Even after all these years, it is still a little surprise when graduation suddenly appears again on my calendar. My MA course at The Courtauld seems to rush by – nine months of seminars, visits, discussions and so much more. The most exciting aspect for me is always meeting the students as a group for the first time in October, and getting to know them and watching their responses to the images and ideas we discuss.
This year, I had the great pleasure of seeing Jamie, Dana, Barbora, Harriet, Yona and Sophie progress from early essays thinking about key methodologies and theorists, through film reviews, blog posts, formal essays and a virtual exhibition, to their final piece of work – a 10,000 word dissertation on a subject of their choice. You can look back at the posts they wrote a couple of months ago to learn about the amazing topics they chose, suffice to say, I was reading drafts on everything from 19th century Decadents to 1930s bathing suits – and enjoying guiding the students as their ideas developed and their writing became ever more fluent and sophisticated. They all worked incredibly hard, were great fun to teach and graduated with excellent grades.
So, please join me in congratulating these brilliant, talented graduates, and wishing them luck for their future, no doubt wonderful careers!
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 …
We thought we would start Autumn off with some reading for you. As our Instagram followers will know, my book Fashion, Desire & Anxiety: Image & Morality (I B Tauris) in the 20th Century was recently published in Russian. To celebrate, we are giving away this PDF from the English edition.
The book explores the ways fashion challenges contemporary morality – through its design, representation and the way it is worn, covering examples from subculture to haute couture.
So we hope you enjoy reading the book’s Introduction – explaining the ways fashion simultaneously provokes desire and anxiety, plus a section from chapter one titled ‘Simplicity’ – which considers the tensions between luxury and restraint in fashion.
We hope you enjoy the extract, and look forward to resuming our regular Tuesday and Friday blog posts for you.
This Monday, July 4th, the Documenting Fashion students (and Liz, PhD, though not pictured!) graduated from the Courtauld. We were all very happy to have been able to have been there and wanted to share some photographs from our special day. The black academic robes with the brown hood are the academic dress for MAs of the University of London (the Courtauld is a self-governing college of the University of London). What did you wear to your graduation? Let us know in the comments on here or on Instagram.
You did your BA and your MA at the Courtauld, what led you to stay and what made you pursue dress history?
The Courtauld is a very unique place, and I enjoyed the atmosphere immensely when I studied for my BA. I also did one of the history of dress options on my BA – Re-presenting the Past: Uses of History in Dress, Fashion and Art – and I loved it. I always had loved fashion anyway so I thought maybe history of dress was the way forward. I then applied and got on the course!
What was your favorite part of the Documenting Fashion MA?
The Trip to New York was one of the many highlights of the course, but just being able to talk about fashion and to really get in depth about the subject with people who have similar interests and views was also really fascinating. It was great to have proper conversations and to hear other people’s interests, areas of research, and different approaches. I miss it already and it’s been less than a year since I left – it was a really fantastic time and I’m so glad that I did it. It was also great to be able to speak to Rebecca, who is such an expert in the field, on a weekly basis.
How did your research interests develop over the course of your MA and did they inform your dissertation?
I had always loved the work of Issey Miyake, in particular his Pleats Please line, but when I saw the Mario Fortuny pleated dress in the archives at FIT in New York, I got very emotional and realized all of these connections between his work and Miyake’s. I felt like I had found my calling in life! In my dissertation titled, Pleats and folds: modernity, technology and atemporality in the designs of Mariano Fortuny and Issey Miyake, I looked at the themes of modernity and technology and the use of pleating in the work of Miyake and Fortuny. Even though they are both from different contexts and time periods they both used technology in unique ways and were interested in these utopian, modern ideas that allowed women to not be restricted by corsets. They used pleats to create clothes that moved with the body in an entirely modern way but simultaneously referenced antiquity, whilst other designers used pleating purely as a stylistic technique. I wore pleats almost every day whilst researching and writing my dissertation as a ‘method’ way of getting inspiration. I still wear pleats almost everyday!
Do you have any advice for choosing dissertation topics for any of us MA’s who are struggling to find our calling?
I would try to find something you’re really interested or passionate about and then find a different or more interesting way to approach it if its been looked at previously. Bounce ideas off of your classmates, you never know what someone has come across – they may know something very niche that could help with your research or even set you off in an entirely different direction. I would also look for inspiration everywhere you possibly can! Go to exhibitions, flick through books, follow people from the field on Instagram and you might find something you want to research. My virtual exhibition topic came from Instagram. Keep reading and keep your eyes open to absolutely everything!
How have your academic studies shaped your professional activities?
My studies, and the course specifically, really made me realize that fashion was where I wanted to be. I really wanted a more varied role. I interned in the Theatre and Performance department at the V&A after University, which I really enjoyed, and now I’m working at Nick Knight’s Show Studio and Live Archives, a private fashion archive that acts as a reference for designers and institutions. It’s very dynamic, as is Show Studio, which is Nick Knight’s contemporary fashion website that uses technology to push the boundaries of how fashion in presented. It’s nice to have two very different positions, but still fashion, always.
What does your work at the Live Archives entail?
The founder of the archive, Hoana Poland, started out in vintage shops and through her work she came across amazing pieces that were so unique that she couldn’t sell them on. She decided to create an archive that was constantly evolving and could be put to use, serving as inspiration for contemporary collections. The collection consists of “directional” fashion, so its mostly pieces from the 60s -70s onwards, but specialises in Japanese designers such as Comme de Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. The collection is shaping the future of fashion. The archive also does exhibitions –small, intimate ones that are trying to do something different to the big blockbuster shows. Their first exhibition was called ‘Yohji Yamamoto: SHOWSPACE’, where the collection was shown on live models and visitors could try on the pieces, which would be unheard of at a normal museum! The shows illustrate the more personal side of the fashion industry. It is really interesting work and I absolutely love it. I’m looking forward to some great projects that we have coming up.
At this point in the term we switch gear – you might think we’d be winding down for the holidays, but no, we like to keep the momentum going. So having spent the first eight weeks of the course looking at themes in dress and fashion history, we now focus in on our core period, 1920-60, and apply everything we’ve been talking about and thinking about thus far to this era.
But before we move on, I thought it would be good to reflect on what we’ve been up to these past months…
7 Themes discussed: definitions of dress, modernity, history & memory, dress as autobiography, vision and touch, empire & colonialism, portraiture
4 Storerooms & Archives visited: Fortnum & Mason, National Portrait Gallery, Museum of London, Courtauld Prints & Drawings
22 Seminar readings read
1 Presentation given – in front of a painting at Tate Britain, on the theme of empire
1 Film review written – on a clip chosen from the BFI’s archives
1 Formal essay written on one of the 7 themes discussed
8 Objects and images discussed that evoke personal connections to dress during the history
& memory class
10 Fashion magazines and rare books, spanning 16th – 20th century from the History of Dress collections studied during our very first class
1 Hand-painted Victorian family photo album examined during our discussion of sight & touch
3 Tutorials each – to talk through ideas and approaches to assignments