“It will be so exciting to bring all our project members together to discuss our work. There are already fascinating connections emerging and these will develop as we explore the ways medium impacts meaning. How inspiring to spend an evening with this group of international artists, academics, writers and curators to share our ideas. And I can’t wait till December when we can present our project to the wider public.” – Rebecca Arnold
Last week the Fashion Interpretations group met via Zoom, our whole group in full for the first time, to discuss all things Fashion Interpretations. It was not the introductory Network Meeting we had originally envisioned, all of us smiling and waving into our cameras, scattered around the world. And though we were not physically in the same room, it was exciting to see everyone’s faces, hear their ideas and share a virtual space for an hour or so – it was a needed jolt of joy and excitement.
We began with an appropriate dose of housekeeping, responsibly reviewing important pieces of business (with haste!), before quickly handing over to the Archivist Addendum team. Dal Chodha and Jane Howard are producing the publication that will accompany this project, the first iteration of their journal Archivist Addendum. We’re not going to give away any spoilers too soon, but they described in detail their incredibly exciting ideas that will enact a “breaking away” from the known format of a printed journal, a new home in which to house the collective works of our Fashion Interpreters.
In advance of our meeting, we devised a precise schedule in which our project members would present their work or a summary of their research (thus far) within a five-minute timeframe, with imagery from / linked to their work included. Our brilliant leaders – Judith Clark and Rebecca Arnold – kicked off the proceedings, with Rebecca showing us photography from a 1937 edition of US Harper’s Bazaar by Man Ray. Rebecca is looking at interwar fashion photography and illustration as she is interested in the interplay between the two medias, especially how their editorial exchange might have impacted the viewer’s experience of looking at magazines and encountering images during this period. Judith treated us to a wonderful array of images that illustrate the communication of narrative through dress, as articulated in the relationship between exhibition making and how it contains information: mannequins dressed in Lanvin from the Fosun Foundation in Shanghai last year, preparatory sketches by Karl Lagerfeld in the 1970s from the Chloé Archive, an illustration from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. We then shifted to Richard Haines’ work (currently running a takeover on our blog/Instagram, 11 – 17 May), who talked to us about line, a subject as an illustrator he continually considers, what is line, how line is documented through history and how it presents now, as translated through technology / social media. Last January, Richard travelled to the Guerlain Institute in Paris and viewed a trompe-l’œil work by Christian Bérard he had formerly considered to be an illustration. He was stunned to discover it was executed entirely in fabric, torn and shredded grosgrain with accents of crushed velvetine. This experience led him to consider the illusion of line and the evocation of emotion that this discovery caused.
Between each group of three (first up, Rebecca, Judith and Richard), we paused to ask questions, give feedback and let Dal and Jane talk logistics in terms each contribution to the publication…
Leading on from Richard’s discussion of line, we heard from Elisa de Wyngaert, curator at MOMU, who is researching how we experience exhibition spaces and what it means to engage with a fashion exhibition emotionally. Image references included a two-page spread from Dirk Van Saene’s Autumn/Winter 1998-9 collection’s lookbook. He and Walter Van Beirendonck took a mannequin with them on holiday to Austria and shot this collection on its inanimate body, before glorious mountain vistas and flower-fronted hillside homes – a collection of images that elicit an emotional response from Elisa, which cause her to imagine their process, two Belgian designers dressing their subject, the locals watching as they worked, the fun of positioning, selecting a backdrop, a surrealist experiment in storytelling. Lisa Cohen’s five-minutes were incredibly moving. She read from one of the interviews she has been conducting in relation to her FI work, in which people – here a friend of Lisa’s – retell the stories attached to items of clothing they keep of loved ones lost: a leather jacket, “the leather covered in a tracing of mildew”. Again, it seems a shame to reveal too much, Lisa’s work is so poignant, but we are all looking forward to her writing on the exact textures people align with their emotional lives, how “various sartorial remnants hold the bodies of the dead.”
“That day I photographed the dust and cracks that cover the jacket, the exhausted elastic of the wrist bands, its texture of time and disregard, its texture is also of all the feeling and not feeling about Ken he’s done over the thirty-years since his death.” – Lisa Cohen
Olga Vainshtein led us charmingly into her work on Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886), or rather his suit. The suit became an important trend in children’s fashion, initiated by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s descriptions and the novel’s illustrations by Reginald Birch (scrutinised by readers and mothers(!) alike), and had a considerable impact on late-nineteenth century fashions. Olga intends to discuss the influences that Burnett incorporated into her novel and were born from it, for example subjects such as Burnett’s son Vivian – for whom she designed a LLF suit – and the suit’s present day iterations that enlivened Burnett’s authorial imagination (*think Oscar Wilde’s lecturing costume designed for his 1882 American tour).
We then paused again for our Archivist Addendum debriefing…
Leanne Shapton spoke to us about her interpretations of imagery on sites such as eBay and how she intends to reinterpret the vernacular of photography we the browser, buyer, seller has appropriated through our everyday online consumption. Whether the photographs Leanne is collecting display an amateurish representation of a garment, crumpled and dishevelled on a bedroom floor, or a more curated reading of their wares for sale, isolated and directed with intention; her own painted depictions will measure the patterns that emerge and explore the intersection this practice holds for: the fetishisation of collecting, the dictation of value and the desires we harbour for objects we yearn for.
We were then swiftly transported to the vividly colourful palette of 1960s Hawaii by Charles Tepperman, who discussed his work on amateur movies and how he is tracing the parallels that exist between amateur film and fashion, as mediums that enable self-performance – it is here that Charles has found a connecting point. Charles showed us two stills from a 1966 travel film about Hawaii, by an amateur Chicagoan filmmaker, in conversation with an advertisement for South Pacific fashions reproduced by Chicago’s Chas A. Stevens during this period. Charles is interested in documenting what these amateur filmmakers brought home with them, how they recorded embodied (sartorial) performances of cultural otherness and how these movies – in collaboration with fashion – are mobilised to mediate cultural differences. Interestingly, Charles noted that Liz Kutesko’s FI blog and Instagram takeover helped him navigate the connections between foreign and domestic images of dress, in relation to fashion in travel films promoting a problematic appetite for exotic costuming. And interestingly, it was Liz who rounded off our evening, with the final Fashion Interpretations offering. Liz Kutesko is researching the photographic practice of the Levi-Strauss’ – Claude and Dina – and their documentation (whether knowingly or not) of fashion in the São Paulo of the 1930s. Liz described to us the contradictions of the city’s opposing landscapes: modernist buildings and wardrobes offset against old world architecture, their facades crumbling and collecting in gutters, a graphic intermixing of traditional and contemporary societal elements. Liz is therefore interested in exploring how this photographic record, a modern visual technology, constructed a modern idea of São Paulo and bore witness to Brazil’s contradictory reinterpretation of modernity, present also in the dress codes on display. This interpretation will be layered, as Liz will also incorporate Claude Levi-Strauss’ 1996 Saudades de São Paulo, in which Levi-Strauss retrospectively revisits his time in Brazil.
This was a fabulous evening, we listened carefully to one another’s translations, our individual interrogations of fashion as a medium, its rich and varied meanings. We can’t wait to be reunited, whether through a lens or face-to-face, to continue this conversation.
“Despite not being in a room together we all had our videos on so it felt communal. We passed the baton 5 minutes at a time – for me it was like sitting in on a thrilling lesson in close reading – a photo, a drawing, a jacket, a biographic detail. Fragments of everyone’s research. It was such a pleasure to participate and look forward to the next.” – Judith Clark