500 Years of Dress Historiography Display

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June is Fashion Book Month! Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday in June we will be posting the MA and PhD Dress History students’ responses to their chosen texts that constitute our ‘500 Years of Dress Historiography’ display, which is currently on show in the Courtauld Institute of Art. Today we are starting with the text panels, written by Dr Rebecca Arnold, which feature at the beginning and end of the display.

Text Panel 1

As part our celebrations of 50 years of the History of Dress at The Courtauld Institute, this display explores the subject’s historiography through items from the Book Library’s Special Collections. Collected by Stella Mary Newton, who originated the Institute’s first course on the subject, the books represent varied perspectives on dress and fashion.

Each book has been chosen by a current History of Dress student, as an example of a key moment in the subject’s articulation in text and image. The display begins with the earliest book in the collection, Vecellio’s Habiti Antichi, Moderni di tutto il mondo… published in 1598, which seeks to catalogue dress in all its variety, and ends with Genevieve Dariaux’s Elegance… of 1964, a guide for modern women on how to dress successfully. It thus encompasses the myriad ways dress had been written about up to the point that the History of Dress department opened in 1965.

Vitrine 1 displays books that record existing dress, seeking to understand its history, diversity and manufacture through an encyclopedic approach to the subject. Vitrine 2 focuses on books that are more thematic in approach. These texts explore fashion and dress’ meanings and significance in relation to the period in which they were published.

Conceived as a dialogue between The Courtauld’s current History of Dress staff and students, and their counterparts in Fashion Museology at London College of Fashion, the display represents interplay between the objects themselves and our responses to them.

Text Panel 2

In 1965, when The Courtauld Institute’s then director, Anthony Blunt, incorporated History of Dress into its list of courses, it marked the subject’s formal entry into academia, and an intervention into its historiography to date. From this point, History of Dress became a discrete area of study within the university, allied to Art History, and therefore to the ways dress resonates within imagery. Stella Mary Newton, Head of Department in its early years, sought to establish the subject’s significance through close analysis of types of dress as seen in art, and in relation to extant examples. Her own writing, and that of many of her students, most notably, her successor, Aileen Ribeiro, encouraged a style of visual analysis that has become distinct to The Courtauld. Since 2009, under Rebecca Arnold’s direction, this specialism has evolved further to integrate into The Courtauld’s contemporary approach to Art History, and to develop its interdisciplinary methodologies and international scope.

As seen in the students’ choice of texts, and their own writing on each book, we espouse a rich and analytical approach to writing on dress. We aim to push the discipline’s boundaries and consider dress as image, object, text and idea. Our publications attest to this, and to our status as the only History of Dress department with such a long and illustrious history. We want to show why good writing matters to thinking about and understanding dress.

‘Dress and History Since 1965’ from Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Makes Women Conference, May 2015

Dr Rebecca Arnold delivering her paper at the ‘Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Make Women conference’

organisers Dr Rebecca Arnold, Liz Kutesko and Lucy Moyse

organisers Dr Rebecca Arnold, Liz Kutesko and Lucy Moyse

On 16 May we held our conference ‘Women Make Fashion/Fashion Makes Women,’ to celebrate our 50th Anniversary, and we wanted to share the introductory lecture ‘Dress and History since 1965,’ with our readers. This talk was given by Dr Rebecca Arnold, and was written in collaboration with the conference’s other organisers, and current PhD students, Lucy Moyse and Elizabeth Kutesko.

We’ve included some of the illustrations shown during the talk and also it’s abstract:

This talk considers the development of History of Dress at The Courtauld Institute since its inception in 1965, and the subject’s development and relationship to art history over this fifty year period. It will examine the context of History of Dress’ emergence as a discrete academic field and relate this to contemporary writing and scholarship on dress and fashion. Within this, the role of women will be analysed to situate our conference’s title ‘Women Make Fashion/Fashion Makes Women’, in relation to the discipline’s emergence, its reception and its sometimes contested significance and meaning within wider academia.
Dress History will be framed as a potentially radical and innovative way to rethink history, and art history, bringing to light new insights into a given period. The importance of dress and fashion to women, and the changing landscape of gender politics over this period sharpens our exploration of the History of Dress, and The Courtauld’s importance as its pioneer within the academy.

We hope you enjoy reading it!

‘Dress & History since 1965’ pdf

Images from the paper:

Four items currently displayed within the Dress Historiography: 500 Years of Fashion Books exhibition, The Courtauld Institute

Four items currently displayed within the Dress Historiography: 500 Years of Fashion Books exhibition, The Courtauld Institute

nvoice to Dodie Smith, Stella Mary Newton (née Pearce) Haute Couture, 1934

nvoice to Dodie Smith, Stella Mary Newton (née Pearce) Haute Couture, 1934

Professor Aileen Ribeiro photographed with the Harris Textiles Collection in the 1970s

Professor Aileen Ribeiro photographed with the Harris Textiles Collection in the 1970s

MA students examining an 18th century stomacher, Harris Textiles Collection

MA students examining an 18th century stomacher, Harris Textiles Collection

Professor Joanna Woodall speaking at the Helene Fourment Study Day, The Courtauld, April 2015

Professor Joanna Woodall speaking at the Helene Fourment Study Day, The Courtauld, April 2015

MA students looking at items in store at Museum at FIT, during a study trip to New York City

MA students looking at items in store at Museum at FIT, during a study trip to New York City

PhD student Alexis Romano preparing the Winter Mode exhibition

PhD student Alexis Romano preparing the Winter Mode exhibition

nstagram post of an Addressing Images Even

nstagram post of an Addressing Images Even

 

Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Makes Women: Planning our Conference to Celebrate 50 Years of Dress History at the Courtauld

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

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

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:

https://www.courtauld.ac.uk/researchforum/events/2015/summer/may16_WomenMakeFashion.shtml