Dissertation Discussion: Fran

What led you to choose this subject?

I was uniquely led to my chosen subject through Instagram (yup.). In the first week of March (2019), I uploaded a multiple-image post to my personal Instagram feed (@francesrcrossley) containing two comparable fashion images (Fig.1). The first was taken by fashion photographer Jason Lloyd-Evans at @edwardcrutchley’s Autumn/Winter 2019 show during London Fashion Week Men’s (2019). It features a collection of models, but one acts as the point of interest, her attention held away from the camera’s gaze. Atop her head is a tall, wide-brimmed hat (@stephenjonesmillinery), its structure implied through a meshed, translucent nylon that allows for the bones of its unique construction to be perpetually on show. It is fixed onto the model’s head with a long ream of ribbon that fastens in a delicate bow across the centre of her neck. 

Fig. 1 The first-half of the multi-image post I uploaded on my IG feed, featuring Edward Crutchley / Stephen Jones designs…

I placed this image in conversation with an archival photograph of American sportswear designer Bonnie Cashin, in which she models a similarly structured, cylindrical hat. Dr Stephanie Lake (@cashincopy , @bonniecashinarchive ), author of Bonnie Cashin: Chic Is Where You Find It (2016), later informed me that Cashin purchased this hat during her travels for the Ford Foundation throughout Asia during the 1950s (Fig. 2). 

Fig. 2 …and the second half.

This post was intended as a personal exercise, visually demonstrating the cyclical movement of twentieth and twenty-first century fashion systems, in which styles and motifs are recurrently recycled and given new meaning for a contemporary audience. After posting, I swiftly received word from Crutchley (also via IG), and the designer disclosed that his AW19 hats were based on the traditional male Korean bridal gat (a form of Joseon-era headgear). In this instructive experience, the trend of reproduction in fashion played out to confirm a well-discussed concept: fashion is a powerful cultural phenomenon that cannot be reduced to a singular, ‘present-day’ understanding. Through this three-way interaction, I formed a fascination with concept of ‘copying’ or ‘knocking-off’ another designer’s work vs. find inspiration in the silhouettes, modes of production or craft appropriated in past histories. I wanted to explore the difference between repackaging historical borrowings and ‘copycatting—which I believe to be an inherent exercise operating within the fashion system. And so, voilà: a dissertation subject was born! 💥

Mr Edward Crutchley setting me straight on gat-gate via Instagram’s private messaging feature.

Favourite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

Pfftttt that’s hard—I have discovered so many new (to me), fiercely innovative authors during this research period. I therefore have to choose two: Véronique Pouillard and Agnès Rocamora, who between them have produced some of the most fascinating texts I’ve read over the course of my undergrad and postgrad experiences. Pouillard’s extensive work on the formalisation of design piracy in the fashion industry during the interwar period and her exploration of intellectual property rights in relation to the preservation of originality European property laws vs. U.S. patents and trademarks)—-beyond helpful; and Rocamora’s comprehensive dissection of Pierre Bourdieu’s conceptual arguments surrounding the sociology of cultural production—theoretical life–saver. 

Also, Sara Beth Marcketti’s 2005 PhD thesis, ‘Design piracy in the United States women’s ready- to-wear apparel industry: 1910-1941’ (Iowa State University)—gold dust. 

Favourite image/object in your dissertation and why?

A memoir-like interview I found through FIT’s Oral Histories Project (@fitspecialcollections), in which American entrepreneur Andrew Goodman [son of Edwin Goodman and former president (1951) and owner of department store, Bergdorf Goodman (1953-1972)] discusses his life and career in the New York fashion industry (recorded in 1977). Goodman tells all manner of awe-inspiring anecdotes, but my favourite is one in which he goes undercover for a sting operation in Paris (while working for Patou in 1926) in order to apprehend a group of French copyists: just the right blend of theatricality and fun! 

Vintage Clothes and Modern Londoners

London has long been a hub for subcultures: teddy boys and girls in the 1950s, mods and rockers in the 1960s and punks in the 1980s, to name only a few. What of the subcultures found in London today? One of the least well known is the vintage subculture: a community of people who dress in distinctively old clothing. 

Before we begin discussing the vintage community, let’s first establish some ground rules on what vintage clothing is. There is a difference between antique, vintage, retro and reproduction in terms of clothing, as well as most other material culture items. Items 100 or more years old are generally considered antique, while items 20 (or 30, depending on whom you’re talking to) to 99 years old are considered vintage. Retro items tend to be newer and have a clear inspiration or aesthetic from the past. Finally, reproduction garments are new but closely imitate older items and often are made using similar materials and techniques.

The ‘VintageOOTD’ hashtag on Instagram shows the fashion-oriented nature of the Vintage Instagram community.

The vintage community in London, myself included, embraces all of these classifications. Some members dress only in antique or vintage garments, while most of us sport a combination of older and newer pieces.

What does this community look like, and how does it interact, you might ask?

Unlike some subcultures, which are exclusive and uniform in terms of their membership, the vintage community is incredibly diverse and inclusive. People of all professions, nationalities, races and identities make up the London vintage scene. For example, friends of mine include a Chinese-Indonesian-Australian scientist and a Croatian marketing advisor and model.

Three members of the London Vintage community: @James.L.Richardson, @JeordyRaines, and @NoraFinds. See below to find them on Instagram.

Somewhat ironically, the vintage community —a group of individuals who all share a love for the past— functions largely through social media, particularly Instagram. Through Instagram, vintage men and women from all over the world engage with and support each other. Oftentimes, someone with whom you have an Instagram relationship with will become a real-life friend when you live in the same city. These interactions are incredibly fashion-based, with outfit photos being one of the primary media of interaction. Via Instagram, the vintage community is able not to only keep in touch remotely, but also to organise events through which to engage in person. One of the most prominent of these events is the Chap Olympiad, a summer garden party and festival of all things odd and antiquated, which rolls around for one day each July. Both social media and events like this bring together a group of people who love old clothes and allow them to discover a likeminded community in a large and sometimes standoffish urban world.

2018 Chap Olympiad at Bedford Square. Jeordy Raines, James. L. Richardson, @MateaInWonderland, and @Telombre. See below to find them on Instagram.

You can learn more about these vintage Londoners and what inspires them on Instagram:
James.L.Richardson
JeordyRaines
NoraFinds
MateaInWonderland
Telombre

All images belong to the author.

The John Cole Fashion Photography Archive

As Andrew Bolton, Head Curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute once said in a Vogue documentary, ‘Your memory of fashion is fashion photography.’

I love fashion photography. I have collected magazines ever since I was little, when my mother and I would spend hours looking at the pretty glossy pictures. It was my interest in fashion photography that led me to the Documenting Fashion course at The Courtauld. An entire course on fashion imagery? I knew immediately that this course was for me. Reflecting upon my year at The Courtauld as it is coming to a close, I believe that one of the most important things I have learned is to appreciate the depth of fashion photography, as a fashion photograph can be much more than a visually pleasing image. I have learned that fashion photography has the potential to shape our attitudes towards our identity, our society and our culture. But fashion photographs are not only expressions of our visual culture: they are first and foremost expressions of our desires. We can come to see the world through the knowing eye of the fashion photographer, who instinctively captures seminal moments and has the ability to immortalise certain fashion designs.

I was convinced until this year that Google Images and my stack of old magazines were my best bet when it came to looking at old fashion photographs. I have since discovered the existence of a plethora of rich fashion photography archives, many of which have greatly helped me with my research throughout the year. The most recent archive that I have discovered is that of fashion photographer John Cole (1923-1995).

John Cole at work at Studio Five.*

John Cole began his career as a fashion photographer in the 1940s and opened his first studio in Mayfair in 1956. The studio, called ‘Studio Five’, attracted photographers who would rise to great prominence in the fashion industry—one such photographer, David Bailey, would eventually work for British Vogue. 

John started taking fashion photographs in the early 1940s when working for Gee & Watson and Hugh White Studios. He took many photographs for the original Tatler & Bystander magazine which was owned by the Illustrated London News; he also took photographs for Britannia & Eve magazine.

John was a very prolific photographer whose photographs were used for many adverts in a wide range of publications. At Studio Five, he took photographs for Hairdressers Journal, Flair Magazine, The Sunday Times, Daily Mail, The SUN, the Daily Express, Evening News, Evening Standard and The Guardian. Throughout the 1970s, Country Life ran a fashion section for which John was the main photographer. 

John’s many years of experience, both in the darkroom and on set watching other photographers at work, would eventually allow him to master his own techniques—such as lighting. As stated in an article from 1962, John was ‘someone at the top but always willing to learn.’ If he wasn’t using tungsten lighting, he was working with the natural daylight that poured in through the two roof windows at Studio Five.

This photograph was taken for Chemstrand tights, April 1966.* 

John asserted his creative agency in the original way he captured the cut and shape of the clothes in his images, demonstrating an utmost confidence in his own instincts. He seemed interested in capturing clothing from unexpected viewpoints. In shooting from quirky angles, his photographs change the way a particular garment is seen. They provide a fresh perspective on relatively standard items of dress that would make any woman want to purchase them. 

John Cole had a knack for showing the clothes off from unexpected angles.*

The pictures that have been collected and made available in his archive accessible via a website and an Instagram account give us a glimpse of the times in which he worked, particularly the 1960s—an era full of glamour and youthful fun. Included in this collection of stunning photographs are images of model-turned-editor Grace Coddington, along with some behind the scenes photographs that provide us with a flavour of the energetic ambiance of Studio Five. 

There was always music being played at the studio. Well, it was the 60s!*

John had a distinct ability to capture the energy of his subject. While there is a light and whimsical overtone to his photographs, the model in the picture always seems to be deeply engaged and present. We can see that each model is prepared to give everything she has, with the knowledge that John would capture her at the perfect moment. Each one of John’s models emanates a liveliness that reflects her desire to fully invest in playing her role for the camera. As John himself asserted, ‘There has to be complete affinity between photographer and model to take a really good picture.’

This image of Twiggy was taken for fashion brand Slimma in 1966. The clothes were designed by David Bond, whose trouser suit was the Bath Fashion Museum Dress of the Year in 1967, chosen by Felicity Green at the Daily Mirror.*

The John Cole website provides everything from bibliographic information, to video clips of him on set with 1960s icon Twiggy, to personal accounts written by individuals who worked alongside Cole at Studio Five. 

An archive such as this puts into question the ephemeral nature of fashion photography. It challenges common notions of fashion photography as images that we mindlessly flip through in a waiting room or on our morning commute: images that are quickly discarded, never to be looked at again once the next month’s issue is published. A fashion photography archive emphasises the commonly overlooked notion that fashion photography has the potential to capture the collective consciousness of a particular time, frozen in one glossy beautiful image. For those of us who cannot afford to wear the glamorous clothes featured in most fashion photographs, we can take solace in the thought that fashion photography nevertheless allows us to partake in this dream world. 

* All images taken from the John Cole Archive and subject to copyright.

 

References:

http://www.johncolestudiofive.co.uk/home/4570078226

‘Photography in Advertising: A self-contained service in an unusual backwater,’ John Heron, February, 1955

‘“The Only Way to Succeed…” Robert Sowter interviews top photographer John Cole,’ Robert Sowter, Time & Tide, November, 1962

Fashion Illustration and Instagram

From the creative process to representation in magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, illustration has always played a key role in fashion, its rough, sketch-like appearance giving it a whimsical elegance. Just like fashion photography, fashion illustrations are palpable sources of information about the collective cultural currents of a moment in time.

Today, as long as you have a smartphone, you can capture anyone walking down the street in what you consider to be a fabulous outfit, identifying yourself as a fashion photographer. Depending on the number of followers your fashion account has, you can even be thought of as an ‘influencer’. As someone who loves looking at photos of clothes, especially street-style, I turn to Instagram for my daily dose of visual inspiration. Over time, I have noticed that my feed has automatically curated itself. However, I cannot help but notice the lack of variety in the fashion images I encounter. My newsfeed is saturated with the same overly edited type of photo (I don’t always buy the #nofilter). It seems that every new fashion account is trying to outdo the next most popular one.

In our recent Portraiture and Identity-themed MA seminar, we began by discussing events that would be occurring in London over the next few months. All of the events seemed to have to do with fashion illustration. When I got home I turned to Instagram—of course— to look up a few of the illustrators that we had been discussing. I was so relieved to be exposed to an entirely different, though no less vibrant, dimension of fashion representation. Additionally, there was something exciting about knowing that while I could encounter photos of illustrations at my fingertips, I could also stroll down to the Fashion Illustration Gallery in Covent Garden and engage in a more dynamic viewing experience of fashion illustration.

Fashion Illustration Gallery (The Shop at Bluebird).

Although sketching the runway may seem archaic in a time of live stories and Snapchat, is there not something refreshingly authentic about the process of drawing—a process that offers an escape from filters and retouching? Fashion illustration offers a very different form of real-time representation, one that is organic in its process and tangible in its materiality. Each illustration is unique, rather than a template. There is a rarity in each piece that gives it the special aura of a collectible item.

Left: Richard Haines, Four Guys Walking, 2017, 42×29.7 cm, digital inkjet pigment print. Right: David Downton, 100 Years, 2008, 59.4×42 cm archival FIG pigment print.

 

David Downton, LOVE YSL, 2013, 59.4×42 cm, digital inkjet pigment print.

Fashion illustration definitely seems to be garnering interest in social media, with Instagram seemingly acting as a portfolio for the fashion illustrator. For instance, the page ‘The Unique Illustration‘ posts what its moderator(s) have called ‘fashion illustration flash mobs’. The page selects an image and then posts various illustrations of it realised by different artists. Like in the case of ‘Alice in Gucciland’, this relatively young display mode showcases a fascinating variety of illustrations, which, interestingly, might never have been seen were it not for the platform Instagram affords the artists.

The intricacies of Instagram

How can dress and fashion historical imagery be consumed thoughtfully through a platform designed to deliver “Insta” visual-gratification?

The name of the game is self-explanatory. Instagram is a digital landscape through which the inescapable consumption of countless images is organised into a curated virtual reality. A flurry of images is uploaded onto our personal, tailor-made feed daily, hourly—in fact, any time the app is refreshed on our device of choice. And this instantaneous cycle of viewing and sharing has become snuggly situated in our collective day-to-day narrative. 

It is fair to say that fashion imagery, more specifically fashion photography, has become a firm feature on many an Instagram feed. Snapshots of contemporary collections are shared by Influencers from Fashion Week’s runway-adjacent front rows; models post Instagram Stories when on set, on location; and makeup artists upload videos of themselves mixing palettes when designing sponsored campaign looks. The content is constant and it is diverse, meaning that a fashion-centric aesthetic is now marketable to a wider portion of the Instagram community. But what does this mean for the tradition of fashion imagery—its dissection, discussion and the themes that underpin its discourse—and how are we now to consume said images in a way that preserves meaning and evokes critical analysis? If the volume of fashion and dress historical imagery being uploaded onto Instagram’s constantly shifting consciousness continues at such a rate, will it ultimately damage how it is read? 

Take for example the trend for ‘fast-art’ on Instagram. You take a painting—either in its entirety or a key compositional detail—and post it with accompanying text. You devise a caption summarising the work’s basic details: its dimensions, medium, the date of execution and title, maybe even a brief yet spiffy artist’s bio, if you will. Then you post. Established accounts such as @paintings.daily or @historiadelart are good examples, and @painters.paintings neatly describe their account as ‘An Art History Tour in a Virtual Gallery.’ 

A snap taken of @painters.paintings Instagram account, featuring their profile bio. Photo by author.

This exhibition-like design of posting is not exclusive to art historical accounts: it is also trending in the representation of art-historical dress and fashion. @the_corsetedbeauty, a well-followed dress account, claims to document “historical finery from days gone by. From the 18th century through the 1950s.” From the fashions flaunted in English Victoriana society portraits to the costumes designed by Michael O’Connor for Cary Joji Fukunaga’s 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre, the account covers all manner of fashion foray, sweetly packaged into an aesthetically pleasing feed adorned with concise captions and analytically prevalent hashtags. 

Figure 2: An example of the content posted by accounts such as @the_corsetedbeauty. Photo by author.

Its output, in accordance with that of accounts such as @redthreaded, @artgarments or @thiswasfashion, is undeniably a step in the right direction. However, in the majority of cases, we are given the essential information on the image without being asked to question it. What is this painting’s unique place in the art historical cannon? What does the dress being worn signify about its wearer? Can we discern the subject’s social status and which domestic interior is being depicted here? How are we to read the space in relation to the protagonist’s interaction with her friend, sister or even trusted domestic servant? There are many questions to raise in the reading of any image, but is Instagram the right space in which to begin this line of questioning?

Maria Aceituno of @historicalgarments thinks that, in the context of fashion history (which she believes has a different goal than that of modern fashion imagery, as it does not affect current designer purchases) ‘the use of social media for sharing fashion history images is affecting fashion consciousness. With more access to images, a wider audience is learning about the use, construction, and purpose of clothing in a more user-friendly manner. Searching with a hashtag yields a wealth of information. Captions that go along with these images can also help give new insights, correct misinformation, or even perpetuate myths **cough: corsets and missing ribs: cough**.’  

Maria’s account, @historicalgarments—‘Inspiration, humor, and sewing for lovers of fashion before the 1950s.’ Photo by author.

I am inclined to agree with Maria, to an extent. It is encouraging to see accounts such as her own act as a dress/fashion history catalogue, potentially exposing a greater, more diverse audience to the discipline. But am I asking too much in my desire to be challenged by the content to which I am exposed? I dream of a time when I will reread captions with motive, when my interest is pushed enough to strike up a debate in the comments, when I am moved to ask for more insight over DM. I look forward to when I can interrogate and probe, as opposed to continually swiping the state of passivity in which I find myself, adequately educated, yet to be enthralled. 

Favourite Fashion Instagrams

Documenting Fashion writers share their favourite fashionable feeds:

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Alexis @dapper_kid
Courtauld alum Syed can make anything fashionable, from an embroidery detail to a light bulb. And it connects to a thought provoking (and equally dapper) blog (www.dapperkid.co.uk)

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Rebecca – @duroolowu
Designer Duro Olowu’s posts are always beautiful and inspiring. A really great, well-curated selection of images

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Rosie – @marthaward
Martha Ward is a freelance fashion stylist and editor. Her dreamy instagram, full of beautiful pictures of clothes, art, flowers and travel, will make you want to run away to a remote country cottage filled with roses and surrounded by fields, but taking your best designer gowns with you!

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Brianna @simplicitycity
A combination of 20th century fashion photography and active curation of subject matter, style and form, each image that simplicitycity posts resonates with the present day. Minimal descriptions serve to grant the images with renewed relevance and a sense of timelessness at once- they belong just as much to the present as they do the past, yet it is only the date of the images that suggest otherwise.

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Rebecca  @charlottedicarcaci
Tantalising and beautiful – details of paintings that focus of aspects of dress.

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Rosie – @paperfashion
Katie Rodgers is a New York based artist who hand paints beautifully simple, fairy-like fashion illustrations. Follow for pictures of floaty dresses, easels in sunflower fields and ballet dancers.

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Rebecca @thefashionablereader
Wide ranging selection of books and journals from the poster’s enviable collection. Perfect for summer reading inspiration!