It’s difficult to capture a such a busy year as ours in a few lines or even a few paragraphs. Instead, I asked each of the MAs to sum up our time in Documenting Fashion with a song. Some noted the quick pace of the course, others selected songs from their studies, and a few chose personal favorites for the year. Take a look (with accompanying videos!) below:
Barbora: A few songs popped into my head. “Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai is one. Quite self-explanatory, I think. Parts of the year, especially when writing my dissertation, felt like that. Also “Faith” by George Michael felt appropriate, I definitely needed a reminder to believe in myself quite a few times. But most of the time, the year was more like “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. “Don’t stop me now, I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball!”
Jamie: I’m tempted to say “I’m So Tired” by the Beatles (for very obvious reasons) or pick something Astaire/Rogers, per my second essay (“I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket” from Follow the Fleet), but I have to give the song that I started each week with its due: “Manic Monday” by The Bangles. The weekends never seemed long enough to finish the laundry list of tasks from the week before–it was work, work, work the whole nine months!
Yona: The song that best represents my year is a live City Medley sung by Tony Bennett and Andy Williams from March 1, 1965. The clip, which includes songs such as “Gypsy in My Soul,” “My Kind of Town,” and “San Francisco,” served as one of the inspirations for my exhibition proposal and I have been obsessed with the casual style of the performance.
Harriet: Max Richter’s music has been the soundtrack to long library days – especially his music for Woolf Works, the ballet inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf, and his recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
Dana: Although I don’t have a favourite for this year, as I usually I listen to playlists of jazz, 50s-60s R&B, Latin, soul or popcorn, my song pick is “Johnny Lee” by Faye Adams. Or anything by Aretha Franklin. Although the lyrics don’t really relate to my year, the rhythm and music feel like my year’s pace (if that makes any sense). I’d encourage you to have a look as it’s a fantastic song.
Sophie: “We Don’t Eat” by James Vincent McMorrow. It came up on a random Spotify playlist at the beginning of the year and then it became one of my go-to songs on my morning commute to Somerset House. So it’s very much my Courtauld song.
Just as quickly as our time at the Courtauld began, so too did it end. During these nine months of intensive schoolwork, we’ve grown as scholars and people, forming close friendships over shared stress and joy. Here are some reflections about our time in MA Documenting Fashion:
What surprised you the most about the course?
Barbora: I knew I would absolutely love my year at The Courtauld. The lessons were stimulating, fun, thought provoking and always the highlights of my week, as sad as that may sound. What surprised me the most, however, was how close-knit our Documenting Fashion group became. With limited contact hours and only a year together, I was skeptical when people said we would all become great friends. But somehow, that really did happen. The support network we created was invaluable at times of assignment crises, of which there were a few, and the girls, as well as our fabulous professors, Rebecca and Liz, made the year the best it could have possibly been.
Harriet, Sophie, Jamie, and Barbora celebrating with champagne after the graduation ceremony
Dana: First, I’d have to say the location of the Courtauld, and the insight and knowledge that Rebecca shared with us. Second, I have to mention some of the trips to archives; for example, the trip to the Museum of London helped us better understand the histories behind London’s inhabitants.
Which assignment did you enjoy the most?
Yona: The exhibition proposal, which we were required to write as part of the course, was by far my favourite assignment. The task involved not just writing the proposal itself, but also the development of sample panels and exhibit labels. As I enjoyed developing a full exhibition, I even included an illustration of the exhibition design and submitted a playlist that visitors could listen to while walking through the galleries. The playlist consisted of 1940s songs that were declaration of love of American cities and I still find myself singing the songs.
Jamie: Though I may just be a glutton for punishment, the dissertation was my favorite assignment. It certainly took a lot of time and effort (not to mention self-motivation), but my absolute adoration of the topic made it all worth while. The development of my argument, slowly building something from months of research, was immensely satisfying. And the quirky stories I found as I researched late-19th century newspapers helped lighten the mood even in the most stressful of times. In short, I enjoyed every milestone, month, and minute of the dissertation process.
Harriet: New York, New York! Just before Christmas – surely the best time to visit, with all the spectacular store windows and Christmas trees for sale on every corner – the MA Documenting Fashion class crossed the pond to visit the FIT, Parsons and Brooklyn Museum’s archives. We also met the brilliant Pat Kirkham at the Bard Graduate Centre and visited the Masterworks exhibition at the MET (and took the opportunity to indulge in dumplings in Chinatown, skate in Central Park and catch some jazz too).
MA Documenting Fashion students in the archives at the Brooklyn Museum, December 2016
Sophie: Oh there were too many! The trip to the Museum of London to see fashion curator Timothy Long especially stands out. Not only did he show us some fabulous objects, including Anna Pavlova’s dying swan costume, but his enthusiasm and blatantly obvious love for his job was so striking and incredible to see. He gave us some great and honest insights into his career that are very valuable as we all try to find our own feet in the art and museum world.
Check back next week for a very special summary of the year by each MA student!
Harper’s Bazaar, October 1940. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.
This magazine is an October edition of Harper’s Bazaar published nationwide in the year 1940, during the London Blitz. Despite the hardships of wartime, the magazine targeted the female upper classes, which were the only ones with enough purchasing power to afford it. With the costly price of 2 shillings 6 pence, it was a considerable expense that could feed an average family for one day. In contrast to DIY publications, Harper’s Bazaar relies on the desire to emulate the rich and powerful to disseminate latest fashions. With the upcoming winter, the issue centers around the season’s new fashions coming from the capital, presenting a wide array of greatcoats both furless and completely fur-lined, made mostly out of warm wools or commonly available types of fur like squirrel, mole, and rabbit. The effects of rationing clearly influence the choice of images which are plain in their style with scarcely any accessories and minimal display of jewelry, painting a picture of a simple, although fashionable, woman. The practicality of the inside contrasts sharply with the flamboyant cover which is aimed at defying the grim realities of wartime and giving people back the feeling of normality.
Looking closer at the front cover, we can examine it as a historical source from the era, a social history document that tells the historian part of the story of Britain in the 1940s, and more particularly its dress history. A closer inspection may reveal that the colours chosen in such a specific moment in history are not random. The predominant purple tones, which are one of the first elements that catch the viewer’s attention, are historically associated with opulence, richness, royalty and empire. The crispness and silky texture of the sleeve contrast with the other colours of the dress that look as if they are polluted with randomly distributed red dots. The grainy and wooly texture of the material creates an off-focus effect that contrasts with the smooth and well-shaded arm and the sharp colours of the jewellery that richly decorates it. Our gaze is naturally led towards the hand that holds the cigarette, a luxury item that was rationed and reserved mostly for the servicemen at the front. Smoking, at the time, was an activity reserved for the feminine elite, symbolic of the defiance and rebellion against the male culture and male-centred workplace. The model positions herself in a relaxed and mindful manner looking down upon the viewer in an almost spiteful way, suggesting her higher status. This projects an image of power and confidence, a new Britannia clothed in all the riches of the Empire, watchful and confident of her power to withstand the dangers that befell her.
From 1912-1915 and 1919-1925, fashion and art met on the pages of Gazette du Bon Ton. This French publication entertained upper-class consumers with elaborately illustrated articles and sumptuous fashion plates. Though the First World War loomed on the horizon, the stories in this issue from March 1914 showed no signs of global tension. From an article detailing exotic pearl-net masquerade masks to a list of elites vacationing at the French Riviera, the authors of Gazette du Bon Ton created a world ruled by novelty and luxury.
Stimpl, ‘Riviera… Riviera…” in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.
Each issue included a set of ten plates with couture fashions by houses like Doucet, Lanvin, and Worth. Two plates from this issue feature designs by masters of 1910s couture: Paquin and Paul Poiret. In ‘La fontaine de coquillages’, George Barbier set an evening gown by Paquin against a luscious blue courtyard and classical fountain. Pearl embellishments on the turquoise velvet and grey tulle dress mimic shells, which Barbier echoes in white on hanging shell clusters. A shell in the figure’s hand catches water from the fountain, merging the background and foreground. In comparison, Simone A. Puget’s illustration for ‘Salomé’, an evening gown by Paul Poiret, is striking in its simplicity. By placing the figure on a plain black base, the artist focuses attention on the dress. The design speaks to the sensuality of the legendary Salomé, as fishnet stockings emerge from beneath the diagonal skirt hem and the figure’s nipples, colored the same red as her lips and nails, peek through the swirled, off-the-shoulder bodice.
George Barbier, ‘La fontaine de coquillages’ in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.
Simone A. Puget, ‘Salome’ in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.
Every turn of the page in Gazette du Bon Ton offers a new feast for the eyes. At just 25cm x 7cm it is very easy to hold, though the heavy paper prevents the issue from feeling flimsy. With at least one color illustration in the pochoir technique on every page, the magazine presents itself as something to be slowly cherished. The difference in style of the vivid ‘La fontaine de coquillages’ and stark ‘Salomé’ plates exemplify how artistic variety creates the tantalizing feeling of ‘What’s next?,’ urging the reader to turn the page. This sumptuous array of visual delights did not come cheap: the price of a yearly subscription was 100 francs, or more than 400 pounds today!
Artists sometimes used striking metallic paint to enliven their illustrations. Here is one illustration of dancer Armen Ohanian viewed straight on and at an angle. Valentine Gross, ‘Armène Ohanian’ in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.
Gazette du Bon Ton invites haptic interaction as well. The metallic paint used on some illustrations, for example, requires the reader to tilt the page to get the full effect. Should the reader give into temptation and run a finger over the fashion plates, they may feel more than just the horizontal ridges of the thick paper. In ‘Salomé’, the outline of the figure and the dots on the skirt are debossed. Contact with the flat surface of the page brings the gown to life, but also acts as a tangible barrier to the beautiful world displayed in the plates. That space of breathtaking couture fashion, endless luxury, and carefree joy exists only between the covers of Gazette du Bon Ton.
Fashion magazines provide a space for escapism and fantasy, but this imaginative realm of image and text is centred on the very real interactions that viewers have with these material objects. How does it feel to read a fashion magazine? Do you read it dutifully, from cover to cover? Or do you flip through more sporadically, waiting for something exciting to halt you in your tracks? Of equal importance is where we read fashion magazines. Is it in the silence of the library, inhaling the smell of the archive? Or at home, from the comfort of the sofa? Perhaps it’s on the tube, amongst the rush of commuters and the jolt of a train braking? These multisensory encounters all play a part in our interpretation of what we see – and read – within the fashion magazine.
These are some of the questions we are going to be thinking about on Saturday 6th May, at our conference ‘Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating the Courtauld’s History of Dress journals archive’. In celebration of the Courtauld’s recently catalogued History of Dress journals archive, our one-day symposium will examine how the fashion magazine has constructed and circulated social, cultural and political ideas concerning dress, body and identity. In opening up the collection, we will examine fashion magazines more broadly as documents of the time in which they were produced, reflecting changing tastes and attitudes as well as social and technological developments. We will explore how the fashion magazine has been consumed by readers, whether glanced through or thoroughly read from cover to cover, and consider the sensory connections to be made between looking, seeing, being, feeling and wearing.
Speakers include Paul Jobling, Alice Beard, Rebecca Arnold, Lucy Moyse, Marta Francheschini and Maria Angela Jansen, will consider these overlapping themes from the interdisciplinary perspectives of design history, fashion studies, visual culture, sociology, and those working professionally within the field. The day will include a viewing session of some earlier examples from our collection as well as an opportunity to see a fashion magazine display curated in collaboration with History of Dress MA students. This symposium will provide the opportunity to question changes in the way that dress has been documented, worn and consumed throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as to study the fashion magazine as image, object, text, idea and experience intertwined.
The early twentieth century saw a craze for historical pageants – popular re-enactments of the history of a locality. In these the stress on authenticity of historical representation through words, scenes and costume was particularly important. Prof. Edwards will consider the role of photography in perpetuating these quasi-ritual processes, values and the social efficacy of the pageants. She argues that photographs of pageants were not merely records of pageants, but, through the temporal complexity and reality effect of photographs, created a subjunctive ‘as if’ of history which extended the reach of the ritual qualities of pageants. This paper is part of a larger ethnographic project on photography and the emergence of public histories 1850-1950.
Elizabeth Edwards is a visual and historical anthropologist. She has worked extensively on the relationships between photography, history and anthropology. She is Professor Emerita of Photographic History at De Montfort University, Honorary Professor in the Anthropology Department at UCL and will soon join the V&A Research Institute as Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor. She was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2015. Her current book projects are on photography and the emergence concepts of the collective ownership of ancient monuments, and on photography and the apparatus and practice of history.
On a rainy day in The Courtauld student café, Alexis Romano and Katerina Pantelides, both of whom have recently completed their PhDs in dress history at The Courtauld, generously agreed to tell me a bit about their work. Due to the length of the interview the first half was posted last Friday, it continues here:
Alexis and Katerina presenting at a Courtauld conference together.
Do you have any advice for people who might be thinking of doing a PhD?
Alexis: I would say be as organised as you can and treat it as a nine-to-five job. I think if you professionalise it you will be more productive.
Katerina: I would say that it’s really difficult to write and research things if you’re worried about money, so try and get that sorted. It’s a really practical thing but it helps so much with treating it like a job. I would also say make sure you have a topic that you are really passionate about. Be open minded. Make sure you have the supervision and support that you need, for exampleif you have a topic that bridges disciplines, try and get supervision from both.
You’re both co-founders of the Fashion Research Network. Can you tell me a bit more about it?
Katerina: We are both co-founders with Nathaniel Beard and Ellen Sampson, who are from the Royal College of Art. It started off because we felt that there were lots of institutions in London with students who were doing research in fashion and dress but they all seemed like these separate little fiefdoms, and we thought why don’t we try and get them together, put on an event, and get people talking to each other. It started with a pilot event in summer 2013 and it was a really big success. Since then we have done quite a few events: museum tours, artists and designer talks, symposia andreading groups. We have had some interesting people involved and it’s been pretty interdisciplinary.
Alexis: Yes,the interdisciplinary aspect is a central part of our mission, because the other co-founders are not historians; they work on fashion but they come from different fields.One of the obstacles for us in our own research was coming to terms with the fact that fashion is not just history and it’s not just image, it’s an industry, it involves so many different types of people, languages and disciplines – things that, as art historians, we might not understand without having conversations with people from other fields. Through the FRN, we wanted to get as broad a definition of fashion as possible to work with!
What are your plans for the future now that you have both finished your PhDs?
Katerina: I’m writing my first novel, teaching English and am in the first stages of planning a small exhibition about fashion and the senses with Alexis.
Alexis: I am hoping to put together a proposal for a manuscript and some exhibitions, and a course from my research. So that’s the current project, but I am also looking for funding to make that happen. I am currently Exhibition Reviews Editor for Textile History Journal, am also starting a project making greetings cards, and of course, we are in the very early stages of curating an exhibition together about fashion and the senses. So stay tuned for more!
Alexis’ research, Elle magazine, 1968.
A peek at Alexis’ current projects: Elle, a greetings card prototype and Textile History journal.
Please join us on Monday, 20 June for a Courtauld Institute Research Forum, The Birth of Cool: Style Narratives of the African Diaspora. The event is organised by our own Dr Rebecca Arnold with guest speaker Carol Tulloch, the Professor of Dress, Diaspora and Transnationalism at the University of the Arts, London, based at the Chelsea College of Art. Carol Tulloch’s practice of research in dress studies has invariably been inspired by an image. This was the case for her recent publication The Birth of Cool: Style Narratives of the African Diaspora. In this informal illustrated talk Carol will discuss the role images have played in the writing of her book and why certain images had to be included.
Carol Tulloch is also the Chelsea College of Arts/V&A Fellow in Black Visual and Material Culture at the V&A Museum. As writer and curator, Carol’s recent work includes: the book and exhibition Syd Shelton: Rock Against Racism (co-editor and co-curator 2015), the articles A Riot of Our Own: A Reflection on Agency (2014), Buffalo: Style with Intent’ (2011), ‘Style-Fashion-Dress: From Black to Post-black’ (2010); and the exhibitions ‘The Flat Cloth Cap’ in Cabinet Stories (2015), International Fashion Showcase: Botswana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone,British Council (2012), Handmade Tales: Women and Domestic Crafts, Women’s Library London (2010-11), Black British Style (co-curator 2004).
The Research Forum “Dress Talks” is a series of lunchtime events bringing together a roster of invited speakers to talk about their current research, and encourage discussion about dress history now. Each term academics, curators and dress and fashion industry professionals will share their insight and analysis of an aspect of dress and fashion history to provide a platform for new ideas and approaches to the subject.
Taking place over the lunch hour, these sessions are free and open to all.
Hannah Jackson completed both her BA and MA at The Courtauld Institute, and is now Assistant Curator at the Bowes Museum in Durham. Here she discusses how 19th century dress construction lead to a photography-focused MA dissertation and the joys of the recent Bowes Museum exhibition “Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal”.
Yves Saint Laurent ‘Mondrian Dress’, at the Bowes Museum 2016
Having completed your BA at the Courtauld in the History of Art, what led you to decide to pursue your MA in the History of Dress at the Courtauld as well?
I came to The Courtauld to study a BA straight after completing an art foundation at Falmouth University. During my foundation course I specialised in the construction of 19th century dress, taking my inspiration from textile collections in local museums across Cornwall. So during my BA I was always trying to squeeze in dress history into my various course options. In my third year I researched the depiction of drapery in 18thcentury French painting. Following this I knew I wanted to focus purely on dress history and the MA felt like a natural progression.
Reflecting on your experience during the MA, how did your research interests evolve throughout the year, and if so, how did these interests coalesce into your dissertation?
Having spent the previous three years as an art historian I found it difficult initially to break away from that method of analysis. I was very image focused so most of my research leaned towards photography, looking at the works of Cecil Beaton and Eugene Atget. This informed my dissertation topic on Madame Yevonde’s Goddess Series. I examined several photographs from the Goddess series in detail, demonstrating the ways in which Yevonde seized the opportunities offered by neo-classical dress and the new technique of colour photography to explore deeper themes of female identity and representation.
What role did the Courtauld MA in the History of Dress play in defining your professional trajectory?
My love of imagery combined with the stories behind objects in museums has always been a big part of my enjoyment in the subject. During the MA course Dr Rebecca Arnold organised some incredible trips to national and international museums including the American Folk Art Museum in New York and Museum of London and V&A. These trips ‘behind-the-scenes’ were so interesting and I knew this was a world I wanted to be part of.
Can you describe what your average day as an Assistant Curator at The Bowes Museum entails?
It’s a combination of things… at the moment we are de-installing our permanent display of fashion and textiles to make room for our next exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain which opens in June. I also handle any enquires or offers of donation to our department. If new donations are accepted then I ensure they are catalogued and stored. The curators also work closely with the textile conservation team on exhibitions and loans. Earlier this year our team catalogued a very large collection of privately owned quilts, which will soon be divided between family members, with some pieces being sold. Last year I spent quite a bit of time on events relating to temporary exhibitions including a dance/costume performance with Fertile Ground, a Newcastle based dance company and a film symposium with Durham University which coincided with our Summer 2015 exhibition Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal.
How did The Bowes Museum’s “Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal” exhibition come about?
A few years ago we loaned a Canaletto painting to the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris. When the Canaletto was being installed, my colleague met a freelance curator working on the show and mentioned how similar The Bowes’ history was with the Jacquemart-André. My colleague mentioned the fashion and textile department here and how it has grown and developed, with past exhibitions such as Stephen Jones and Vivienne Westwood. The freelancer said that she had close affiliations with the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent and that she could put us in touch with them. My collegue Joanna Hashagen, Curator of Fashion and Textiles, established the working relationship with the Fondation from that moment. The Bowes Museum’s co-founder was a fashionable Parisian woman, and the building itself is in the style of a French château, so our French roots were integral to our partnership with the YSL Fondation.
Were there any particular theoretical and aesthetic approaches that informed your work on the exhibition?
The show itself was co-curated by Joanna Hashagen (Curator of Fashion & Textiles at The Bowes) and Sandrine Tinturier (Responsable de la Conservation Textile et Arts Graphiques at the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent) so this question is probably better aimed at them. They really wanted to celebrate Yves Saint Laurent’s love of women, art and fashion, as a designer notable for equality in fashion. The exhibition was split into five themes: Haute Couture, Masculin/Féminin, Transparence, Art and Spectaculaire. The pieces were carefully curated, making links to our own permanent display of fashion and textiles, which highlighted Yves Saint Laurent’s distinct relationship with history and art.
Did you learn anything particularly fascinating about Yves Saint Laurent or his maison while researching and preparing the exhibition?
The most fascinating thing I found out about Yves Saint Laurent was how truly dedicated he was to his subject. This may seem obvious but he started at such a young age. As a teenager he designed collections for a series of hand-made paper dolls by cutting out silhouettes from his mother’s favourite magazines such as Vogue, calling it ‘Yves Mathieu Saint Laurent Haute Couture Place Vendôme’. The paper-dolls were all named and he created model programmes for each collection and put on fashion shows for his siblings and mother.
What was your favorite piece from exhibition?
The toiles were my favourite pieces in the show. I really like seeing the making process and the ‘before-hand’ pieces, they were essentially 3D sketches. The selection of toiles were displayed in a completely white space, so they really had their own voice in the exhibition. Even the toiles were effortless couture, every inch of the stitching and design was immaculate.
Are there any exciting curatorial or research projects you are working on at the moment?
Last April I was one of five to win the Art Fund’s New Collecting Award which encourages curators to pursue new avenues for collecting in their museums. We won a total of £60,000 to collect French haute couture. I aim to acquire key pieces of French fashion which reflect the Museum’s founder Joséphine Bowes. Joséphine was a shopaholic, purchasing garments from The House of Worth during the 1860s. The John and Joséphine Bowes Archive in our library holds a number of bills which relate to the establishment of the museum but also all of Joséphine’s shopping receipts which reveal a lot about the type of fabric she was buying, how much and from which establishments. Joséphine was extremely fashionable but unfortunately none of her wardrobe survives today, so I want to collect pieces which reflect her identity and shopping habits, using the extensive archive of bills as evidence. I have a year left on my contract at The Bowes Museum so I am also focusing my time on selecting garments for the gallery redisplay, planned for 2018.