Author Archives: Rebecca Arnold

Our (almost) finale!

letters spelling out the word thank you, as written by the artist Richard Haines
Illustration by Richard Haines


On 4th December, Fashion Interpretations reached its (almost) finale – with an online symposium split across five evenings. Each of the Network’s members discussed their contributions, allowing an international audience to see the fruits of our discussions and research over the last thirteen months. 

What was most exciting, was to see the range of responses to our aim – seeking to understand the ways medium impacts fashion’s meanings. From academic papers, to life writing, to illustration, film and curation, we have all found new understandings of the significance of medium as a conduit for seeing, and as a way to explore consciously our own methods of working and creating.

Next month, the inaugural issue of Archivist Addendum will signal the end of the project, and the beginning of its life in as a new medium – with all our contributions collected together in this new publication that will itself cast our ideas in another form and enable us to share our ideas still further.

Working together has been an absolute treat, to be able to share and discuss, and think and talk about fashion from such different perspectives has been a hugely enriching experience and we hope this is just the beginning of a new series of collaborations and adventures together.

Thank you to Elisa, Charles, Lisa, Liz, Olga, Leanne, Roman, Richard, Dal and Jane for being so generous and open with your work and such a fantastic team – a true international network was born.

Thank you to Fran for being a wonderful Administrator, for creating our online presence and social media and keeping us all organised.

Thank you to Oliver, Eva, Ben, Olivia, Acatia and The Courtauld Research Forum for making sure everything ran smoothly.

And finally, thank you to everyone who subscribed, followed, liked and commented on our blog and Instagram, and to all those who attended our events and made such inspiring and thoughtful comments and questions.

It has been a complete joy,

Rebecca & Judith.

Go to The Courtauld’s YouTube channel to watch all five parts of our symposium & follow @archivistaddendum on Instagram for information on our publication.


Medium Matters

Four models, represented through fashion illustration, in a line their heads all tilted in tandem
A drawing by Willi Smith of his costumes for “Deep South Suite”, choreographed by Dianne McIntyre for her dance company “Sounds in Motion”, in 1976

Some snippets from our research on the meaning of the medium …

‘… no medium is singular or autonomous: by definition mediums are go-betweens. The second proposal, which follows from the first, is that mediums exist only in relation to one another, within a matrix, and as a means of communication rather than purely as abstract, (self-)reflexive entities. The third is that mediums should not be considered in a reductive but rather in a generative light … The fourth is something we all know but I would like to consider differently, and that is that painting … has historically been prime among such mediums, and prime among them in emphasizing the materiality of medium. Fifth, and finally, mediums are not only their materialities but also their histories – their histories of thought about medium and materialities’. p. 123-4, Carol Armstrong, “Painting Photography Painting: Timelines and Medium Specificities” in Graw, Isabelle and Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, eds., Painting Beyond Itself: The Medium in the Post-medium Condition, (Sternberg Press, 2016)

‘Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication’. p. 8, McLuhan, Marshall, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Affects, (New York, 1967)

‘We must address the image not only as a product of a given medium, be it photography, painting or video, but also as a product of ourselves, for we generate images of our own (dreams, imaginings, personal perceptions) that we play out against other images in the visible world’. p. 2, Hans Belting, An Anthropology of Images: Picture, Medium, Body (Princeton University Press, 2011)

‘The materiality of photographs takes two broad and interrelated forms. First, it is the plasticity of the image itself, its chemistry, the paper it is printed on, the toning, the resulting surface variations […] Second are the presentational forms, such as carte de visite, cabinet cards, albums, mounts and frames, with which photographs are inseparably enmeshed […] Both these forms of materiality carry another key element, the physical traces of usage and time’. p. 4, Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart (eds.), Photographs, Objects, Histories: on the materiality of images (London: Routledge, 2004)

‘It is an essential fact that without the constant reference of its interpretation, fashion could not be perceived. Certain ways of looking could not be seen as more desirable than others, as acceptable or in need of subversion of further exaggeration, without the visual demonstration that pictures provide’ p. 350, Anne Hollander, Seeing Through Clothes (New York: The Viking Press, 1978)

‘What is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media.’ P. 15, Bolter, J. D. and R. Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000)

‘The allure of fashion media lies, in part, in the way they conjure the tactile, sensual associations of being dressed – the feel of fabric against the skin, the weight and drape of clothing as it moves with the body. If the address to the corporeal body is key to the way that fashion media become meaningful, then (how) is this privileged relationship with the body extended and enabled with fashion interactives?’ p. 176, Eugenie Shinkle, “Fashion’s Digital Body: Seeing and Feeling” in Fashion Interactives, in Fashion Media: Past and Present (Bloomsbury, 2013)

‘Clothing, as an extension of the skin, can be seen both as a heat-control mechanism and as a means of defining the self socially. In these respects, clothing and housing are near twins, though clothing is both nearer and elder; for housing extends the inner heat-control mechanisms of our organism, while clothing is a more direct extension of the outer surface of the body’. Pp. 119-20, McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding Media: The Extension of Man (New York, 1964)



Following threads … 

A wide shot of a Zoom meeting containing all the Fashion Interpretations group
Hello! from the Fashion Interpretations group 


When the wonderful Judith Clark and I began talking about setting up a project together, we were keen to involve people whose work we loved and to bring together an international group of inspiring and exciting academics, artists, curators, stylists and journalists. 

We were lucky – everyone we asked said ‘yes’ – just look at the Bio page of the blog to see the incredible range of super talented people we’ve been working with for the past 9 months. By bringing this diverse network together we hoped new ideas and collaborations would be sparked and we have been delighted by the results so far. 

We’ve been speaking to each other regularly – in scheduled online meetings, but also informally by DM, WhatsApp and in person (when that’s allowed), developing our individual projects – as described in the Contributions page of the blog but also importantly, starting to work together to build towards integrated projects that encompass our varied specialisms and approaches. 

One exciting collaboration has been between Elisa de Wyngaert and Richard Haines. Richard visited Antwerp at the start of the year and drew mannequins dressed in contemporary fashions chosen by Elisa from MoMu’s collections. 

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Kutesko and Charles Tepperman have found common interests in the ways people dress when travelling, how they record their own clothing while abroad, and how they document the ways people they encounter when on holiday or business trips dress and style themselves.   

Judith Clark and Olga Vainshtein have found common ground in books aimed at children and the very different trajectories this might take their own work on – for Judith, it’s meant thinking about creating props and attributes after reading Madame de Genlis, for Olga, writing about the multiple iterations of Little Lord Fauntleroy’s elaborate outfits.  

These are just some of the ways sharing our work has enriched our thinking and developed our approaches.  Every meeting has been an exhilarating discussion, full of suggestions, ideas and anticipation for how this project will come to fruition  


Fashion Images – A Work in Progress

In this image we can see a selection of fashion illustrations, presented in books, and a series of notes by Rebecca alongside them
Rebecca’s research


As August sets in, I am looking forward to holidays, and to getting some solid time to work on my contribution to the Fashion Interpretations project. There are two key elements to this – a paper, to be given via Zoom as part of our weeklong series of events in early December (more information on this soon …) and a linked piece of writing that will appear in the special issue of Archivist Addendum that will be published at the end of 2020.

My interest in the ways medium impacts fashion’s meanings has focused on the incredible editorials from interwar high fashion magazines that slip seamlessly between illustration and photography, deploying myriad artists, each with their own style to convey the latest trends. I love the idea of the reader encountering these pages and viewing them as a coherent whole – a rich visual portfolio that takes them through day, evening and resort wear and offers them tactile renderings of fabrics and forms.

I’ve become increasingly obsessed by hybrid images – ones that reference photography and drawing simultaneously, including some of Man Ray’s experimental pictures for a Harper’s Bazaar in the 1930s. Also the way the captions connect with, or simply sit alongside images, extending the meanings that become attached to the clothes themselves.

So for the next few weeks, in between relaxing, I will be buried beneath a pile of books and magazines, reading endless pages of downloaded articles and staring at 1930s couture, trying to understand the complex meanings of their alluring lines …


In this image we can see a large scale fashion photograph, shot in black and white, presented in books, and a series of notes by Rebecca alongside them
Rebecca’s research

Editorial Harmony: Interwar Fashion Spreads

A collage of three 1920s black and white fashion images of women. Each shows a model posing. First, a drawing of a model in a black knee length dress with lace collar and cuffs. Next a photograph of a model in a black evening dress with crystal beading at the shoulder and on its train. Finally a more stylised drawing of a model in a long, wrapped gown with embroidered shoulders.
Reynaldo Luza, Harper’s Bazar, 1926; Baron de Meyer, Harper’s Bazar, 1923; Érte, Harper’s Bazar, 1921


Interwar fashion editorials contain a dizzying mix of visual styles.  Extending over multiple pages, several illustrators’ work is interspersed between photographers’ interpretations of the newest styles. How fascinating to see Boutet de Monvel’s soft pencil sketches of modern suits – with force lines suggesting a model’s movement – next to hazily romantic photographs by Baron de Meyer that focus on the glimmer of evening gowns.

Such juxtapositions require a sophisticated reader, one able to adjust her eye rapidly to varied representational styles and to understand the ways each artist invites her to consider body, dress and context. While most fashion photography of the era was studio bound, this did not hamper the vision of de Meyer, Edward Steichen and their peers – modernist, surrealist and realist elements featured in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.  While drawings of contemporary fashion ranged widely, from Érte’s extravagant fantasies to the minimal lines of Reynaldo Luza. Collections coverage therefore came in the form of enticing experiments that combined a centuries old art form – drawing with the newest photographic technology.

For Fashion Interpretations I focus on American fashion magazines of the 1920s and 1930s to analyse these wide-ranging editorials. How does clothing resonate in each medium? Does the reader/viewer experience fashion differently in illustration and photography? And how does each artist’s style and interpretation impact fashion’s meanings?

By working alongside the international team of curators, academics, writers, illustrators, stylists and journalists taking part in our Fashion Interpretations Network, I can discuss my research with specialists in various media and explore my findings from different perspectives. It is exciting to consider the results of working in such a stimulating environment – to discover the significance of medium to fashion’s meanings.