Our course comprises two elements – a grounding in key theories, methodologies and approaches to studying dress history and fashion studies, followed by a unique opportunity to analyse American and European fashion and identity during the interwar, war and early Cold War periods. The first section of the course, which I teach in the Autumn term, addresses issues including dress as autobiography, sensory and emotional responses to fashion, and the development of the fashion industry and media.
The second section, taught by Rebecca in the Spring term, applies these ideas to focus on the role of different types of imagery as sources for fashion, dress and the body. We will re-evaluate the visual history of this key period, by starting from images of the ‘everyday,’ that show dress as it was actually worn, so that we can consider the impact of developments in film and photography on fashion. This will be examined in relation to fashion’s representation in magazines, from Life and Picture Post to Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. The work of photographers, including Martin Munkacsi Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Horst P Horst will be examined, as well as designs by Madeleine Vionnet, Claire McCardell, and others.
We use case studies to consider relationships between looking, seeing and being – as evidenced through the links between and developments in readymade clothes, couture and representations of fashion in photography and film. We discuss what different media forms tell us about people’s perceptions of themselves and others, and how clothing can construct and alter appearance. Throughout the year we will analyse how these images connect to body image, identity, ways of seeing, and modernity.
It’s going to be an exciting year of looking and thinking about dress and fashion, with a focus on America and Europe as sites of rapid developments in fashion, documentary photography, picture-based magazines and film during a period of flux – 1920-1960. Extensive online resources and The Courtauld’s History of Dress collections will be combined with visits to museums and archives in London, such as the Museum of London, V&A, the British Film Institute, Hampton Court, and in New York, such as FIT, MOMA, the Met and more, to study key example first hand.
The new academic year is just beginning here in the UK, so to welcome all the new students focused on Dress History and Fashion Studies, we are giving you a PDF to download that will hopefully get started on your new course!
This is the Introduction to my book Fashion: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2009), which discusses some of the definitions of the word fashion and its multiple meanings. When I was writing this, I thought hard about how to introduce what is such a seemingly easy term that quickly becomes complex when you think of all the ways it is used within global culture. I used Judith Clark’s amazing 2005 exhibition Spectres, held at MoMu in Antwerp as my starting point. Encapsulated within the show were many of the ideas I wanted to convey to open up the book and its readers to ways to study and think about fashion. I hope you will find this an interesting opening – I loved writing this book, it was a challenge to decide how to approach a big subject in a small format, but actually, this gave a brilliant clarity and focus to what needed to be covered in each chapter, to build towards a (very short) introduction to fashion …
A few months ago, April Calahan and Karen Trivette of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Special Collections in New York contacted me to ask if I would interview Gavrik Losey for their Oral History Project. I was thrilled – I am a great admirer of all things FIT, and its Special Collections department was crucial to my research for The American Look: Fashion, Sportswear & the Image of Women in 1930s and 1940s New York (IB Tauris 2009). Indeed, I used many of the fascinating interviews with people connected with American fashion held there to help me to understand the period and its significance.
Of course the fact that it was Gavrik Losey they had asked me to interview was the real draw. Gavrik’s mother is Elizabeth Hawes – celebrated designer, journalist and political activist, and the opportunity to ask him about his memories of growing up under her influence was not to be missed. His father is of great significance too – theatre and film director Joseph Losey was as politically engaged as Hawes, and so Gavrik’s experiences with his parents would open up a key period in American history.
We met this week at The Courtauld on a hot September day, to film the interview. It was fascinating to hear Gavrik’s memories – ultimately I will write about these in more detail, but I wanted to give you a taste of the touching, funny and evocative stories he had to tell. So here are a few of the many things I learnt about in a discussion that lasted well over an hour and which gave amazing insight into Elizabeth Hawes’ significance and so much more.
Gavrik’s earliest memory of his mother relating to dress is picking up pins off the floor of the workroom at her 59th Street establishment. He also learnt how to press clothes at an early age – his mother’s advice? Only iron the parts of each garment that will be seen … He went on to describe her mix of artistry and pragmatism as a designer and her drive to make clothes that fitted contemporary women’s lives. Her interest in colour theory – the idea that each personality type has an appropriate colour palette – extended into the salon’s interior and even their home. Hawes loved to have walls of different shades to set off the ensembles being shown …
He remembered how his mother loved to drape fabric to create new garments – and travelled everywhere with a little, to-scale mannequin, so she could devise new creations. Oh, and that she made samples to her own size, so that she could wear each new collection once it had been shown …
He also told of her wicked sense of humour – which made itself known in the names she gave her garments, including a dramatic multi-coloured striped gown called ‘Alimony’ – which came with a bag in the shape of male genitalia – Gavrik still has this memento of Hawes’ satirical approach to fashion …
He spoke at length about her relationships with contemporary artists and the influence of art on her work. I was especially interested to hear about the impact of Kandinsky on her use of geometric forms and flashes of colour and varied textures in her designs. Look at examples from the 1930s, for example in the Met’s collection, and this insight will open up your eyes to their meanings, I am sure …
Another aspect of his parents and his own life was the importance of political engagement. Gavrik spoke movingly of the harsh impact of FBI investigations into his parents’ activities and the terrible toll this took on their lives and work. It was heartbreaking to hear how agents turned clients and friends against Hawes, warning them of her left-wing sympathies. These files only became available after her death, so she never knew why New York became such an unwelcoming place for her when she returned in the late 1940s to reopen her business after undertaking union and war work.
I am still processing all the incredible things that Gavrik spoke about – he was incredibly generous with his time and his memories and thoughts about his mother’s life and work. It is wonderful that – once catalogued – his interview will be housed at FIT and available to researchers wanting to understand women, dress and politics, issues as fundamentally entwined within Hawes’ work as they are within our wider culture.
Find out more about FIT’s Special Collections here
And see some of Elizabeth Hawes’ designs here:
Thesis title: Danger in the Path of Chic: Violence in Fashion between the World Wars, in London, Paris, and New York
This documentary is based on my PhD on violence and trauma in interwar fashion. The short piece was produced as a part of Doctoral Docs, a pilot programme at The Courtauld organised by Dr Alixe Bovey, and shot beautifully by Mike Saunders of ProperGander Films. It was an incredible opportunity to learn how to create a film from scratch, and to present my doctoral research for a wider audience in an entirely new way. I hope you enjoy the result. The video can be viewed here.
With many thanks to Alixe, Mike, Rebecca Arnold, and Kerry Taylor Auctions.
You can read more about Lucy and her research here!
With our MA Dissertations out of sight (if not quite yet out of mind), we can start to follow the tempting threads of research that have been appearing over the last few months. During my writing and research on the dress and physical performances of Australian women in Britain from 1900-1940, I was distracted time and time again by the writings of Annette Kellerman. Annette was a champion swimmer, diver and eventually Hollywood’s first onscreen ‘Mermaid’. She pioneered practical bathing suits for women as part of her advocacy for women’s health and exercise, and amongst several publications, released How to Swim, in 1919.
In How to Swim, Kellerman used her characteristically direct style of address to confront critics who would question the respectability of women becoming involved in sport:
‘Not only in matters of swimming but in all forms of activity woman’s natural development is seriously restricted and impaired by customs and costumes and all sorts of prudish and Puritanical ideas. The girl child long before she is conscious of her sex, is continually reminded that she is a girl and therefore must forego many childhood activities. As womanhood approaches these restrictions become even more severe and the young woman is corseted and gowned and thoroughly imbued with the idea that it is most unlady-like to be possessed of legs or know how to use them.’
She believed swimming was the ideal form of exercise for women as it had the potential to strengthen all the muscles in the body and do away with the ‘need’ to wear corsets to maintain a feminine figure. Kellerman’s genius lay in her ability to understand the time she was living in, and the expectations and limitations women faced around the display of their bodies during physical activities. She devoted pages and pages of How to Swim to the details of dressing for swimming; differentiating between the skirted ‘bathing beach dress’ and the streamlined ‘swimming costume’, the dangers of heavy woollen swimsuits in water, and ways of maintaining (even protecting) femininity while engaging in swimming for exercise. Illustration plates in How to Swim feature Kellerman in ‘the Bathing Cape’, which allowed a woman wearing a suitably brief swimming costume to remain modest on her approach to the water, and maintain a respectable image alongside the personal freedom that exercise, and swimming in particular provided to women of the day.
Never one to leave a stone unturned, or an excuse unchallenged Kellerman also shares with the readers of How to Swim how she combats the particularly female problem associated with swimming—getting your hair wet. Talcum powder and a rubber bathing cap keep the hair dry and lessen the inconvenience to health and style wet hair may pose, while with a typical Kellerman flourish she suggests the inclusion of an artfully tied scarf around the head to maintain the elegance of the ensemble–because above all she maintained that an active woman was an attractive woman. For Kellerman exercise and did not erase femininity, but had the ability to enhance it.
All images from Annette Kellerman, How to Swim, London: William Heinemann, 1919.
 A. Kellerman. How to Swim, London: William Heinemann, 1919. p. 45
Between Feminism and Femininity: Tensions within the designs of Diane Von Furstenberg
What prompted you to choose this subject?
I’ve always been really interested in women’s professional wear and the role it played– and continues to play– in creating an identity outside the domestic sphere for women so I knew I wanted to write about that. Initially, inspired by our visit to the Museum at FIT in New York, I wanted to compare Claire McCardell and Diane Von Furstenberg, because both designers used similar cutting and wrapping techniques to produce clothing that would facilitate the lives of modern women. However as the dissertation evolved, I found it was more interesting to focus on Von Furstenberg and reexamine her within her historical context, the Second Wave Feminist movement. Looking at her garments and their representation this way, it was really interesting to discover that even though she retrospectively claims to have produced feminist clothing, in many ways, they were in fact at odds with the rhetoric of the movement because they celebrated femininity, which the movement rejected.
Most inspiring research find so far?
There was so much! Overall, taking a closer look at the fashion industry in the 1970s was really inspiring. The 1970s were a real turning point for American sportswear and for women’s wear. It was fascinating to discover how the Battle of Versailles really helped to give American sportswear credibility. It was also interesting to learn that this was the moment when women gained more of a voice as consumers.
Favourite place to work?
I think I get my best work done at home as I have plenty of access to coffee and all my books. In terms of libraries though I do love Senate House, and if I need a change of scene I think the Foyle’s coffee shop is great.
I’m currently writing an article about fashion photographers working in Brazil for the next Photoworks annual on Fashion and Style Politics [https://photoworks.org.uk/project-news/open-submission-photoworks-annual-issue-23/]. I’m really thrilled to have been asked, and in preparation I’ve been researching some really innovative image-makers, such as Jacques Dequeker, Paulo Vainer, Guy Paganini and Henrique Gendre. Sao Paulo-based photographer Zee Nunes [www.zeenunesphotography.com], is one of my favourites. Namely because his practice is so hybrid, drawing from a range of photographic genres that encompass ethnographic, documentary, still life, ‘realist’, portrait and art photography. He re-presents these cross-disciplinary influences in subtle and nuanced ways, evoking a range of different moods, whether light-hearted, euphoric, subdued, sombre or enigmatic.
A particularly interesting example of Nunes’ practice can be seen in an April 2014 editorial shot for Vogue Brasil and entitled ‘Glamour Berbere’. This shoot was the result of a collaboration between Nunes, Brazilian stylist Pedro Sales and Afro-Brazilian model, Mariana Calazans. On first glance, Calazans is presented as an exoticised, North African beauty; at one with her lush natural environment, she wears heavy gold jewellery and luxurious Orientalist ensembles constructed from rich, tactile suede and heavily patterned silks. Staged against verdant foliage, the ambiguous images are reminiscent of Jackie Nickerson’s 2002 series ‘Farm’, which documented farm labourers in Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe against their working landscapes in thought-provoking portraits that addressed the role of the camera in representing, but also constructing, identity. As a white, European-descended photographer, it might be easy to discuss inherent power imbalances between Nunes and his female Afro-Brazilian subject, drawing upon issues of racism and sexism prevalent within wider Brazilian society. But a closer look at the images easily dispels such claims. Calazans is an active subject, and these images are far too performative and collaborative to be read in such one-dimensional terms of an active (white male) photographer and a passive (black female) subject. The images highlight Calazan’s agency in self-fashioning; she poses in such a way that the distinctions between dress, body and setting are temporarily flattened, and the construction of identity becomes a fluid and performative process. Although reminiscent of European ethnographic photography, these images re-write this well-established genre of domination and objectification in a sophisticated and self-reflexive commentary that serves to erode, rather than to construct, rigid categories of race, ethnicity and nationality.
 Zee Nunes, ‘Glamour Berbere: Silhuetas Retas e Elegantes, traduzidas em vestidos e túnicas luxuosamente bordados na típica e rica caartela de cor do mediterrâneo e norte da áfrica’, Vogue Brasil, February 2014, pp. 294-301.
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.
 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.
 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).
 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.
 M. L. Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, 2nd edn (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 8.
Madame Yevonde’s Goddess Protraits: Subverting the Surrealist Gaze
What prompted you to choose this subject?
When we visited the National Portrait Gallery in December and the archivist brought out a few of the original prints from the Goddess Series, I knew because of their stunning beauty they would be the topic of my dissertation.
Most inspiring research find so far?
I am really inspired by the depth of care Madame Yevonde took in her creative process. This ultimately resulted in her use of a cutting edge photographic techniques and color printing that created the powerful luminescence of the Goddess Series.
Favourite place to work?
I am not really a library or archive person at heart, so I spend a lot of time working coffee shops and on occasion in my flat.
Spectacular bodies: Paul Poiret and the display of Haute Couture (still working on it).
What prompted you to choose this subject?
I was struck by the ‘grand narratives’ that seemed to be applied to Paul Poiret’s work and life – his rise to stardom in the 1910s as the ‘king of fashion’, or as he was characterized at times Poiret ‘The Modernist,’ and his downfall in the postwar years as the couturier who would (ironically) ‘reject’ modernism. My work is an attempt at nuancing some of the assumptions that surround the couturier, notably in the years following the First World War, by looking at his involvement in the costuming of music-halls, his use of actresses in advertisements, and the relationships of power between these performers, their audience, the couture clientele and the (bourgeois) couturier.
Most inspiring research find so far?
Poiret’s acting role in Colette’s La Vagabonde (alongside Colette herself) shown at the Théâtre de l’Avenue in 1927. The fact that La Vagabonde has a sort of redemptive tone in its attempt to legitimize the hard-working actresses of the music-halls is particularly interesting in light of Poiret’s own difficulties in combining the sort of excess his persona and clothing were seen to produce and the bourgeois values of the Third Republic.
Favourite place to work?
I spent three days in Paris in the various buildings of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France for research on Poiret. The Richelieu site was a highlight, and I have to admit that consulting microfilms there made me feel that bit more professional.