Author Archives: Liz

An Auto-Ethnographic Text: Cara Delevigne for Vogue Brasil, February 2014

Cara Delevigne dominated the front cover of the February 2014 edition of Vogue Brasil, which was shot by the internationally-acclaimed Brazilian fashion photographer Jacques Dequeker. Dressed in a sparkly blue minidress by the Brazilian brand Bo.Bo., and accessorised with heavy gold jewellery designed by Lanvin and Dior, she is framed, hands on her hips, against the colourful backdrop of the Santa Marta favela. The Santa Marta favela (commonly referred to in Brazil using the more politically correct term ‘morro’, which translates literally as hill) occupies the Botafogo and Laranjeiras region of the Dona Marta hill in Rio de Janeiro. It received global media attention in 2010, when Dutch artists Jeroean Koolhas and Dre Urhahn (known as Hass & Hahn) collaborated with local residents to paint 7,000 square metres of the morro’s façade in contrasting shades of the rainbow. A symbol of pride for the local community, the Santa Marta art project featured throughout the 12-page Vogue Brasil editorial, which was entitled ‘Face to Face with the Favela: the Santa Marta hill serves as the scenario for Cara Delevigne to wear statement pieces of the season, showing that streetwear couture is the trend of the moment’.

It is not difficult to point out the strikingly asymmetrical dynamics of power in operation between the British supermodel – posing in a combination of mid to high-end Western and Brazilian fashion labels that include Prada, Chanel, Adidas Originals, Bo.Bo., Starter, Valention and John John – and the socioeconomic realities of local residents, whose own creative sartorial expressions were noticeably absent from the frame. Furthermore, it is certainly not uncommon, within ‘Western’ fashion magazines, to come face to face with similar stereotypically ‘exotic’ fashion shoots, which replace the immaculate studio for various ‘non-Western’ backdrops and cityscapes that provide an edgy and endlessly intriguing locale to display Western fashion for the curious Western viewer. Sarah Cheang discusses this at length in her fantastic article, entitled ‘’To the Ends of the Earth’: Fashion and Ethnicity in the Vogue Fashion Shoot’, wherein she comments that Western fashion frequently constructs its ‘other and self-defining conceptual opposite’ through shoots in, for example, ‘dusty Palestine, rural India, or mountainous Peru’.

But what are we to think when Vogue Brasil, with forward thinking Editor-in-Chief Daniela Falcão at the helm, turns that curious Western gaze upon itself, using the morro Santa Marta as an exotic and colourful backdrop to spice up the pages of the magazine? Certainly, there is a considerable distance between the Brazilian viewer (predominantly white European-descended women with cultural and economic capital), whose social and material reality is far divorced from that of inhabitants of the colourful morro Santa Marta, a setting which is sure to have had a cheerful aesthetic appeal for a Vogue Brasil readership. Nevertheless, it is important to situate the magazine within the cross-cultural context from which it emerged in 1975 and has since developed. Brazil is a country that sits intriguingly in between the West and the so-called non-West. In geographical terms Brazil is certainly a Western nation. Moreover, it is affiliated with the West in terms of its developing free-market economy, its large export supplies of raw materials and manufactured goods, its transition to a democratic constitution following the end of the authoritarian military regime in 1985, its high cultural institutions, and its adoption of Christianity and the Portuguese language. Yet Brazil might still be considered a non-Western nation with regard to its incomplete infrastructure, socioeconomic disparities, unequal distribution of wealth and land, poor standards of public health, and its popular and material culture which constitutes, as David Hess and Robert DaMatta have succinctly articulated, a unique site in which ‘Western culture has mixed and mingled with non-Western cultures for centuries’.

So taking this cross-cultural context into account, is it possible to discern any critical engagement in Vogue Brasil with Western and non-Western academic debates that have used the term ‘auto-ethnographic’ text or ‘auto-exotic’ gaze to refer to the way that non-Western cultures often look at themselves with Western eyes, turning their culture into an exotic product that they then offer back to the West? Mary Louise Pratt coined the term ‘auto-ethnography’ or ‘auto-ethnographic’ and used it to describe ‘text[s] in which people undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them’. These auto-ethnographic texts involve ‘a selective collaboration with and appropriation of idioms of the metropolis and conqueror. These are merged or infiltrated to various degrees with indigenous idioms to create self-representations intended to intervene in metropolitan modes of understanding’. There are numerous tropes to draw upon to demonstrate how the West has produced an exoticised image of Brazil as a site of cultural difference, usually centered on Rio de Janeiro, and on the themes of sun, sea, Caipirinhas, Copacabana beach, skimpy bikinis, and the drugs and violence associated with the favelas. So in placing this fashion shoot within the morro Santa Marta, Vogue Brasil was engaging with a well-established stereotype of Brazil that is frequently seen in the Western media; the only difference is that the violence and gun crime has been eclipsed by the dazzling beauty of the rainbow coloured buildings. Pratt writes that ‘auto-ethnographic works are often addressed to both metropolitan audiences and the speaker’s own community’ and deduces that ‘their reception is thus highly indeterminate. In using Cara Delevigne as the model, Vogue Brasil knew that this shoot would attract the attention of the Western media, which it did, appearing in newspapers such as the Daily Mail, to cite but one example, in an article by Louise Sanders entitled ‘Favela funk! Cara Delevingne rocks her signature edgy style in vivid neon brights as she works her magic in street shoot for Vogue Brazil’. Although the title suggests the Daily Mail struggled to pick up on the critical message of the shoot it nevertheless constituted, as Pratt has pointed out, ‘a marginalised groups point of entry into the dominant circuits of print culture’.

Therefore, whilst it might be easy to either dismiss this fashion shoot as an instance of Vogue Brasil following in the footsteps of Western fashion magazines, which marginalises the everyday experiences of local residents of the morro Santa Marta or, conversely, to celebrate it for its eye-catching images that frame Cara Delevigne against an intriguing backdrop, I would argue that something altogether more complicated is taking place. If understood as an auto-ethnographic text, then this shoot mobilises a far more interesting dynamic of cross-cultural contact between Brazil and the West that warrants further examination, in which Brazil is perhaps no longer subordinate to the West, but instead uses its own cultural productions to subtly fight back.

Cara Delevigne on the cover of the February 2014 issue of Vogue Brasil
Cara Delevigne on the cover of the February 2014 issue of Vogue Brasil. Image: Liz Kutesko


The first page of the Cara photo spread Image: Liz Kutesko
The first page of the Cara photo spread Image: Liz Kutesko
photo 3
Image: Liz Kutesko
photo 2
Image: Liz Kutesko


[1] Anon., ‘De Cara com a Rua: o morro Dona Marta serve de Cenario para Cara Delevigne vestir peças statement da temporada que, usadas com outras de dna Atletico, imprimem o streetwear couture que e tendencia da vez’, Vogue Brasil, February 2014, pp. 140-151.

[2] S. Cheang, ‘’To the Ends of the Earth’: Fashion and Ethnicity in the Vogue Fashion Shoot’ in Fashion Media: Past and Present, ed. By D. Bartlett, S. Cole, and A. Rocamora (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), pp. 35-45 (p. 35).

[3] D. J. Hess and R. A. DaMatta, ‘Introduction’ in Brazilian Puzzle: Culture on the Borderlands of the Western World, ed. By Hess and DaMatta (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), p. 2.

[4] M. L. Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, 2nd edn (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 8.

[5] Pratt, Imperial Eyes, p. 8.

[6] Ibid.

Reflections on History of Dress Essay Writing

I’m currently supervising five of my second-year students through the research, writing and editing stages of their 4,000 word dissertations. They are writing on a variety of interesting topics, which include:

The complexity of dress reflecting complicated relationships in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954);

The representation of Japanese street-style in noughties American print media;

Dress as a traveller through time, space and place in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet (1996);

A Freudian examination of British Punk fashion from 1975-85;

And, An analysis of Cecil Beaton’s dual identity in the American Vogue (March, 1951) fashion shoot, ‘The New Soft Look’.

It’s great to be helping my students tackle many of the problems I remember struggling with – structure, focus, linking the thread of the argument, avoiding colloquialisms, analysing quotations rather than simply dropping them into the text, pushing the analysis further still – and hopefully, emerging triumphant at the other end. I remember my own third-year assessed essay that I wrote in 2011, which addressed the representation of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto’s designs by the American and British fashion press in the early 1980s. I struggled with lots of aspects but thankfully had the help, not just of my supervisor Dr Rebecca Arnold, but also of the author and editor Virginia Rounding, the then Royal Literary Fellow, which is part of an amazing service the Courtauld provides for its students to help them improve their writing. For nostalgia’s sake, and because it’s fun to look back as well as ahead, I’ve included a pdf of my essay here, entitled ‘The American and British Reception and Representation of Japanese Fashion Designers in the Early 1980s’.

The American and British reception and representation of Japanese fashion designers in the early 1980s

The books of Liz's dissertation
The books of Liz’s dissertation!

A Conversation with: Photographer and Editor David Bennett

I recently met up with the photographer David Bennett since we are planning to collaborate on the next edition of PpR Journal []. It’s going to be a really exciting edition – as creator and editor of PpR, are you allowed to tell us a bit more about the upcoming edition, or is it top secret prior to publication?

What I can say is that I am very excited with the content of the second issue. I am working with a 16 year old boy in Russia who makes photographs and avant-garde music as homework. He also loves fashion.

PpR stands for People Pages Research since it acts as a catalyst for my own research interests. For a long time I have been very interested in collaboration, curation, and collecting and how they can operate together. I am also a photographer and have worked in editorial. I had considered going back into education to study further but did not find the school/programme that interested me. Instead, I founded PpR as a way to satisfy those interests so that they can be appreciated by others.

In the 1990s I was an avid reader of Purple Magazine, Self Service and INDEX Magazine and found the content intellectually stimulating. Titles that I find pleasurable and functional today are Vestoj and F de C Reader. However, I am equally interested in other printed ephemera i.e. look books and vernacular pieces.

PpR is distributed very personally, which is a luxury but a lot of work. It is stocked in very good stores in London, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, LA and Tokyo. Instagram (@pprjournal) plays a very important role in the distribution process and has opened many opportunities. One of our very first stockists to carry PpR was IDEA Books at Dover Street Market London []. The fashion designer Yoshikazu Yamagata (writtenafterwards and written by) contributed to the launch issue and had an installation of his written by AW 15 collection in the basement of the Dover Street store around the same time as the launch of the magazine, so it made real sense.

PpR is interested in fashion and culture within a broader context over a consumerist and trend perspective. The content is built around the taste and sensibility of its creators and this is mirrored by its Instagram feeds. In the early 2000s I was introduced to students living in London who were studying fashion design and illustration at Central Saint Martins. Later, these friends moved back to their respective countries to develop their careers. Together with musicians Kumisolo and Joakim they contributed to the launch issue of PpR, which loosely explored the emotive responses we have to clothes.

I am interested in chance and spontaneity and excited by the opportunities that exist in the unknown. With the exception of the Kumisolo story that was produced in Paris, the rest of the material in the launch issue was conceived externally and online without meetings or art-direction, and with the confidence placed in each contributor to create content on the loose thread of an idea. It was only once all the material was received that PpR could begin to be created.

As an independent I am able to exert control over editorial content, publication dates and format. It is rather like an album. It should come out when it is ready. I enjoy the freedom and flexibility to also decide on a format that is dependent on content. There is no advertising at present in the traditional sense of what we recognize as advertising, i.e. the back cover. However, in the launch issue Yoshikazu Yamagata provided an archive image from writtenafterwards AW 2013 collection, photographed by Nobuyoshi Araki. It plays with the idea of conventional advertising space. I am interested in using the back cover to communicate ideas without necessarily advertising a current/future product. It acts as a means for a creative to present information.

You also have a huge personal collection of magazines and print media. How did this begin, how it has developed over the years, and where do you see it headed in the future?

I started indulging in books when I worked at Zwemmer with Claire de Rouen (later at Claire de Rouen Books) as a buyer in 2000. Working with Claire I created windows in collaboration with Ann-Sofie Back, Yoshikazu Yamagata, Raf Simons, Issey Miyake and Eley Kishimoto so very early on I was exploring the possibilities of fashion communication in the institution of the bookstore, where the book became of secondary importance but attracted clients to the store to look at the printed matter within. We were the first to bring Sofia Coppola’s book SC into the country from Japan and also the one to get exclusive copies of Mark Borthwick’s xerox version of Social Documentaries: Amid This Pist from NYC. It was also here that I met people like Olu Michael Odukoya (Kilimanjaro and Modern Matter), John Spinks and Aleksandra Olenska, who all shared an appreciation of print media.

I soon grew tired and frustrated of knowing what was coming out 6-9 months in advance and became more interested in the excitement of finding out-of-print titles for the store, although it was not really recognized or appreciated at that time so instead I started buying stock for myself. It has always been a pleasure finding things and this relates to my interest in research. It was also a time I started buying lots of magazines as they were pocket money compared to books, and much more regular. I became more interested in magazines over books when I realized most consumers discarded them after their monthly shelf life, believing magazines deserved a longer life, as with books. I would sometimes buy magazines just for the advertising content and other times for the editorial. Magazines define a period, a time and space in popular culture and are more immediate than books. I like this immediacy. I am also fascinated by the amount of content within a single title for its relatively low cost.

I was starting to buy so much stock but always had trouble when moving apartments as magazines and books are so heavy and accumulate so much space, which I don’t have. So it is a growing problem. I cannot get rid of anything. However, once in a period of frustration I disposed of a pile of magazines including a precious issue of W Magazine Office Politics issue shot by Juergen Teller. I regret this moment as I went to Paris to buy that already rare issue and it ended up in a black refuge bag on the Hackney Road. Collecting can cause unnecessary anxieties but it is addictive and so exciting when you find great old stock.

My stock is housed in several places, as I have no space to keep it all together. I do not know exactly how much I have. A couple of thousand, I expect. There is no inventory. However, I know exactly what I have and what content exists in each issue. This helped me when I worked freelance as a researcher for TV commercials where knowledge and speed is power. I had a dream to one day digitize all the content of my collection and to offer a service of some kind but this was too mammoth a task to comprehend let alone realize. I don’t have the time or patience to do this.

Recently I have been thinking about other ways to share the collection but that is all I can say at this moment. I would like to bring curation and research into this, as with PpR.

As dress historians we are fascinated by images, but also by the tactile responses that we have with images, particularly as they function in daily life as material objects. Is it a similar concern with images as objects that prompted you to begin collecting these magazines?

I like the idea that you can smell a period of our history in popular culture through the peel and sniff of perfume/cologne samples housed in back issues of magazines. In an old Arena magazine one can smell the original CK One, the first commercial scent for him & her. Another reason I may have bought a magazine could have been for its advertising content alone (Miu Miu, Jigsaw Menswear, Helmut Lang, and Hugo Boss c.1990s).

The fascinating thing about magazines that I find very interesting is the idea of how much work goes into the single issue – creatively, intellectually and monetary. Yet, in general terms it has a very short life before it is discarded and the next issue comes out. There is also something quite fetishistic in collecting and in going out on the hunt to find new (or old) items for your archive, knowing that one-day I might again find that copy of W Magazine Office Politics.

What relevance do you think your collection has in our contemporary age, when so many of the images we view are circulated online?

Recently I purchased a bound collection of HANATSUBAKI magazines from 1982. Although they are published in Japanese language the content is extremely universal simply because it is so good. It may be an essay, an editorial on beauty procedures, or a review of the world’s fashion collections. The covers were so fresh and free, full of colour and applying great typography. Because these editions are so rare the content probably hasn’t been posted on Instagram. However, had they been they would not communicate this universality as well as the original can. As Walter Benjamin wrote about the ‘aura’ of the original and how the experience is lost in the reproduction of the original, this is very true in this case. Although I have posted some content onto the PpR Instagram account, it just doesn’t crossover, while most other posts do.

What’s your favourite item from your collection, and why?

It is difficult to name a favorite item, however I am very fond of issues of The Architectural Review (AR) from the 1950s-70s. They featured great covers, beautiful photography, modern layouts, and very interesting essays and editorials on architecture and urban/city planning. There are two items that are very significant to me 1) Jigsaw Menswear look-book (c.1997) by Juergen Teller 2) RAF SIMONS Look-books housed in the original packaging sent to me from Robbie Snelders. The packaging itself defines a place in fashion history.

You are also programme leader on photography at Barking and Dagenham College, and a practising photographer. How does your own photographic practice impact upon your teaching, and vice versa?

I never really planned to work in education and to run a degree programme but I consider myself in a privileged position to work with students who have chosen to give 3 years of their life to learn from my team. The programme is a quiet gem in photographic education where my team has included the best creative people including Olu Michael Odukoya, Mark Lebon, and Jonathan Hallam. Our recent addition to the team is the Estonian artist Maria Kapajeva. I try not to separate the different things I do but instead unite them. My own practice as a photographer and producer of PpR naturally enters my educational role and that alone is another privilege to offer.

RAF SIMONS. Collection of Look-books, posters and invitations. In original packaging sent RAF SIMONS Office Antwerp with delivery note signed by Robbie Snelders.
Jigsaw Menswear Look-book. Photographed by Juergen Teller. (C. 1997).
Jigsaw Menswear Look-book. Photographed by Juergen Teller. (C. 1997).
Alexander Rodchenko and the Russian Avant-garde (Russian edition), 1992.
Alexander Rodchenko and the Russian Avant-garde (Russian edition), 1992.
Mark Borthwick. Xerox (4 volumes) 1978 / Synthetic Voices / Margiela 2000-1 / Social Documentaries Amid this Piste. New York. Self Published. (C. 2002). All 4 volumes signed.
Mark Borthwick. Xerox (4 volumes) 1978 / Synthetic Voices / Margiela 2000-1 / Social Documentaries Amid this Piste. New York. Self Published. (C. 2002). All 4 volumes signed.
Chikashi Suzuki. Driving with Rinko (THE International No.6). Radical Silence Production, 2008.
Chikashi Suzuki. Driving with Rinko (THE International No.6). Radical Silence Production, 2008.
Undercover Jun Takahashi ete 2005: but beautiful II “homage to Jan Svankmajer”. Look-book, 2005.
Undercover Jun Takahashi ete 2005: but beautiful II “homage to Jan Svankmajer”. Look-book, 2005.
Thomas Demand and Peter Saville. Art, Fashion and Work for Hire. Thomas Demand, Peter Saville, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Christina Bechtler in Conversation. 2008.
Thomas Demand and Peter Saville. Art, Fashion and Work for Hire. Thomas Demand, Peter Saville, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Christina Bechtler in Conversation. 2008.
Gareth McConnell, Sex Drugs and Magick (Book One). Unique. Edition of 23 + 5 AP. Signed and editioned.
Gareth McConnell, Sex Drugs and Magick (Book One). Unique. Edition of 23 + 5 AP. Signed and editioned.
Magazines (Detail).
Magazines (Detail).

Re-presenting the Past: Uses of History in Dress, Fashion and Art

This Spring term I’m teaching a BA2 course entitled ‘Re-presenting the Past: uses of history in dress, fashion and art’. This was the first dress history module that I ever studied at the Courtauld as a second year undergraduate 6 years ago. Created and initially taught by Dr Rebecca Arnold, it was the first course that captured my enthusiasm for the subject, and prompted me to take my study of dress – as image, object, text and idea – to PhD level and beyond. Over the next ten weeks my eight students and I will be thinking about how history is studied, researched, thought and written about. We’ll be interrogating what history means, how it relates to diverse discourses such as narrative, power, identity and memory, and how our contemporary context impacts on the ways that history is used, presented and re-presented by historians, artists, photographers and designers.

Using theorists such as Walter Benjamin, Raphael Samuel, Jacques le Goff, Jean Baudrillard and many more, we will be considering how history can be re-visited and re-presented through images of dress and fashion. It’s a course that is wonderfully fitting to the cyclical nature of dress and fashion, which continually weaves together past and present with potential for the future. Using images of dress and fashion heuristically, to open out a broader discussion that draws on theory and context, we’ll be considering how objects might contain within themselves an alternative historiography, which could challenge preconceived ideas of what history constitutes.

For their Christmas projects, I sent my students to the V&A British galleries to consider how history is explored through image, object and text within the displays, and to think about how dress and fashion link to national history.

My own explorations threw up some interesting starting points. I began my search for uses of history in the V&A British galleries, 1760-1900, and happened upon a display case exploring the influence of Japan in Victorian Britain. The text panel diligently explained the enormous impact of Japanese art and design in the UK, which was first aroused following the opening up of Japan to British and American powers in 1850. From this point on, Japanese objects began to circulate globally and by the 1870s there was a craze for all things Japanese. The distinctive patterns and motifs of Japanese artistic forms provided a new and exciting source of exoticism to tantalise the curiosity of the British public and its desire for Eastern Otherness.

An example is an orange and green tasseled Japanese gift cover made of Satin silk, with two lobsters embroiders in satin silk thread on the front. The V&A caption vaguely informed us that it was produced in Japan between 1850 and 1880, and then concentrated on explaining that in the late Victorian period it was very fashionable to decorate your home with Japanese objects. The caption read: ‘Textiles such as this, which would have been used in Japan to cover a gift, were particularly popular. The striking lobster design would have seemed very exotic to the British public’.

Japanese silk cover and objects at the V&A.
Japanese silk cover and objects at the V&A.

Hung up flat on the wall of the display case, and thus divorced from its original function as a beautiful and functional object, the gift cover was presented in such a way so as to highlight its aesthetic qualities, which drew a connection to how it would have been originally been displayed, hung up on the wall, in Victorian Britain. In doing so, the V&A presented a very one-dimensional history of these Japanese objects, centered on the perspective of Britain. Although this may have been unsurprising, given that they were displayed in the British galleries, I began to wonder how the objects themselves might tell another history, narrated from the perspective of Japan.

Close up of Japanese silk cover.
Close up of Japanese silk cover at the V&A.

Presented in a very different way, and inserted into a Japanese context, the gift cover could have told another, equally important, history of Japanese art and design production, and how these objects circulated contemporaneously in Japanese daily life. Called a ‘fukusa’ in Japanese, this gift cover would have been draped over a gift, which itself would be presented on a tray. The ‘fukusa’ would be an object of interest in its own right to be suitably admired by the beneficiary, and any guests present. The choice of the gift cover constituted an important part of the process of gift giving and the extent of the decoration reflected the wealth of the person giving the gift, as well as their tastes. The gift cover was then returned to the giver.

This object is just one example of how preconceived histories might be challenged, nuanced, or even re-written in part through a focus on close visual and object analysis. In this particular example, the gift cover contained within itself another narrative of the past – a history narrated from an indigenous Japanese perspective -which the curious viewer might be prompted to further unpick the threads of.


Alumni Interview Part 13: Margaret Maynard, MA (Courtauld), PhD (Griffith)

Margaret Maynard grew up in Pretoria, South Africa and completed a Degree in Fine Art at Rhodes University, Grahamstown where she specialised in design. She moved on to study both a diploma and an MA in dress history at the Courtauld. Margaret has lived in Papua New Guinea and worked for The University of Queensland in Brisbane before completing her Phd at Griffith University, Brisbane in 1991 on colonial Australian dress. She has since written and lectured extensively on the subject of dress/fashion, both Australian and International, as well as on Australian art.


What are you up to at the moment?

I am always busy and seem to do so many different things. Here goes. This past year or so I have written a catalogue essay ‘Wool Fashions: Comfort, Tactility, Innovation’ for the exhibition The Art of Wool, New England Regional Art Museum (2015) and a long essay on the 19th century for the 200 Years of Australian Fashion exhibition, the National Gallery of Victoria, March 2016. My interest in colonial fashion is being revived after many years doing other things – it’s really fascinating to relook at early research. I am tinkering with an essay called ‘Australian Fashion Photography: Airlines and Style’ which came out of a large research project on Australian Fashion Photography in the 20th century. I have a book proposal called Back Story: The Photography of Fashion in Australia which has stalled due to image problems. I have been working with two colleagues about to publish a book on Queensland fashion called Remotely Fashionable: a story of subtropical style. This is the first comprehensive account of fashion in the state and I have helped a little with the writing. It was initially published online as The Fashion Archives. I am intermittently working on a project expanding an essay I did for the Berg Encyclopaedia on how cultural concepts of time explain different dress practices and beliefs about clothing around the world.

How did you come to study dress history at the Courtauld?

When I was 20 I worked for the State Theatre in Pretoria and Johannesburg designing costumes and did some teaching of theatre design at the University of Pretoria. I happened to come across a Diploma course on ‘costume’ history that had just started at the Courtauld Institute (in the 1960s). The Institute only took 4 students a year and I was lucky to get a place. I applied for the course and Stella Newton accepted me. The reason? She told me that my ‘African’ background was interesting and exotic!

Tell us about the time you spent at the Courtauld

As a student of ‘costume’ I felt totally at home. It was as if an entirely new world had opened up to me. Before the course started I spent time working with Karen Finch in her conservation studio and we have stayed in touch over the years. Later Karen and Stella undertook some joint CI teaching. As there were so few students we had privileged access to collections and Stella was a marvellous and inspiring teacher. I guess as students we had a bond between us that made it all seem so special. A field trip to Denmark and Sweden was one of a number of treats. Stella was intrigued by Scandinavian ‘peasant’ dress at the time.

We studied at Portman House and could attend art history lectures as well as our own. We were separate from the Art History students and had access to Stella’s rooms in the back garden of Portman Place. We started with lectures on the Greeks (but our first trip was to the National Gallery to look at early Renaissance art). The course progressed up to the 19th century but stopped there as Stella seemed less keen on contemporary dress. It was a packed program. For my Courtauld MA we did a special subject on the 18th century and I did my thesis on Burgundian dress.

What made you want to devote your career to dress history?

As a small child I was fascinated with paper dolls and dressing up. I was always interested in ‘art’ perhaps as my mother was an artist and stained glass designer. I worked as I have said as a costume designer for opera at the State Theatre both in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Initially I wanted to research African dress. But this was impractical at the time and I had no difficulty finding other topics of interest. I continue to be passionately interested in the subject. At the heart of this is my interest in people, now and in the past. Dress of all kinds provides an extraordinary useful method to explore the nature of any culture and to examine both the lives of men and women and their relationships. Dress allows us to interpret their history in a unique way and even to tap into their emotions. Because I had the good fortune to be part of the early beginnings of the discipline, I never lost my enthusiasm. Sometimes I knew I was the ‘first’ to look at certain archival material, literature and imagery from this new perspective. How much more motivation can you get?

How has dress history changed since you finished your PhD?

Yes, dress studies has changed immensely certainly in Europe and the UK. It has moved from somewhat limited interests in chronology and archival documentation to tackle broader issues. I began teaching the subject in Australia in the early 1980s (apart from teaching for a year at the Courtauld) and taught the first courses in Australia on dress/fashion and it was pioneering work! For a start there was little published that students could read. The dress including fashion was regarded by the hierarchy as a novelty but essentially bizarre and linked to sewing! That’s Australia for you. Since the 1990s cultural studies and theory have changed the face of both fashion and dress studies here are elsewhere. Where previously dress was sometimes disparaged, written about defensively and considered frivolous, it has certainly not been the case in the last decade or so. And in academic circles fashion studies are flourishing. There is such a range of high quality published material available which is wonderful. Cultural studies, media studies, history, material culture, women’s studies, ethnography and critical theory has challenged our approach and lifted the bar. Some exceedingly insightful work is being done.

For me there is perhaps too much emphasis on fashion studies today and some theoretical work has moved too far from material objects for me. But fashion is in vogue!! The subject also has professional cachet partly in association with the teaching of fashion design and marketing. It brings in funding and creates momentum in any research cohort. The media loves fashion and exhibitions of fashion are huge drawcards here as in Europe. There are also convenient links to contemporary interests in architecture and design.

How would you like to see the discipline develop in the future?

I feel that the gap in status between dress and fashion studies is not necessarily productive. I understand that interdisciplinary studies are difficult for researchers but I believe dress and fashion studies need to engage more with each other. I can’t speak for the situation in Europe and the US but in Australia I would like to see both aspects of the study equally acknowledged. I feel that ethnography and anthropology and, of course, material culture have much to offer both subjects and more synergy between these facets of academia would open up the area. In Australia, museums are underfunded and many collections languish. They are unable to undertake serious work with their holdings, which inevitably drive ideas. One only has to look at the V&A to see how this can happen. It is important to stand back from the glitzy aspects of fashion and look for other narratives that clothes can offer.

What is the current state of dress history in Australia?

Today in Australia dress history has taken a back seat to contemporary fashion studies which are thought to be more ‘fashionable’ in their links to cultural studies. But I see a new book out from Bloomsbury Dress History New Directions in Theory and Practice which is encouraging, and the public is still drawn to exhibitions of dress as well as fashion. Interestingly I think New Zealand might have more people concerned with dress and objects than here. Unfortunately Australia is made up of state communities, who don’t on the whole collaborate, and the same applies trying to work across disciplines. It is a vast country but with the internet those with an interest in dress should be able to get together more effectively, even if it’s only virtually. It may be the case that there will be a revival in dress studies. I hope so. We also need far more critical attention given to exhibitions of dress/fashion rather than tributes to designers or crowd pleasers. More publishing outlets would be wonderful but currently the prohibitive cost of reproducing images does not make things easy.

If one could get funding for a Centre of Excellence in Dress/fashion things could change – we can’t for instance run day conferences/seminars between the states. It is too costly. And in this part of the world we should be able to approach dress from outside restrictive Western paradigms, and thus undertake more revisionist thinking. It would be an intellectual shot in the arm. I would also like to see non-Western attire and its relationship to European clothing given more prominence.

A Conversation With: Photographer & Artist Julian Marshall

The fashion images produced by British photographer and artist Julian Marshall are quiet, contemplative and multi-layered. They halt you in your tracks and encourage you to look a little closer, to dig a little deeper, to uncover the emotion that lies beneath their beautiful glossy surface. They reveal the photographer’s fascination with the exquisite qualities of light, and how it can be used creatively in order to fashion the dressed body. His work probes various boundaries; between the real and the artificial, the active and the passive, the feminine and the masculine, the subject and the viewer. I caught up with Julian to find out a bit more about his work, and to examine some of his images in closer detail.

On how he got started…

‘I was working as an assistant for Eammon McCabe . He was a real genius with light, and I learnt everything about light from him. Then one day I woke up and decided – today, I’m going to be a photographer. So I didn’t assist for one second longer! I phoned up all the magazines, I went all around London with my book, showing people my work. I only had about 5 photographs because I was very reluctant to take pictures…I am still very resistant in fact. And then PR agent for Ghost phoned me back and they wanted a lookbook. But I really enjoyed that experience of showing my book…meeting people, speaking to people, getting feedback on my work. Making a connection with people – it’s so much easier than trying to communicate through email.’

On his photographic Achilles heel…

‘When I started taking photographs I had a good connection with how I wanted the image to feel, but no idea about composition. Though both my parents were artists, I had studied for a Law Degree and I hadn’t considered composition at all.  I couldn’t connect with composition on an emotional level. So I was shooting on 35mm film and I would think to myself, oh I should put the model to the side of the frame at some point. Just because that’s what people do. But I didn’t know why I should do it at all. And for a long time, I felt that composition had been my Achilles heel. I think it’s because I didn’t relate to it emotionally, so a lot of my early pictures were shot against a wall, which I found far less traumatic. I decided I couldn’t go on like this, so I hired a 10 x 8 plate camera and shot exclusively on it for 2 years. You cannot hide behind this camera, you have to make your choices and it forces you to address any issues you might have with composition.

On what he’s searching for in his images…

‘I want to move people through my images. Photography is a great way to connect to peopleI was quite shy at school. Often people don’t realise how incredibly shy I am I hide it well. So being a photographer is quite funny for me. It’s a bit like being a tightrope walker who is afraid of heights. 

On his relationship to his subjects…

I have to go in front of people and connect with them. This connection with my subjects is one of the things that drives and informs my work. I feel a great duty of care to the people I photograph. They are allowing to me into their lives to photograph them. So to me that’s very special, and feel like have a responsibility towards them. I know other people don’t shoot like that – maybe they look for a conflict, I don’t know, but for me this relationship with the subject and the responsibility I have towards them is central. I want the experience to be positive and I think why not. My images are driven by love. I always remember that when I like photographs in magazines, it’s because they are so moving that you want to touch the image… so I’m directing the model towards a way of being that expresses what I want to say. Sometimes if a model has done a lot of commercial work I have to deconstruct that, to make it more real, in order to express a feeling that is key to the photograph.’

On why photography is a form of performance art…

I have come to feel like photography is in itself like a performance art. The moment I walk through the door I can feel how everyone in the room is feeling. And all that energy needs to go towards making a great picture. I can feel how the assistant’s assistant feels, and how the assistant’s assistant feels may affect how the makeup artist feels. So I can throw something over to one side of the room to make a reaction on the other side of the room. And all of this comes together to have an effect on how the subject feels and appears before the camera. It’s in this sense that the fashion photograph is very much the result of a live event’.

Some highlights of Julian’s work include a series originally shot for Spanish Vogue in 2002It was inspired by the 1998 photobook Albanie: Visage des Balkans, ecrits de lumiere [Albanie: Face of the Balkans, writing in light] – a collection of images taken in Albania by the Marubi photographic dynasty, between 1858-1956. One of Julian’s images, succinctly captioned Albanie 1, depicts a model dressed entirely in black and standing confidently in the centre of the frame. The monochromatic palette highlights the clean, sharp lines of her streamlined, tailored clothing, which is punctuated only by a teasing glimpse of bare midriff. With a self-possessed stare she gazes directly at the viewer, observing him or her with an equivalent level of curiosity to the gaze that is placed upon her. Her gaze thus subverts the asymmetrical balance of power frequently attributed to ethnographic-style portraits, such as those presented in Albanie: Visage des Balkansby displaying the subject, rather than passive and powerless, as determined, active, and in charge of her own representation.

Another series, and my personal favourite, was first shot for the Financial Times in 1998. Cheryl 2 is a contemporary deconstruction of classical ballet and captures an ungainly figure against a bare concrete wall. She arrives in motion from the left-hand side of the frame; barefoot, with arms extended to display her muscular physique, and gaze focused straight ahead, she is a contemporary re-presentation of the classical ballerina. The muted tones of her cream and peach satin dress swirl around her limbs as she moves, whilst her painted white mask-like face adds an element of mystery and disguise. The visible line between the dark floor and bare wall encapsulates a tension, between the polished perfection of high fashion or classical ballet, and the vibrant realism of street style or contemporary dance.

A final, more recent, series shot by Julian entitled ‘In the Service of the Mind’ featured the fashion model Tessa Kuragi. These images were inspired by Man Ray’s provocative fascination with the female form, and originally shot for Volt magazine in 2014. One example from this series, Tessa 7, captures the model in a uncompromising position: arms awkwardly flung behind her head, body bent forwards and face contorted. She wears a Fyodor Golan [] futuristic dress, which has been designed using a variety of high-tech fabrics and neon plastic applique flowers.  There is a sense of a frenetic energy now lost in this image, a once active body reduced to a passive and inert form of exhaustion. With her equivocal facial expressions and distorted pose, a direct interconnection between subject and the viewer is refused. Instead, the viewer is left unsure of how to read this image, confused by the event that has been documented. Whilst the model’s exposed feminine form has a seductive, even erotic quality, the pieces of wood discarded in the background suggest something else….a violence or danger, perhaps, that is about to happen, or potentially, has already occurred.

Julian’s work has featured in publications that include Vogue, Vanity Fair, The Sunday Times, The Observer, The Financial Times, Volt, and Nylon, and brought him into contact with the likes of Kate Moss, Ines De La Fressange, Bella Freud, Emanuel Ungaro, Gemma Arterton, Daisy Lowe, Emma Watson and Alberta Ferretti. To find out more visit his website and, or follow him on Instagram @julian_marshall

Brazilian Tropicalia Fashions Embedded in Life Magazine, November 1971

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I recently came across an interesting photograph that was published in Life magazine on 12 November 1971, accompanying an article written and photographed by John Dominis and entitled ‘Taming the Green Hell: Brazil Rams a Highway Through The Wild Amazon.’ The article concerned the building of the Trans-Amazonian highway, a 4,000km road conceived of to unify Northern Brazil, which opened in September 1972 and ran through the Brazilian states of Paraiba, Ceara, Piaui, Maranhao, Tocantins, Para and Amazonas. In the top-left hand corner of the article, an image captured five Brazilian women straightforwardly in the frame, against a dull background of clouded sky, a wooden fence disappearing into the distance, and the green-and-white facade of a building. The caption that accompanied it read: ‘towns along the road are booming with such by-products of civilization as electricity and bar girls. On Saturday, hundreds of workers come into Altamira, above. Girls entertain the men for about $3 each.’ A closer examination of the photograph made me realise how simplified this description was in anchoring the meaning of the photograph, since it understood the women solely in terms of their availability as objects of a male gaze, and refused to acknowledge the layers of meaning embedded within their appearance as created by their fashionable ensembles.

Looking more closely, I saw that each subject met the photographer’s gaze directly, and enacted a variety of poses, from straightforwardly presenting the body to the gaze that scrutinizes them, to more stylised and performative fashion stances that revealed an uncovered thigh and high-heeled sandal. Their clothing is a combination of white nylon knee-high socks worn with white shoes, white and pink ankle-length dresses with thigh-high slits, and hot pants and overcoats in eye-popping psychedelic printed fabrics, all of which stand out against the general degradation of their arid surroundings. The clashing colours and swirling patterns that adorn three of the women’s outfits demonstrate the influence of contemporary Western-style hippie fashions, with their penchant for exposing the body, vibrant colours and mismatched prints and styles. Yet this was not a simplistic demonstration of a one-directional homogenisation of clothing that had travelled to Brazil from Western Europe and North America. This is because their dress also demonstrated the influence of the left-wing Brazilian artistic movement named Tropicalia, which was articulated as a response in the late 1960s and early 1970s to the repressive dictatorship that occurred in Brazil from 1964-1985. The Tropicalists re-defined Brazilian fashion, art and music by appropriating elements of Western-style hippie fashion, such as psychedelic fabrics, mini-skirts, hot pants and micro dresses, which exposed legs and thighs, and using it to demonstrate their sartorial freedom under rigid political control. Under Tropicalia, the meanings of hippie fashion, although still remaining non-conformist and rebellious, took on new meanings relevant to their Brazilian context. The women in this photograph were not part of the Tropicalist movement, but their clothing shows how elements of these popular political fashions filtered through into everyday dress worn in Brazil.

Taking all these sartorial references into account in our understanding of the image enables us to read it against the grain, and understand the women no longer as merely passive objects of a presumed male gaze, but active fashion consumers who contributed to the construction of their own identities through dress. That Life omitted to draw attention to the women’s dress can be understood as part of a broader omission within the Associated Press, which failed to outline the human rights atrocities taking place under a right-wing regime that was politically aligned to the Cold War interests of the United States.



John Dominis,‘Taming the Green Hell: Brazil Rams a Highway Through The Wild Amazon’, Life, pp. 26-31.

The Re-Presentation of Western-style Dress in National Geographic, September 1971


Three female subjects stand side-on in a forest clearing, next to the remains of a smoldering fire. They do not look at the photographer but appear to be posing for another photograph, which is being taken by someone to the left of the photograph frame. They have short dark bobbed hair, wear necklaces of dyed nuts and red string, and have painted geometric lines on their faces in black fruit dye. The central subject and her companion on the right have used black and red body paint to divide up and deconstruct their bodies, fragmenting them into separate parts. This sophisticated process isolates arms, chest, hips, legs, and ankle, and departs from the more prescriptive methods by which Western-style clothing tends to perceive of the clothed body as unified whole. For these women, painted and unpainted body parts become interdependent and have equal significance: both the positive shapes formed by the paint, but also the negative spaces in between those shapes. This process of decontextualising one’s own body parts, and perceiving each as an object or commodity in and of itself, demonstrates a self-reflexive gaze through which these women address their own bodies with a comparable level of scrutiny to that placed on them by the photographic gaze. These women are part of the Cinta Largas group, indigenous to the Western Amazon in Brazil, and have been captured by Brazilian filmmaker Jesco von Puttkamer in 1971 for National Geographic magazine.

The women re-invent Western-style dress through their use of body paint, in a process that draws on the particularities of Cinta Largas material culture. The resulting ensemble creates shifting points of reference that are comparable to an observation made by Claude Levi-Strauss in Tristes Tropiques (1995). Levi-Strauss described how the sophisticated Spanish American Caduveo Indians (also called the Mbaya) appropriated aspects of the uniform worn by Spanish sailors in the mid-nineteenth century through their customary practice of body painting:

After the Indians saw a European warship for the first time, when the Maracanha sailed up the Paraguay in 1857, the sailors noticed the next day that their bodies were covered with anchor-shaped motifs; one Indian even had an officer’s uniform painted in great detail all over his torso – with buttons and stripes, and the sword-belt over the coat-tails.

Levi-Straus acknowledged the Mbaya’s appropriation and re-presentation of the Spanish sailors’ uniforms, which retained their visual motifs and design details but transformed them through the use of body paint. This process enabled them to negotiate new sartorial meanings relevant to the sociopolitical organisation of their own culture. In National Geographic, the women’s painted clothing is a comparably fluid demonstration of the subjects’ creative self-invention, which refutes claims made within the text that the Cinta Largas are a static and ‘simple culture’, about to be eroded by a ‘strong, complex one’. The subjects’ dressed bodies become a site of heterogeneous potentiality, which, rather than reiterate the disintegration of Cinta Largas culture, demonstrate its ongoing creative renewal through dress that is receptive to contact with other cultures.


Jesco von Puttkamer, ‘Brazil Protects Her Cinta Largas’, National Geographic, pp. 420-444.

Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, trans by. John Weightman and Doreen Weightman (London: Penguin Books, 1992).

‘L’Origami du Monde’: 032c Turns Ethnographic Gaze Onto National Geographic

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As I approach the last six months of my thesis, I’m currently in the process of piecing together a coherent visual narrative from the hundreds of pages of images I’ve examined over the last two and a half years. And there are a fair few; my thesis examines over one hundred years of National Geographic magazine’s representation of Brazilian dress, with a focus on the period since 1988, when the magazine celebrated its centennial. These magazine images are all contextualised, of course, by numerous examples from contemporary visual media, as I’ve tried to analyse the networks of meaning produced across the global mediascape.


Yet it was only fairly recently that a colleague passed on the Autumn/Winter 2013 25th edition of 032c, which featured an interesting pop-up art piece on National Geographic. I was curious to find out what sort of framework this Berlin-based contemporary culture magazine (which has been described by New York Times journalist Andreas Tsortzis as ‘below the radar of mainstream, but required reading for the movers and doyennes of the art and fashion world’) would adopt in commemorating the Washington-D.C. based, and now unequivocally mainstream, National Geographic. Entitled ‘L’Origami du Monde’, the artwork was created by French artist Cyprien Galliard to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the popular ‘scientific’ and educational journal. Gaillard is, after all, an avid collector of National Geographic. As he told Purple magazine: “It’s the kind of magazine your father had. It was this prism that you looked at the world through. There’s something very colonial about it.”


National Geographic was first established as a tall, slim scientific brochure devoid of images with a dull brown-coloured cover in September 1888.  It’s now a global brand that encompasses cable television, books, maps, merchandising, additional magazines and a website, all easily recognisable by its popular motif: a bright yellow border. Gaillard’s artwork in 032c juxtaposed six brightly coloured photographs sourced from unknown locations in the trajectory of National Geographic’s documentation of ‘the world and all there is in it’. The instructions that accompanied it read:

‘Gaillard’s art edition for O32c can be assembled by making three simple folds from left to right into the inside hinge of the magazine. No glue is required. This anachronistic monument is held together by tension’.

So the interpretation of the artwork, I quickly realised, was entirely dependent upon the 032c viewer, who acquired an active as opposed to passive participatory role in its construction. This offered an interesting twist on the common complaints about National Geographic’s distanced ethnographic gaze, which has rendered subjects as dehumanised objects. Rather than analyse National Geographic at arm’s length, as many of its harsher critics have, Gaillard provided a critical and material re-engagement with the magazine at close quarters, and encouraged readers to do the same. This provided an alternative re-reading of National Geographic that cut through its purportedly disinterested anthropological gaze. Of course, for the naïve reader, there is no doubt an excitement in looking at colourful photographs culled from National Geographic. Indeed, some might deduce that the aesthetic qualities of Gaillard’s sculptural collage present a further aesthetisisation and exploitation of National Geographic subjects. I would argue, however, that the aesthetic is a critical device used here by Gaillard to subtly draw the reader in, in order to then boldly undermine their preconceptions of National Geographic, by treating the magazine itself as exotic specimen.


Crucially, Gaillard’s sculptural collage was designed not just to be read, but to be felt too. The O32c viewer had to physically assemble the artwork with her hands, a process that encouraged readers to rethink dressed National Geographic subjects in multidimensional terms, experienced concurrently as image and object. As a result, L’Origami du Monde hinted at the way in which National Geographic has communicated with its readership not just in terms of linguistic signification or effect, but also through the sensations, memories, emotions and affect that have been folded into its representations of dressed Brazilian subjects.

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032c Issue 25 Winter 2013/4, pp. 158-167

Andreas Tsortzis, ‘A new breed of fashion magazine comes into vogue’, New York Times, August 20, 2007

Sven Schuman, ‘Cyprien Gailard: Architectural Hangover’, Purple, Issue 18 Autumn/Winter 2012

John Trussler, The Habitable World Described, Or the Present State of the People in all parts o the Globe, from North to South; together with The Genius, Manners, Customs, Trade, Religion, Forms of Government, & of the Inhabitants, and every thing respecting them, that can be either entertaining or informing to the Reader, collected from the earliest and latest Accounts of Historians and Travellers of all Nations; With some that have never been published in this kingdom; And nothing advanced but on the best Authorities (1788-97)

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The Courtauld Library holds volume sixteen of Rev. John Trussler’s expansive scope of books entitled, The Habitable World Described… It focuses on Italy: namely, the Papal States, Sicily, Naples, and Malta. It is just one of twenty volumes, the first of which was published in 1788 and the last in 1797; each attempts, with the addition of engraved copper plates and maps, to describe the ‘entire known habitable world’. It was produced in the late eighteenth century, a period when British territorial expansion overseas was in full swing and travel accounts played an important role in disseminating information, mainly concerning areas claimed and conquered, to a larger European public beyond the scientific community. An interesting mix of science and sentiment, Trussler’s interest with pre-unification Italy was not uncommon. Italy in the late eighteenth century, with its art and architecture of classical antiquity, fascinated numerous British travellers, as had continental Europe as a whole.

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Trussler was concerned with the geography, politics, and social structures of the places he visited, not to mention the people, although dress played a minor role in his descriptive accounts of them. References to dress in Trussler’s account are far from abundant, which leads one to deduce that Stella Mary Newton, to whom this book belonged, was primarily concerned with encouraging her students to venture into the mind-set of the different periods studied in the Courtauld postgraduate dress history course, through first-hand, eyewitness accounts, such as that of an eighteenth-century traveller like Trussler.

In one mention of dress, Trussler described the outfits of the Sicilian nobility during the Festival of Saint Rosalia in Sicily, held on the 14th July: ‘The assemblies, at the viceroy’s palaces…gave me an opportunity of seeing the whole corps of mobility collected together. The men are rather a comely race; but the ladies are little favoured by nature. Two girls, under eight years of age, heiresses of great families, and already betrothed, made their appearance in the ballroom, decked out in the very excesses of the mode: their flowy dresses, their diminutive size, and affected gravity, in dancing a minuet; joined to the fatherly care, their future husbands anxiously took of them, reminded me of dolls ready to move around a table by clockwork.’

I was disappointed that Trussler failed to mention in detail the clothing worn by the men – since this omission suggests he associated dress with women and femininity. However, his description of the movement of the little girls’ dresses, which flowed as they danced, draws attention to its tactile qualities, which is of central concern to our contemporary understanding of dress as an object and idea, performed not only through the clothing itself, but also its representation.