 1930s, despite its classical inspirations. Remarkably, this notion of modernity still survives within the garment today, with the endurance of its tight pleating that would rival Issey Miyake’s authority of the technique. Indeed, the gown is as fresh as a Pleats Please garment available for purchase today. Much like Miyake’s technological textile research, Fortuny experimented with machinery and techniques to create his unique pleating system, a process that is still a mystery to this day. Only a few pieces of archival information on his pleating process remain. This method used a pulley system and included heated ceramic rollers through which the silk was passed to create the tight folds. Though this is still speculative, as Fortuny kept the process a well-guarded secret and it seems never recorded it. Women would have to resend their dresses to Fortuny to be re-pleated, if they had been flattened from sitting, or been dampened.
The technological innovation of Fortuny’s pleating, the modernity of the garment, its classical sources and its relatively intact condition, seem almost anachronistic and belie its era. It was this clash of temporalities, the captivating mystery surrounding Fortuny, and its resonances in contemporary fashion that provoked a visceral response in me.Categories: Commentary | Tags: 1920s fashion, Fashion, Fashion Institute of Technology, Fortuny, History of Dress, Issey Miyake, new york city | Comments Off
50 YEARS OF HISTORY OF DRESS AT THE COURTAULD Alumni Interviews Part Three: Rachel Worth, MA (1989), PhD (2003)
Each month in 2015, we will post an interview with one of our alumni, as part of our celebrations of this year’s auspicious anniversary. The Courtauld’s History of Dress students have gone on to forge careers in a diverse and exciting range of areas. We hope you enjoy reading about their work, and their memories of studying here.
Alumni Interview Part Three: Rachel Worth, MA (1989), PhD (2003)
Rachel Worth is Professor of History of Dress and Fashion at the Arts University Bournemouth. She is currently working on two books, Clothing and Landscape in Victorian England: Working-Class Dress and Rural Life (I. B. Tauris) and Fashion and Class (Bloomsbury), both forthcoming 2016.
You did the MA in the late 1980s with Aileen Ribeiro. What was the structure of the course like then?
I did the course from 1987 to 1989 when it was a two-year syllabus. The first year was a survey of the history of dress, from the medieval period right up to the twentieth century. It introduced us to a subject that few of us had studied before. Being at the Courtauld, the perspective adopted was very much an art historical one. But as well as Aileen’s core input, there were guest lecturers who would focus on particular periods, source material and / or methodological approaches. I absolutely loved it and soaked it all up! I think I particularly relished the analysis of paintings that the course entailed. It informed how I have looked at art ever since.
In the second we year did a ‘special subject’, ‘Dress in England and France c 1760 – 1820’ which drew upon one of Aileen’s research specialisms. We also wrote a dissertation. Because it was a two-year Masters, there were financial implications for students, then as now. Not only was the course itself intensive, but one of the things that was so much a part of my experience of it was the fact that I had three part-time jobs! I had a daily library job at the Courtauld itself, a Saturday job at Liberty’s in the scarf department, and I taught English as a foreign language to private students.
What were your first impressions of the Courtauld?
It was in a very different location – Portman Square. I can remember well the feeling of being in the basement where the dress history library was located – and it always seemed rather dusty! What was great was that it was only a short walk away from the Wallace Collection, so I often went there at lunchtimes! I think that wonderfully eclectic collection has influenced some of my interests, particularly 17th century Dutch art and a fascination with armour and its relationship to dress. It reinforced a number of the topics that we were studying on the course and the importance of considering different source material in relation to dress history.
What was your favourite thing about the History of Dress MA? Do you have any particularly fond memories?
There were many many things I enjoyed. One of the things that stands out in my memory was that Aileen Ribeiro would take us through a wonderful range of paintings in the context of a particular period or theme. And she would leave the slides – physical slides then of course – in the room for the rest of the day so that we could go back through them and check that we’d got a proper slide list. It was very important to make sure that we had comprehensive notes: – artist, date, location of the work etc. And I still have those lecture notes! They were so useful and I still sometimes refer to them! It was an excellent foundation for things that I’ve done since.
You came from a History background – BA in History at Newnham College at the University of Cambridge. Why did you decide to study History of Dress at postgrad?
That’s right: in my BA I’d specialized in social history but I’d always been interested in cultural and art history, and I felt (and feel!) very strongly that dress is an absolutely essential part of social history. At the time, it was most unusual to study dress on a history course. So for me the Courtauld course was the obvious postgrad choice – and it was unique.
As a young child I had always loved fabrics and haberdashery and I was always making things. My mother taught me to sew – she would make all her own clothes. She was born in 1931 so her formative teenage years were in the post Second-World-War period – late 1940s. The suits and evening dresses she made and wore were very much based on her interpretation of the Dior image. In my own teenage years I got totally hooked on the history of dress, perhaps because, as a dedicated daydreamer, I was always imagining how it would be to live in another time and place and dress is such an imaginative way into another world. During my history degree I felt increasingly that there was huge potential for the study of dress but that it hadn’t been ‘tapped’ by the undergraduate history curriculum.
Did you find that the transition from History to History of Art and Dress in particular was difficult?
Not really. After my BA I took a year ‘out’ and worked at the Museum of Costume, now the Fashion Museum, in Bath, as a tour guide and that really fuelled my interest. It was wonderful to be surrounded by actual garments and to imagine the past societies that ‘produced’ them. The people who visited were mostly non-specialists and tourists taking in a number of museums in Bath so you had to try to interest them and make connections. Those amazing garments on display did my work for me and probably helped me to make the transition you allude to.
What did you do after the MA?
In 1990 I got a place on the Marks and Spencer ‘Graduate Management Training Scheme.’ I was really interested in the whole idea of retail. It was an incredible experience: I trained as a buyer (we were called ‘selectors’) and it was a totally different environment from what I was used to. It taught me so much about how fashion is understood on a popular level as well as issues around design and manufacturing for mass production. I loved visiting the Midlands knitwear factories – they were pockets of incredible textile skill and expertise, but they are mostly – sadly – gone now. After two years, I decided that retail wasn’t for me! But having an insider’s knowledge of the company meant that I got to know about the M&S Company Archive – which wasn’t a public archive at the time – and that led to my research for my book on M&S.
In 1991 I secured my first academic job at Staffordshire University, responsible for the dress history elements of a BA and MA in history of design and visual culture. Having done a PGCE before my MA I knew that I would love teaching. Then, in the late 1990s a got a course leader job at what was then the Arts Institute at Bournemouth (now Arts University) At the time they had a Higher National Diploma (HND) in fashion but they were looking for someone to write a new BA. The course that I wrote with my colleagues brought together fashion theory and history, design and marketing, and it’s still running…
And what about your PhD? What was that on?
It was while I was at Staffordshire University that I started my PhD, part-time while I was working full-time. It was a study of potential sources for, and representations of, rural working class dress in the 19th century. I finished writing it about two days before the birth of my son – it’s always good to have a deadline!
Would you say that your style of teaching was influenced by that of Aileen’s?
I’m sure it has been. I have tried to take on board her meticulous attention to detail and her insightful analysis of the work of art or artefact as central to an understanding of dress history. I’ve also taken inspiration from other excellent teachers over time. By the way. I nearly did a BA in philosophy, and I really like to encourage students to think about and analyse concepts and ideas too.
What is your favourite thing about teaching History of Dress?
That depends on whom I’m teaching. If I’m with a first year undergraduate group - say, fashion design students – who’ve never done any dress history before, I love seeing them start to make connections and realise why the history is so fascinating and so important. Equally, discussing in depth an aspect of a student’s PhD research is immensely stimulating. Being in a position to teach something you love and that many people can relate to in so many ways is amazing and a privilege. Even if some students find some of the theory tricky, there is usually a way of presenting it so that they can relate it to something that has meaning for them.
If you could own any piece of clothing, what would it be?
That’s difficult. What I would actually love is to have in front of me and be able to explore an item of clothing that we might see in, perhaps, a 15th century Netherlandish painting by, say, Rogier van der Weyden or Hans Memling.
I suppose that is difficult, because not many of those survive.
I think that’s the point, that’s why I love the idea! My initial reaction when you asked the question was to say something designed by Worth (no relation!) but actually I don’t particularly feel the need to own something that survives and is well documented. So what I would really like is the impossible: to examine something that hasn’t survived, something that we know so well – or think we know – from paintings, but have ever only had a two-dimensional view of.
Do you have any advice for current MA History of Dress students?
…Grasp opportunities that present themselves, and also ‘make’ those opportunities. If you want to do something, never take no for an answer. Absolutely follow any dreams that you have. Stay focused but, at the same time, try to be open to the unexpected because the things that might seem like offshoots may turn out to be really useful later. This is a special time so immerse yourself in your studies – and relish every moment, even – dare I say it – the deadlines!Categories: Interviews | Tags: 50 Years, Alumni, Courtauld, Fashion, History of Dress, Interview | Comments Off
‘Six herons standing quietly in a pool of water’. Set unobtrusively against the backdrop of the Design Museum’s ‘Women Fashion Power’ exhibition, Amelia Troubridge’s photographs do just that. Standing quietly along the room’s outer walls, amidst the vast array of multimedia objects pertaining to the exhibition’s theme, the dozen, photographed women exude a quiet confidence. They purvey the scene, staring quizzically at the visitor as if to say, ‘Oh you’re here, well you can observe me, but I’m just going to carry on being fabulous.’ The installation is made up of images from the London-based photographer’s latest book entitled ‘Joan of Arc Had Style’ (Trolley Books). Taking its title from Charles Bukowski’s canonical poem, Amelia’s photographs pay homage to stylish, influential women encountered during her long-spanning career as a photographer.
I caught up with Amelia to ask her a couple of things about the installation and her new book….
The launch of your book fittingly coincides with International Women’s Day, as well as the Design Museum’s exhibition, which is very much in line with the agenda of your latest body of work. Coincidence or planned?
Planned and a little bit of coincidence! To get the project out there, the sponsor and the Design Museum all realised Women’s Day was a great time to release this book.
Could you say a couple of things about the book?
It was a project that was a long time in the making, an idea I had ten years ago, that took on a number of forms and different edits. It became a collaboration with a lot of women, a place to discuss our lives, the world we live in, and to celebrate being a woman, individual style and creative thought. I would meet women and want to photograph them with this project in mind. Although the book came together in a very unplanned way, which is very much how I find myself living my life and developing my career. You never know who you are going to be working with next. It also became a personal story about my life as a woman.
I couldn’t help but think of Bukowski’s invocations of style as I walked through the exhibition, particularly the line ‘sometimes people give you style’. What would you define as style? ‘Women Fashion Power’ aims to show how women have used clothes to enhance their position in the world. Do you think style is heavily dependant on fashion or does it transcend materiality?
I was interested in looking at personal style. That comes from within….not just in the fashion sense…but in the sense that when a women walks into a room, she resonates a certain energy – that’s style. I like the idea that women can be whomever they want today. This was not the case not so long ago….
Whilst the exhibition is organised chronologically, the placement of your photographs defy this linear progression. Was this a conscious decision? To what extent did you pair your images with the objects on display? I thought that the image of Tiko Tuskadze next to the voluminous opera coat worked really well, the photograph could have been taken in the early twentieth century.
I didn’t over think where the images hung. I think it came quite naturally to me. The young girl came first because I was interested in looking at all ages of women. I liked Dita [Von Teese] in between the two images of the women with men because that Dita image is about questions of love and identity without the conventional power couple of the man beside her. Tiko [Tuskadze] worked perfectly there with the mannequin; that was our favourite. The image of Justine [Picardie] was very hard and corporate, so I felt it worked well next to the brightly lit technology display within the exhibition. I’m a visual person. I put something somewhere and it either works for me or doesn’t. I’m a great believer in going with your gut feeling.
I did try at one point to do my book in chronological order but it didn’t work. The book felt ‘magaziney’. In the end I handed over the final edit to my publisher. The book worked much better that way.
Back to Bukowski – thinking about style as ‘a way of doing, a way of being done’, can you talk a little bit about the artistic input of the sitter, alongside your own vision? The image of Polly Morgan comes to mind, casual yet staged, dark yet innocent…how did you capture her style in the creation of this image?
It always helps if you think the person you are photographing has immense personal style, and I think Polly has great style. She arrived in an old Jaguar and has great legs and makes beautiful art. But I love the idea of her as a little messily dressed, she shows herself as an artist like that and I find imperfection as something beautiful, so that was something I wanted to display. She really got into the shoot and we spent a couple of hours doing it. I like the formality of the table and chair, in the informal surrounding of nature. I think nature inspires most of us artists, so all the elements worked well together: landscape, props, persons and what they are wearing.
Finally, you have met a huge amount of inspiring, strong, courageous, fabulous women throughout your career. What do you seek to capture, preserve and share through these portraits?
For this project I was interested in collecting images of women as modern heroes/warriors; women taking on new frontiers, and as always, capturing a little bit of what’s going on on the inside too.Categories: Interviews | Tags: amelia troubridge, design museum, Fashion, History of Dress, London, Photography, Women Fashion Power exhibition | Comments Off