Author Archives: Imani

Alumni Spotlight: Leah Gouget-Levy 

Leah Gouget-Levy is a current PhD candidate who is in her third year at the Courtauld Institute of Art and works at the London College of Fashion archives as Archives and Curatorial Assistant. She completed her MA at the Courtauld through Rebecca Arnold’s Documenting Fashion special option and earned a BA in the History of Art from University College London. In this interview that was conducted in late July Leah talks about her journey to the Courtauld, her PhD dissertation, and her long-standing fascination with the connection between time and fashion.

IW: How did you get into fashion and dress history?

LGL: I was always interested in fashion and it was one of my passions when I was growing up. While I was doing my undergraduate, I also became really interested in photography and film. I knew that Rebecca’s Documenting Fashion MA existed when I was doing my BA and once I graduated, and took a bit of time out, my thoughts returned to it. It seemed like a great combination of all my interests, so I applied and that’s where it all started.

IW: How did you know you wanted to get a PhD?

LGL: I saw the PhD as an opportunity to further expand my knowledge of fashion history. Because the MA program is so condensed, I wanted to keep exploring and working on some particular interests that I had begun to develop. The PhD was a way to pursue these in more depth.

IW: I saw that you wrote about fashion from the World’s Fair in your MA. How did you get the idea to write about that? And what was the research process behind that?

LGL: With the MA I remember that I had various topics that I was considering. But then I came across this wonderful short film,La Mode Rêvée, by Marcel L’Herbier. It was made for the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and it chimed perfectly with my interest in the subject of time. This was a topic that I had been thinking about since my BA when I wrote my dissertation about the temporal relationship between Andrei Tarkovsky’s polaroid photographs and his film The Mirror (1975). La Mode Rêvée played on similar themes, but in relation to fashion, so it was an interesting opportunity to explore those themes in a slightly different direction. My PhD directly builds on this work by considering the temporal experience of fashion in relation to photography. So, there is a clear thread running through all those things. It didn’t seem so clear at the time I was doing it, [but] it was more the case of those are my interests and somehow, I kept coming back to them.

IW: Wow, that’s really interesting! Especially since this year’s Met Gala theme was about time and fashion. You’re clearly in tune with something that’s happening in fashion right now.

LGL: (Laughs) Yeah, it is funny. It’s definitely something that is being thought about at the moment. There’s obviously the Met’s exhibition, but there’s also an anthology about fashion and time coming out soon in English, co-edited by Caroline Evans. So, there’s something in the air! It’s one of those funny things where nothing is deliberate but suddenly things converge.

IW: Yeah! Because in a weird way (and I wanted to get your opinion on this) with everything that’s happening a lot of shows are being shown online as opposed to going to this city and that city. And I was wondering if you thought that maybe this is another kind of mini World’s Fair? [Because] it’s everybody converging on this one place that everybody can access and see what’s happening from every designer around the world.

LGL: That’s a really interesting observation! I hadn’t actually thought about it from that perspective. You’re right that there’s something super interesting happening in terms of the condensing of space, similar to the way in which the World’s Fair worked. There does seem to be a shift from the very distinct geography of fashion weeks as we have known them in Paris, London, New York, Milan… I’ve actually been thinking about the recent developments in fashion from a slightly different perspective – in terms of the time of the fashion system and the way in which designers are moving away from the traditional calendar, trying to find alternative time scales to work to. I’m currently thinking about how I might address this in my PhD.

IW: What are you writing [your PhD] about?

LGL: My PhD is about early 20th-century fashion photography and the work of the Séeberger Frères, fashion reportage photographers working in France. Basically, they were early street style photographers taking photographs of (mainly) women at glamourous sea-side resorts and the horse races between 1909 and 1939. I am focusing in particular on what their work reveals about the relationship between fashion and time, and how is this represented in, and experienced through photography.

IW: Rebecca told us that you got a job at the London College of Fashion archives. If you were able to start it how has it been? Also, since you have told me so much about your work and how it deals with time, has working in the archives influenced your dissertation in any way?

LGL: Yes, I was really thrilled to have been offered the job as Archives and Curatorial Assistant at LCF and despite everything, I was able to start in June. It has definitely influenced my PhD and I am actually working on a chapter at the moment that considers the way in which the organization of the Séeberger Frères archive at the Bibliothèque National de France affects the experience of their photographs. So, while I’m working with the LCF archive these issues are also at the forefront of my mind as I am thinking a lot about how an archive is constructed and how that influences the way in which we experience and study fashion history.

IW: Do you have any advice for incoming or prospective students in the MA or doctoral program?

LGL: I would say that, if you have the chance, read the books on Rebecca’s reading list before the year starts! It is an intense course and there’s a lot that you have to do. So, take that time before you start [your course] and just read around and get a feel for things. I would also recommend getting involved as much as you can with university life – including embracing things that are not directly related to your work or special option. The Courtauld is such a great place and there are constantly things going on, for example with the Research Forum and events that Rebecca organizes.

IW: Have you thought about what path you want to go down when you finish your PhD? And is there another area that you are interested in studying?

LGL: To be honest, I feel really lucky to have the job at LCF, as working with an archive was always something that I wanted to do after I finished my PhD! So, I’m looking forward to continuing my work there. Alongside that, I would also be keen to continue teaching, as it’s something that I have really enjoyed doing over the past few years while I’ve been at The Courtauld.

In terms of research, it’s true that when you work on a PhD you are focused on a very specific subject. So, it will be really exciting to start a new project! For example, I would be very keen to think more about the temporality of fashion beyond the Western, and specifically French, fashion system.


[Answers have been edited for clarity]

Hey Ma! What do you think?: A Fashionable Look at Goodfellas

In Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), there’s a scene when Henry Hill’s mother (Elaine Kagan) opens the door to greet her son (Christopher Serrone). Tilting down to match the mother’s point of view, Henry is shown with open arms and a wide smile, wearing a double-breasted beige suit and shiny shoes.

Screenshot of Marti nScorcese
Screen capture of teenage Henry (Left), and adult Henry (Right). (Source: Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, 1990. From

As Anna Pendergast notes, the suit is “too big, and too beige, but Hill wears it with pride, the equivalent of a young sportsman being given his first jersey.” Henry asks her what she thinks, encourages her to look at his shoes, and says “Aren’t they great?” When the camera moves back to his mother, she proclaims, “You look like a gangster!” The clothing marks Henry’s transition from a part-time errand boy to a full-time mobster. Later in the film, an adult Henry (Ray Liotta) eventually has a closet full of suits and shoes that grows from years of crime. Whether it is marking a character’s identity or crimes, these two scenes underline the way clothing plays a central role in Goodfellas.

Screenshot imani's scorcese article
Screen capture of Billy Bats pointing at Tommy noting his suit (Left), and Tommy telling Billy Bats to “Watch his suit!” (Right). (Source: Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, 1990. From

Clothing also marks a point of transition for mob associate Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) at a welcome home party for recently freed mobster Billy Bats (Frank Vincent). When Bats first sees Tommy, he notes that he is “all dressed up.” When he hugs him, Tommy repeatedly tells him to, “Watch the suit!” Bats jokes that the last time he saw him, he was called “Shoeshine Tommy” and boasts that he used to make shoes shine “like mirrors.” Eventually, Tommy’s fuse goes off when Bats tells him to get his “fucking shine box.” Similar to Henry, Bats recognizes Tommy’s new identity through the suit and shiny shoes that he wears (instead of cleans).

Screenshot for Imani article
Screen capture of Karen’s coat (Left), and Karen pulling food out of her coat (Right). (Source: Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, 1990. From

Aside from marking transitional moments of mafia life, clothing also marks the crimes committed in the film. When Henry’s wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco), visits Henry while he is in prison, she sneaks in food (including two loaves of bread) and drugs, in a long powder blue down coat. Overtly visible against the muted browns and grays that fill the prison meeting area, Karen’s coat allows her to conceal and continue her husband’s crimes. But its ordinary style also signifies her status as a civilian visiting her husband.

Screen capture of Imani's good fellas
Screen capture of Jimmy Conway seeing the mink coat (Left), and Jimmy Conway taking off the mink coat (Right). (Source: Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, 1990. From

This coat differs from a coat worn by a fellow mafia wife later on in the film. With cops surveilling Henry’s crew after a multimillion-dollar heist, Henry’s associate Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) warns the crew not to spend their shares of the heist conspicuously. When a crew member’s wife arrives in a brand-new white mink coat at a Christmas party shortly after the heist, Conway is enraged. Conway demands that she takes it off and remove it from the premises. The coat is unapologetic in its display of crime compared to Karen’s, but both coats simultaneously mark the conspicuousness and inconspicuousness of crimes that take place in the film.

Screenshot for article on good fellas
Screen capture of Karen, Lois (in her lucky hat), and Henry getting ready for one of her trips to transport drugs. (Source: Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, 1990. From

Another important clothing moment comes before Henry drop-off’s his babysitter and part-time drug mule Lois (Welker White). Before leaving Lois insists, she cannot fly unless she has her lucky hat, which was shown earlier in the film. In what turns out to be a setup, the feds bust Henry and Lois just before they pull out of the driveway. The attempt to retrieve the hat marks the end of Henry’s insular life as a mobster. This takes on greater significance because the wide sloping brim construction of a bucket hat was designed to protect fishermen and soldiers from the elements of the natural world. Ultimately, the hat that Lois takes comfort in, and that is designed to protect from the natural elements, exposes Henry to civilian life. Whether it is marking entries into mob life or crimes committed by characters in the film, clothing underscores the identity and actions of characters in Goodfellas.


Museums and the Music Video

A museum is a charged space that contains objects, tells histories and stories, and can function as a public service. But how should people respond to museums? For decades musicians have taken over museums (or in some cases made their own museum) to answer this question in critical and celebratory ways.

Stills of Barbra Streisand performing “One Kiss” on her 1966 TV special Color Me Barbra.
Stills of Barbra Streisand performing “One Kiss” on her 1966 TV special Color Me Barbra.

One of the most significant examples of this is Barbra Streisand’s 1966 television special Color Me Barbra. In the special Streisand belts out tracks from her album, Color Me Barbra, in the galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Surrounded by sculptures, tapestries, and paintings, Streisand makes the museum her personal playground. In the number “Yesterdays,” Streisand comes off as a curious visitor touching artworks and looking for the perfect painting to inspire her. In the number “Gotta Move,” Streisand struts and dances in a bright-colored geometric print dress that is reminiscent of the cubist works on the gallery walls.

Still of Barbra Streisand performing “Gotta Move” on her 1966 TV special Color Me Barbra.
Still of Barbra Streisand performing “Gotta Move” on her 1966 TV special Color Me Barbra.

Streisand chose to shoot at the PMoA because she found the art there, “so extraordinary [and] so inspirational” that it made her “want to climb into the paintings” and “play in the period rooms.” Given the title of the album, album artwork, and her playful approach to art, Streisand makes the museum her own by upholding the idea that museums are a place for people to see themselves and make themselves into living works of art.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.
Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

Almost twenty years later Run-D.M.C. had a different take on museums for their  “King of Rock” music video in 1985. In a fictional Rock n Roll museum (that predates the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame Museum by ten years), Rev-Run and D.M.C are told by a white security guard that they don’t belong in the museum because “[it] is a rock museum.” Dressed in black leather suits, black fedoras, and crisp white Adidas, Run-D.M.C.’s presence of black militancy, jazz fashion, and street style incite recognition in a place that denies them the right to exist.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.
Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

In the museum, they engage with a variety of “cultural artifacts” including guitars, four white busts that wear Beatles wigs, and videos of rock greats. They mock a Buddy Holly performance, respectfully turn their heads to the viewer during a Little Richard performance, and shake their heads at a Jerry Lee Lewis performance. They even step on Michael Jackson’s famous white glove to reject the universally lauded artist who was on the more “acceptable” side of black popular music during the eighties. By the end of the video, they break artifacts, knock over the black velvet ropes that separate them from Rock culture, and spray paint “Run DMC King of Rock” on the museum wall.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.
Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

The group’s actions represent the long-standing frustrations that black musicians have with being unable to engage with Rock music. Black musicians such as Little Richard played an integral role in developing Rock n Roll. But black musicians such as Run-D.M.C. were not given the same recognition for continuing Rock music in the same way, white “Rock” musicians were recognized. But more importantly, this idea is underscored through the security guard in the video, who acts as a gatekeeper for rock culture and surveillance’s the group’s presence in the museum.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.
Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Taking cues from Streisand and Run-D.M.C., The Carters (Jay Z and Beyoncé) both critique and celebrate museums in their video “Apeshit” (2018). Similar to Streisand, The Carters engage with the museum as a place to play and to be inspired: Dancers lift and rise on the steps leading to the Winged Victory of Samothrace; two women sit in front of David’s Madame Récamier and recreate Récamier; the sculptured texture of Beyoncé’s Stephane Rolland gown echoes the carefully carved drapery of the Winged Victory of Samothrace; and The Carters have an all-out dance-out in front of The Great Sphinx of Tanis.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.
Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.
Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.
Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Similar to Run-D.M.C., they critique the dominance of white narratives in museums and the lack of black bodies presented in museums. It’s well documented that this video calls out the whiteness of the Louvre in several ways: Black dancers dance in flesh-colored spandex in front of Jacques-Louis David’s The Coronation of Napoleon, and Portrait D’Une Négresse is prominently featured towards the end of the video. As scholar James Smalls notes, Portrait D’Une Négresse is a significant artwork, “because it presents a black person as the sole aestheticized subject and object of a work of art.” The video even recognizes the presence of black people who work in museums behind the scenes, since it features a group of black men standing in front of draws in a space that wouldn’t be shown to the public. Similar to the security guard in “King of Rock,” these men become cultural gatekeepers for the possible object files that sit behind them.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video
Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Overall these musicians provide a complex understanding about how people should respond to art historical institutions but nevertheless encourage all visitors to be active participants instead of passive spectators in the museum space.


Color Me Barbra:

“King of Rock”:


Stop and Smell the Roses: A fresh take on the Alexander McQueen archives.

Through songs, films, and books it sometimes feels like Alexander McQueen never left. In both life and death (February 11th marks the tenth anniversary of McQueen’s passing), Alexander McQueen holds a mythical status in the fashion world: Despite not being able to afford his tuition fashion illustrator and educator Bobby Hillson allowed McQueen entry into Central Saint Martins because she saw that he had obvious talent; Isabella Blow famously bought his entire graduation collection; and his designs took inspiration from personal interests in scuba diving, his Scottish heritage, and club culture during the 90s’.

Imani's pic
The famous Rose Dress from the Spring/ Summer 2007 collection on display in the exhibition.

These stories are repeatedly told, but in the countless retellings of McQueen’s life, the public rarely gets to fully understand the details that lured so many people to his talent. Organized by Alexander McQueen’s creative director, designer Sarah Burton Roses is a new exhibition at the Alexander McQueen store on Old Bond Street, that offers a retrospective look at McQueen’s long-standing employment of flowers in his work.

Before the exhibition opened Burton and members of the McQueen design team hosted a walkthrough of the exhibit for university students in fashion studies. The exhibit and walkthrough were a refreshing take on the legacy and artistry of Alexander McQueen. There was no mythologizing McQueen as one of the all-time great designers, instead what is on display is how a whole team of embroiders, designers, and interns come together to maintain McQueen’s vision.

Burton and long-time collaborators talked about how shows and designs came together like group projects that were due the next day, and how McQueen would simply say, “try and see what happens” whenever they had doubts about if a design could be executed.


Imani's pic for MxQueen
Dresses and mood boards from the Spring/ Summer 2013 on display at the exhibition.

What is great about this exhibit is how we see Burton’s reading of the archive come alive through her designs. For the Spring/Summer 2013 collection, Burton incorporated McQueen’s use of corsets with bees as a way to focus on the life that floats around the roses. For me, this was also reminiscent of the time McQueen used winged moths for his Spring/Summer 2001 finale.

Imani's pic of McQueen
Up-close details from the Spring/ Summer 2013 on display at the exhibition.

Burton also forged her vision of the rose in a matter that continued the rose-shaped dress that McQueen featured in his Autumn/Winter 2006 collection and the rose-shaped sleeves that McQueen featured in his Autumn/Winter 2008 collection. Burton’s vision of the rose in her Autumn/Winter 2019 collection was largely inspired by the Rose Queen ceremonies that she saw as a child in Northern England.

Imani's pic of roses
Rose shaped dress from the Autumn/Winter 2006, sleeves from the Autumn/Winter 2008, and a later iteration of the rose shaped dress from Autumn/Winter 2019 collection.

McQueen is currently a massive global fashion brand. You see this on your way up to the gallery when you climb up the winding wooden staircase at the centre of the store and witness the array of clothing, accessories, and shoes from recent collections on bare mannequins, hangers, rocks, and carefully carved wooden display tables. The garments, mood boards, photographs, and films featured in this exhibit remind you that regardless of whose name is on the store, no designer is greater than the sum of their parts. But more importantly, a great designer is someone who is a good co-worker, collaborator, and hard-working person.


Reviewed: Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art at the Barbican

Exhibition at the Barbican, a brown wall with many framed woodcuts and a vitrine with four carved masks.
Mexico City room at the Barbican, which lacked the “voom”. (author’s own image)

“I was kind of expecting more, va va voom.”

“There is va va, just no voom.”

I overheard this remark from a couple behind me, as I walked into another skeletal space that was part of the Barbican Art Gallery’s exhibit, Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art. Similar to me, those visitors were disenchanted by this exploration of Modern Art through nightlife, in cities such as Tehran, London, Mexico City, Berlin, and Ibadan, between the 1880s’-1960s’.

I previously went to the Barbican in 2017 to see Basquiat: Boom for Real. Similar to the artists and artworks featured in Into the Night, Jean-Michel Basquiat was deeply influenced by nightlife. At that exhibit, the clubs and streets of New York City radiated from the artworks and into the gallery space. But in comparison, the atmosphere of Into the Night was extremely muted.

Museum vitrine with carpet sample and pencil drawn curtain design.
Carpet sample and curtain design for Cabaret Fledermaus, 1907. Designed by Josef Hoffman.

Into the Night, begins in Vienna at Cabaret Fledermaus. The gallery space features posters, plans, designs, and decorative art objects from Fledermaus. The objects were sparsely spread out across the gallery on frozen grey walls and a blue display platform. The wall text said that Cabaret Fledermaus was a place where “‘[the] boredom’ of contemporary life would be replaced by the ‘ease of art and culture.’” I did not feel this when I walked around the gallery. Viewing objects such as the original curtain designs, a carpet sample, and some well-preserved posters felt more like observing specimens in a lab than experiencing “art and culture”. Cabarets and clubs are intrinsically and indubitably lively, but the Barbican failed to capture the conditions that these objects derived from, and the objects failed to capture the aura of their conditions. While the Barbican provided “recreations” of some cabarets and clubs in the lower gallery level, as Time Out critic Eddy Frankel noted, they felt static and disjoined from the original “exchange” between these places and Modern Art.

Film stills from Film Lumiere no 765,1- Danse serpentine [II], featuring Loïe Fuller by Austste and Louis Lumière, c. 1897-99.

When I entered the space that focused on American dancer Loïe Fuller’s contributions to the Folies-Bergere, I was mesmerized and captivated by Fuller’s movements and could feel her fill the room. The wall text said Fuller utilized costume and color as a means for experimenting with dance. As she twirled and swished in costumes painted in violet, red, and green on film color against the black and white film, you could see how modernism was moving forward from its grey past. Fuller’s costume and movements claimed the space of the Folies-Bergere. But more importantly, her work showed how Modern Art developed in clubs and cabarets because those spaces challenged artists to claim and refine their craft in an atmosphere that provided boundless empowerment and inspiration.

Except for a few notable rooms (New York City, Berlin, and the room dedicated to Loïe Fuller), Into the Night is an encyclopedic approach to exhibiting Modern Art’s relationship to clubs and cabarets, and ultimately fails to enhance a visitor’s understanding of this sacred relationship.


Frankel, Eddy, “Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art review.” Time Out London, 2019.

Spotlight On: ALOK

ALOK is a gender non-conforming performance artist of color based in New York. They use self-fashioning as a type of self-narration to break harmful racial and gender stereotypes that people impose on their body. For them, style is not only a form of self-expression, but also a form of political activity. Often spotted wearing brightly colored outfits, mixing different materials and prints together and always serving looks, Alok uses color as a way to make their body unapologetically visible within a white heteronormative cis-gender society.


Photo sby Elif Kulick

As a performance artist, Alok uses the body as both medium and object of activist work. The body, especially the stylized body, within their performance is a means of reifying the notion that social categories do not make individuals coherent or complete functioning beings in society, but rather one’s understanding of self does. It is through the acknowledgment that these social categories are harmful and imposed on marginalized bodies as a method of erasure where the individual can free themselves through the knowing of self.


Alok fights to make their body and their being artful in order to show not only their beauty and strength but also their status as a desiring subject. Alok takes on the challenge of using their style to tackle the question of, “what does it look like to live a visible and fulfilling life as a trans person-of-color?” Through dress and personal style Alok imagines this futurity.

Photo by Alex Hopkins

Dress and style then becomes a strategy of the visible process of and individual working to know themselves and understand themselves in a world that deems them as othered.


To embody creativity, which Alok does in their art, is to embody new hopes and visions of a future where people can color outside of the lines.

Dissertation Discussion: Destinee

What is the working title of your dissertation? 

Readdressing Passivity in 1960’s Civil Rights Photographs through Dress

What led you to choose this subject?

I was inspired to write about the idea of protest wear in relation to the black body after seeing the King in New York exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. I became quite fascinated by the idea of protest buttons after seeing Benedict J. Fernandez’s Photograph from a Memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. in Central Park from April 5, 1968 on view. There is exhaustive scholarship on the Civil Rights Movement and for that reason my main objective in my dissertation was to find a new angle of viewing civil rights photographs that was not reductive or contrived. Reading civil rights photographs through dress and both individual and collective dress practice in moments of protest proved to be an interesting way of critiquing the reading of the black body as being passive or docile in the face of white-aggressive as reading it as an active embodiment of resistance.

Ivan Massar, Doris Wilson on the Selma to Montgomery March, Alabama, 1965, Gelatin silver print, Image/plat: 13 1⁄2 x 8 1⁄2 inches, copyright Ivan Massar, Access: montgomery-march-alabama/

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

My favorite book that I have read for my dissertation has been bell hook’s Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992). The way in which hooks deconstructs and provides alternative ways of viewing blackness really helped push me to look at the images used in my dissertation in different ways. My second favorite read would have to be Sharon Sliwinki’s Dreaming in Dark Times: Six Exercises in Political Thought (2017) because I thought it was so interesting how she aligned dreaming and more specifically dream-work as a radical political action that could be situated within the context of the social sphere.

Favorite image/object in your dissertation and why?

My favorite image I wrote about is a photograph of the Washington Monument and part of the United States flag reflected in sunglasses of a young boy called Austin Clinton Brown from the March on Washington in August of 1963. I think the image is quite powerful in that it addresses the idea that the American dream is an illusion in the way that these symbols of American freedom are distorted and warped on the reflective surface of the young boy’s sunglasses.

Washington Monument and part of the U.S. flag reflected in sunglasses of Austin Clinton Brown, 9, of Gainesville, GA, March on Washington, August 28th 1963
Access: Photos-219401841.htm

Favorite place to work?

Hands down, my favorite place to work is the Gallery Café in Bethnal Green. It is a vegetarian and vegan café with both indoor and outdoor seating with lots of natural light and great music. I have spent many days work there and they have the most delicious “loaded” vegan chili fries.

The Red Coat and Remembrance in Leon Bridges’ music video for Bad Bad News

The scene begins with a panorama shot of a dimly lit train station at night. A woman with long dark brown hair in a red coat walks away in the background. The camera slowly advances toward her until it abruptly changes positions so that it is no more than a few feet behind her– acting as a looming shadow. The woman hears a fain whistle and turns her head in surprise, a second wolf whistle follows not too long after. The second whistle causes her to turn to face the camera. Her red coat hangs off of one of her shoulders exposing her bare skin. Understated gold hoop earrings and a gold chain frame her face.

The woman in red decides to walk in the direction of the where the whistle came from. She walks with conviction, courage and also caution. The sound of her shoes creates a pulsing beat that slowly transitions into the percussive introduction of Leon Bridges’ song, Bad Bad News.

The music becomes layered as the woman runs down the train station stairway into a dimly green tinted tunnel. The green of the tunnel contrasts and compliments the red she wears. The video (directed by Natalie Rae) then changes scenes to one of Bridges entering a rehearsal space where his band is playing his new song and he begins to let the rhythm move him. The scene switches to the one of the woman in red (played by model, Paloma Elsesser) who stands framed by a series of archways as she begins to slowly move to the music.

The music video continues with the woman frantically moving through the streets of New York trying to find the man from the train station. In various parts of the video she beings dancing as she is overcome by the rhythm, however she holds tension in her body. Her dancing becomes a personal battle between enjoying herself and feeling ashamed or guilt of some sort.  The way in which she wears the coat echoes this duality, the coat protects her, or shields her, in her ability to decide how tightly it is cinched at the waist, but also reveals her vulnerability as it continues to fall off her shoulder.

The emphasis of the woman’s red coat throughout the music video evokes themes of remembrance and also acts of violence against women. Muldisciplinary Canadian artist, Jamie Black, explores similar themes in The REDress Project which collects red dresses and installs them in public spaces as a reminder of violent crimes committed against Aboriginal women. Black’s work hopes to make visible the gendered and racialized crimes committed against marginalized women that often go unnoticed.

The REDress Project, Jamie Black, 2014,

The red coat is a haunting presence in the music video. It is as if it possesses its own identity apart from that of the wearer. Perhaps it is to reflect the collective fear that women still face as they walk home alone.

By Destinee Forbes

For more info on the REDress project click here.

To watch Bad Bad News by Leon Bridges click here.

Mod New York: The Styles they are a-Changin’


Time seems to be flying by since the MA Documenting Fashion course took our study trip to New York. I remember the trip with fond memories because even after growing up in upstate New York (about 90 minutes from Manhattan) and after living in the city for my undergraduate studies, I felt like I was seeing New York in a new way. While there were many highlights of the trip from visiting various archives and meeting with previous graduates of the MA Documenting Fashion course, the “main event” (in my opinion) was the Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. It pains me to say that it was my first time visiting the museum, but after going to the exhibition curated by Phyllis Magidson, I know it will surely not be my last.

I was so impressed with the exhibition for primarily three reasons. Firstly, it was a comprehensive survey of the different emerging fashion styles in the 1960’s in New York. The physical space of the exhibition was rather small (only occupied a room and small hallway) and used multicolored paneling to divide the room into different spaces, which also provided a rather psychedelic optical illusion effect through changing of color depending on the visitor’s spatial position. The exhibition situated New York fashion in the 1960’s as a reflection of the socio-political climate. The diversity in fashion styles reflect a fluidity of beliefs, and the idea of clothing signifying perhaps an individual’s political beliefs vis-a-vis a collective style of dress. Secondly, I admired the exhibition’s aim to be inclusive of a diverse range of styles of marginalized groups of people. It was not simply a showcasing of upper-class white style and dress, but one that acknowledges that 1960’s fashion is not exclusively emerging from the pages of European high fashion magazines and couturiers, but it’s also coming from the street. Fashion undergoes a synthesis, and in a way, it was more inclusive than it ever was before in the 1960s. Lastly, I was impressed by the exhibition’s attention to detail—not only in terms of the types of objects it displayed such as: accessories, undergarments and women’s fashion magazine and news articles of the time, but also attention to visitor experience. The exhibition was not only a visual exploration into New York style in the 1960’s, but a sonic one as well. In reality the exhibition would take about 20 minutes to walk through, however, with the decision to add a curated playlist to the exhibition experience featuring the musical stylings of Dusty Springfield, Marvin Gaye to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, you cannot help but want to peruse the exhibition again just to hear what might play next.

Jumpsuit of leather and ribbed wool knit, c.1963, Bonnie Cashin
Grandassa Model Pat Bardonelle at the Garvey Day Parade in 1967, shot by Kwame Braithwaite

While I was completely breath-taken by the garments on display from Emilio Pucci to Bonnie Cashin (all of which come from the Museum’s collection!), I was charmed by the other senior visitors of the exhibition. As I was writing notes, I couldn’t help but overhear the endearing conversations of older couples enjoying the garments in display, not just for aesthetic reasons, but enjoying the garments as symbol of their own personal memory. I overheard one woman saying to her friend, “It doesn’t seem so long ago, (I guess) it’s all perspective.” After I heard that, I stopped looking at the exhibition through a purely academic lens, but a personal one. I began to imagine my older family members who experienced and lived through this time in New York, and I was reminded by my aunts and mother talking about the craze of hot pants and afro-puffs and how good they used to look “back in the day” while living in the South Bronx. Fashion, in the exhibition, takes a trip through 1960’s through themes of nostalgia, politics, popular culture, while ultimately landing on the theme of  collective resilience in the face of adversity, an idea that continues to carry salience today.

By Destinee Forbes

Fashioning Wakanda: the fashioned black body in Black Panther


The fashioned black body is one that has been excluded from the western mainstream fashion and beauty world for centuries. It is often removed to the category of subculture, even though the styles and fashions that are considered “lesser” are often appropriated by white bodies. Black Panther (2018) challenges this notion of afro-centric fashion as a “subculture” by making it mainstream through unapologetic representation.

Like most people around the world, I saw Marvel’s Black Panther directed by Ryan Coogler, which was the most culturally relevant superhero movie that I have ever seen. It was essentially a short introduction to African diasporic studies, that touched on the socio-political relationship between black Africans and those black bodies that have been historically displaced by colonization and slavery, and the desire to find autonomy in a world where whiteness is a marker of value. Black Panther has made the conversation regarding the need for the representation of black bodies in Hollywood “blockbuster” productions public. Black Panther is a completely self-contained movie that did not need quirky cameos from other Marvel superheroes to legitimize its place as a franchise. That is in part because of the powerful storyline, incredible visuals and character development of both male and female characters.

Black Panther cast photograph (2018)

From the very start of the film, the viewer is transported into the world of Wakanda through bright colors, shots of lush landscape and incredible displays of advanced technology. However, I found myself most mesmerized by the stunning costumes designed by the Oscar nominated, Ruth E. Carter. Carter has been designing costumes for films over the past 30 years, for movies like School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and Amistad. Carter drew inspiration from various cultures and dress styles within Africa, in addition to Afropunk styles to create the image of Wakanda as a site of afrofuturism. Through dress, Carter was able to change, or rather provide a new way of looking at the black body that was void of colonial impact. In an article on the importance of fashion in Black Panther by Tanisha C. Ford from The Atlantic, Ford writes, “Carter is quick to point out that her work has always centered a black conception of the future, one rooted in political determinism and creative self-expression”

Black Panther fans in Melbourne, Australia.

The costumes of Black Panther were designed first with practical functionality in mind so that the fighting body could move without restraint. Costumes within the movie also function has a symbol of self-expression, honor, and belonging. However, this idea of belonging is layered. Firstly, within the film each character’s clothes reveal which tribe they belong too, in addition to their role and rank in Wakandan society. Belonging extends outside of the film screen in the way moviegoers have been fashioning themselves in African prints and Wakanda inspired outfits on their way to see the movie. The discussion of ‘what to wear’ for watching Black Panther has become a growing and trending topic on Black Twitter, solidifying it as a pop cultural and socio-political discursive event. The discussion around what one should wear to the movie reveals the fulfilment of the craving to be seen and to have one’s ancestry honored. It is also a testament to the idea of black fashion escaping the realm of the mythic and imaginary to one that is real and has permanence and value in its own right.

By Destinee Forbes