What I Learnt About Street Style in Japan

Bookmark and Share

Second year student Eleanor Medhurst on visiting Tokyo’s Harajuku district to research street style

Fig. 1. Streets of Harajuku

Fig. 1. Me in the back streets of Harajuku. Personal photograph from the author. 30th March 2018.

Since starting on the Fashion and Dress History course at Brighton in 2016, I’ve done a fair amount of research into street style and subcultures, their fashions and their theories. My primary interest in this topic has always been the clothing from the streets of Harajuku in Tokyo, though I’ve focused on other areas in much of my research. I’ve written about street style and vintage clothing on the streets of Brighton; I’ve looked at subcultural theory by the likes of Stuart Hall and Dick Hebdige in relation to Colin MacInnes’ book Absolute Beginners; I’ve also just finished an essay about cartoon imagery in Harajuku “kawaii.”

This background interest, as well as an overall appreciation for the culture of Harajuku, meant that when I visited Tokyo over the Easter break I had an incredible experience. I had the chance to see the source of so many styles that I have admired and partaken in, and appreciate the culture and the streets from which they grew.

Many people, when visiting Harajuku, believe that it only consists of the main street, Takeshita Dori. These same people, when confronted with the tourist-heavy inauthenticity of the main drag, often leave disappointed. Harajuku street style appears to be a thing of the past, overtaken by the curious lenses of tourist cameras and the entrepreneuring efforts of the Disney store and McDonalds, both of which have locations on Takeshita Dori. However, move away from the crowds and Harajuku is still very much alive.

Doki Doki

Fig 2. 6% Doki Doki in Harajuku. Personal photograph by author. April 2018.

Wandering the back streets of Harajuku was my favourite part of my entire trip to Japan. Quieter than so many parts of Tokyo, and yet buzzing with energy, I felt comfortable in my own sartorial expression as well as in the appreciation of others’. I remember standing by one of Japan’s many infamous vending machines (shopping bags in one hand, google maps open on my phone in the other) and feeling comfortable in myself in a way that is hard to find in too many places outside of, of course, Brighton. This is a feeling that the young people who spend time in Harajuku have cultivated themselves, with their subcultural communities and the shops that have emerged with them. Much like in subcultural London in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the shops that provide the clothing with which subcultural style builds its outfits are the bread and butter of subcultural fashion communities. Where shops such as Vivienne Westwood’s SEX and Granny Takes a Trip on the King’s Road might have defined the street style shopping landscape in London, in Harajuku and wider Tokyo the scene is ruled by stores that are much cuter in nature. Kawaii giant 6% Doki Doki is a hub for “Decora” style – a fashion that involves as many bright colours, accessories, hair clips and cute motifs as possible. It is the epitome of “J-fashion” in the eyes of many, and climbing up its pink-and-yellow staircase to the shop on the second floor was the sure sign that I was in Harajuku.

Hikapu Dayo

Fig 3. Hikapu Dayo in Swankiss, Shibuya 109. @Hikapudayo on Instagram. 5th March 2018. Web. 29th May 2018.

Other prominent shops include shops for the Lolita subculture (a style that takes inspiration from French Rococo fashions and Victorian dolls, and despite the name, is unrelated to Nabokov’s novel): Baby the Stars Shine Bright, Angelic Pretty and Metamorphose. These shops do not allow photography, to avoid the novelty that is often made of the style by tourists. Notably, there’s also the shopping centre just south of Harajuku itself and right next to the famously busy Shibuya Crossing, Shibuya 109. Shibuya 109 is renowned for being home to key influencers in Tokyo subcultures, whether those be the shops within it or the shopgirls that work there. The culture of shopgirls-as-style-icons in J-fashion is also often seen as a thing of the past – and yet, models and kawaii icons such as Hikapu Dayo still work within the building.

Harajuku and surrounding areas in Tokyo still have a strong subcultural presence. This continues even in the face of its commodification by the tourist industry and big-name brands. The backstreets belong to the people who walk them – and as long as the outsiders stick to the main drag of Takeshita Dori, then the culture continues to thrive.

For me, seeing such a specific subcultural location has solidified the subcultural theories that I have researched. It has let them be realised in the reflection of real people and real clothes rather than in histories, photographs, and pages of books. I intend to take this experience with me in my studies – possibly even in my dissertation, which will explore, to an extent, the subversion of the feminine in subcultures such as those mentioned here.

Becoming Association of Dress Historians Student Fellow

Bookmark and Share

Final year Fashion and Dress History student Emmy Sale reports on becoming an Association of Dress Historians Student Fellow

This month, I was elated to be the recipient of an Association of Dress Historians (ADH) Student Fellowship. For those of you who don’t know of the charity, ADH aims to support the advancement of public knowledge and education of dress and textile history and is particularly committed to supporting students of dress history. In order to fulfil this mission, they founded the Student Fellowships.

My Fellowship for ADH involves taking care of their social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) in order to build up their online presence. The power of social media cannot be understated; it is a great way to engage with museums, online archives and dress historian communities to keep up to date with new research, exhibitions and articles. Through regular posts relating to the charity’s events and conferences I will be promoting the charity but also directly learning the impact of social media and engaging with the promotion of dress history through these platforms. Already, posting more regularly has made an impact as the ADH New Research in Dress History conference has sold out!

The Fellowship is not only an opportunity to experience how the charity is run, by assisting at the conferences and attending committee meetings, but also to contribute to it. I am required to write blog posts for the ADH website that will reflect my research interests, exhibition reviews and ADH events; and I am also encouraged to develop an article for the Journal of Dress History. These are great opportunities to get research published by the charity, but also to contribute to the field of dress history that I am passionate about and would like to progress in.

Overall, I believe that being an ADH Student Fellow will be invaluable to the progression of my skills, interests and achievements; as well as showing a commitment and passion for the subject of dress history to future employers. Organisations like ADH are important to supporting both the study of and students of dress history, so to be able to represent the charity in order to share its key aims is a real honour.

Object of the Month: March 2018

Bookmark and Share

 

How did a Rwandan doll end up in a Brighton teaching collection? Final year Fashion and Dress History student Emmy Sale investigates

Figure 1 Front view Doll made in Kigali, Rwanda.

Figure 1. Front view Doll made in Kigali, Rwanda, 2008-2009. Cotton fabrics, stuffed with waste-rice stuffing and embroidery detailing. Handmade by a young boy as part of a Tailoring project run by the Kinamba Project. Purchased from Charity Shop in Brighton. University of Brighton Teaching Collection

Ever wondered how objects can travel around the world? Or what happens to souvenirs when they are discarded? This doll from the University of Brighton Dress and Textiles Teaching Collection has made a fascinating journey from Rwanda to Brighton. The doll was purchased by Professor Lou Taylor for just £3 from a Brighton charity shop. The use of African wax print fabric in its construction suggested the doll to be from West African, but research proved otherwise. Instagram posts of similar souvenir dolls posted by tourists suggested Rwandan origins. However, when the dolls were found on www.africanbags.org, this provenance was confirmed. Significantly, the website attributed the doll to the “Kinamba Project” in Kigali, Rwanda.

Figure 2 Back View of Doll made in Kigali, Rwanda.

Figure 2. Back View of Doll.

The Kinamba Project was set up in 2005, aiming to help the poor and vulnerable in Kigali, after the community’s devastation following the 1994 genocide. One way the project helps children and adults is through a tailoring project, which teaches sewing skills to individuals to create a source of income. The Project’s founder, Meg Fletcher, was able to shed more light on the significance of the doll’s manufacture. She explained that the object was made by a young orphan who was looking after a disabled man in exchange for food and a place to sleep. The ‘orphan’ is now a successful and enterprising young man. Today he produces stuffed animals, mobiles and bags, all made from fabrics purchased from local wholesale outlets, and stuffed with waste-rice sacking. From those small beginnings, he was able to employ three people, to purchase a piece of land and to build a house. With the support of the Kinamba Project, the benefits for the people of Kigali of manufacturing these souvenir dolls can be comprehended.

This doll has undergone a journey: from something made to help an individual’s life in Rwanda, bought as a tourist souvenir, later donated to a British charity shop and purchased by a professor for use in dress history research. The research was conducted for a case-study project entitled “Not Just a Souvenir: Dolls of the World.” The teaching collection holds many other dolls from around the world and it is hoped that their narratives will also be researched and revealed by students in the future.

E.Sale1@uni.brighton.ac.uk

Diana’s dresses

Bookmark and Share

 

First year Visual Culture student Sarahlouise Newman reviews Diana: Her Fashion Story, currently on at Kensington Palace

1

Fig.1 Tweed day outfit by Bill Pashley

At the end of January, I had the opportunity to see an exhibition of Princess Diana’s dresses. Situated in the gallery at her former home of Kensington Palace, the exhibition Diana: Her Fashion Story documents the evolution of one of British history’s most iconic princesses.

Set in the beautiful front building of Kensington Palace, we were guided through an atrium to plainly-decorated rooms, adorned with sketches of dresses immortalised by the media during Diana’s life. One of these is the well-documented tweed day outfit (Fig.1), designed by Bill Pashley, which she wore on her honeymoon at Balmoral in 1981, in front of the world’s press. The outfit is noted for its lack of structure as it hid her slim frame, which then caused the media to speculate, wrongly, that she was already pregnant.

2

Fig. 2 ‘The horse blanket’ by David Emanuel

 

Following on a little further is a long, green, checked coat (Fig.2) that was nick-named ‘the horse blanket’ by the press, which Diana wore when she was she was in Venice in 1981. This was made by her future wedding-gown designer, David Emanuel. The caption beneath the coat states that this was one of her fashion mistakes: it drowned her figure, hiding her slim silhouette with a boxy coat.

3

Fig.3 The ‘Travolta dress’ by Victor Edelstein

 

Moving into the second room, the style evolves into an elegant black gown nick-named the ‘Travolta dress’. The off-the-shoulder midnight blue velvet gown by Victor Edelstein was immortalised in a photo when Diana danced with John Travolta at the gala dinner at the White House in 1985. The dress was so iconic that it is the most expensive auctioned dress in the world and even has its own Wikipedia page. Reverting back to the more delicate colouring is the typical Disney-esque style dress, which she wore to the Royal Ballet at the Berlin Opera house in 1987 (Fig.4). The satin off-the-shoulder garment has a hint of true 1980s fashion, but still holds to the feminine image of a princess, with a full skirt and neat cuffs. This dress is a light pink, satin-buttoned, off-the-shoulder, floor-length gown designed by Catherine Walker.

4

Fig.4 Dress for the Royal Ballet by Catherine Walker, with Zandra Rhodes design of 1986 in background

Still using the light pink colouring, the dress in the background (Fig.4) is a Zandra Rhodes light pink, chiffon gown adorned with pearls and a satin waist-tie. Diana wore this outfit in 1986. She was, by then, mother to William and Harry and increasingly in the public eye, not just for her position in the royal family but also as charity patron. The main thing I noticed was the length of the gowns. The media never showed the height and build of the Princess of Wales, but it is notable from the length of the gowns how tall and slim she must have been.

5

Fig.5 Sketches by Catherine Walker

As I moved from room to room, I noticed many sketches by Catherine Walker who was one of Princess Diana’s favourite designers, and helped her to develop her sense of style (Fig.5). Diana commissioned Walker to make suits for charity events including the well-known hospital visit to an AIDS ward, where Diana famously refused to wear surgical gloves and hugged terminally-ill patients.

6

Fig.6 Dresses worn for Mario Testino shoot

The final room was my favourite, having a centrepiece of dresses Diana wore on the Mario Testino photoshoot, which became known as her last (Fig.6). Photographs are placed on walls around the garments, along with quotes from Diana and the designers who worked with her.

The exhibition is an intimate view of the evolution of her fashion style from a young princess to international fashion icon. It shows Diana’s elegance and, at times, her fashion faux pas. But mainly it is an exhibition for all, from art and fashion students, to people who were admirers of Diana. It is definitely worth a visit.

Note: The exhibition continues until April 2018, with NUS discounts available. Booking in advance is advised: I went on a Sunday afternoon and it was not too busy, but Saturdays are usually sold out. Catalogues are on sale and photography is allowed, but can be difficult due to lighting.

Working with Queer Looks

Bookmark and Share

 

Second year Fashion and Dress History student Eleanor Medhurst discusses her work with Brighton Museum’s Queer Looks Project

The Queer Looks Young Project Team discussing themes

The Queer Looks Young Project Team discussing themes for the exhibition

I found out about Queer Looks by a sponsored post on Facebook, which is a strange way to encounter something that has had such a positive impact on my life. As a Fashion and Dress History student, and as someone in the LGBT+ community, I was instantly drawn to the project. Queer Looks at Brighton Museum is a display opening this summer featuring outfits and stories from members of the LGBT+ community in Brighton and Sussex. I’ve been part of the Young Project Team, meaning that I have helped to reach out to members of the community, conduct oral history interviews with them, and consider which outfits might be best to put on display. Dress is, in my eyes at least, the most personalised aspect of design history. Through looking at dress we can read individual histories; the stories that we can discover through the outfits of Queer Looks tell us of the struggles facing individual people within the LGBT+ community, the struggles of the community as a whole, and – as I think it is most important to look at the positives – the pride, creativity, and resistance that can be expressed through clothing.

Jason, an interviewee for the project

Jason, an interviewee for Queer Looks

There’s been something so validating about creating this space for queer history and queer fashion to exist within the Museum. It’s been even more important that it’s been through the lens of our team, a group of young queer people, and through direct oral history interviews where members of the community have told their story, on their own terms. Often when queer history is told it is as a side note. This project, however, celebrates queer fashion not as fashion that happens to be worn or designed by a queer person, but as fashion and style that exists in its queerness. I exist as a hyper-feminine gay woman and that is told through my clothing. Jason, an interviewee, owned his pink velvet hotpants-and-waistcoat set specifically to wear to gay clubs in the ‘90s. The stories that our clothes tell are intrinsically linked with our identities and our place as members of the LGBT+ community reacting to a heteronormative society. They are a vitally important part of fashion and design history as a mass reaction to its heterosexual canon.

Deciding which stories to tell in Queer Looks has been a difficult issue. The display will only be able to hold around 20 outfits, but of course there are far more than 20 unique looks and stories that want to be seen and heard. The key was to think as inclusively as possible – a true history and representation of queer people’s looks would not be possible without a varied representation.

The Queer Looks Young Project Team deciding who to include

The Queer Looks Young Project Team deciding who to include in the display

Many people perceive fashion and the LGBT+ community to be something that is flamboyant, or fabulous. Whilst this is often true, we are also a community of real people living real lives and it was important to present a history that is tangible, as queer fashion is something that exists all around us. We have tried our utmost to interview people with amazing style, but who also are a true reflection of the LGBT+ community. Amazing clothes are not all that is worthy of being kept in museums – they also need an accurate representation of the diversity of the people who the clothes belonged to.

Queer Looks is opening this summer, along with an additional microsite (to exhibit the outfits and stories unable to fit in the fashion gallery), but we’ll be putting on events celebrating queer fashion at the museum in the run-up to the opening of the display. One of these is on Saturday 3rd March for International Women’s Day. Keep an eye on the Brighton Museum Blog and the Instagram if you want to stay up to date.

Pre-Raphaelites, hippies and historical revivalism

Bookmark and Share

 

Fashion and Dress History BA (Hons) graduate (2017) Elina Ivanov reports on being shortlisted for the prestigious Association for Art History essay prize

1. Dante Gabriel Rossetti. A Sea-Spell, 1875-77. Oil on canvas. 111.5 x 93 cm. Fogg Museum /Harvard Art Museums, Massachusetts, USA. Courtesy of www.harvardartmuseums.org

1. Dante Gabriel Rossetti. A Sea-Spell, 1875-77. Oil on canvas. 111.5 x 93 cm. Fogg Museum /Harvard Art Museums, Massachusetts, USA. Courtesy of www.harvardartmuseums.org

When the second year of my studies came to its end, I did not immediately have a clear idea for my final year dissertation topic. I did know that, ideally, I would want to incorporate aspects of art history into a topic centred on fashion, in the same way that in studying Fashion and Dress History we had extensively studied its relationship with broader culture and the history of art and design. Throughout my studies, I had held a particularly keen interest in the dress practices of women in artistic circles and subcultural groups from the nineteenth century onwards. The women associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement were something I was curious to look into for a long time. At the same time I wanted to draw my research closer to the modern day, and to look at the much discussed subject of Pre-Raphaelite women from a fresher angle. I soon had the idea of doing this by basing my research in the historical revivalism typical to the fashion imagery of the late 1960s and early 1970s, noting its visual correlations to Pre-Raphaelite images of women a century earlier (see images 1-2 and 3-4).

2. Nicky Samuel wearing a dress by Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell

2. Nicky Samuel wearing a dress by Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell for British Vogue, September 1971. Photographed by Norman Parkinson. Courtesy of theredlist.com

Additionally, I wanted to bring in the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic and spirit over wider hippie culture, which was heavily represented throughout popular culture of the time, particularly in popular music. The same kind of lyrical and visual evocations of women seemed to accompany hippie culture as had been typical to the Pre-Raphaelites a century earlier. In my dissertation I delved into this particular fabled feminine stereotype which, while drawing from history and its conventional images of soft and submissive femininity, seemed regularly to emerge in tandem with seemingly progressive, bohemian cultural movements. Throughout the course of my research process I kept encountering one theme after another, the discussion of which seemed to be crucial in order to present a thoroughly informed analysis of this ‘Pre-Raphaelite femininity’, which could so often be found pictured in Western visual culture since at least the mid-nineteenth century. There was the matter of femininity, feminism, fashion, art, historical revivalism, hippie culture, popular music, etc., etc.… I confess that at times it was difficult even for me to keep track of what I was actually arguing.

3. John William Waterhouse. Windswept, 1903. Oil on canvas. 114.3 x 78.7 cm.

3. John William Waterhouse. Windswept, 1903. Oil on canvas. 114.3 x 78.7 cm. Private collection. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Ultimately, however, the general theme which rang out from all the different parts of my research was the idea of myth, in two ways. Firstly, in the sense of this mythical idea of feminine beauty, taking shape in images of women as sprites, enchantresses and medieval maidens, and secondly, in the sense of the very concept of femininity being a cultural myth itself; an idea recurrently discussed within works of feminist gender theory. At the core of my dissertation were female musicians of the 1960s and 70s who often seemed to encapsulate this timeless image of women as mythical creatures, especially insofar as this was evident in the style, songs and persona of musician Stevie Nicks. As a highly successful woman in a field which has historically favoured men and the male perspective, Nicks functioned as the perfect way to prove, pinpoint and bring together the larger themes discussed in my dissertation.

4. Model in an Ossie Clark dress, reclining on a settee covered in the original William Morris’ Bird Design. Photographed by John Kelly at Wightwick Manor for Vanity Fair, May 1970. Scanned by Miss Peelpants.

4. Model in an Ossie Clark dress, reclining on a settee covered in the original William Morris’ Bird Design. Photographed by John Kelly at Wightwick Manor for Vanity Fair, May 1970. Scanned by Miss Peelpants.

While my dissertation largely discussed fashion, dress and style, it turned out to be a broader examination of visual culture and popular representations of gender. Having at times seemed like a dauntingly difficult task, handing in the finished dissertation felt fantastic and I was ultimately very happy with the end result. Furthermore, my dissertation supervisor, Annebella Pollen, who had been a tremendous help throughout the process of writing and editing it, offered to nominate my work for the annual dissertation prize held by the Association for Art History, an organisation dedicated to advocating the study of the subject. I was delighted to learn recently that my work had been selected as the runner-up for the 2017 prize. It felt especially rewarding to receive recognition from a renowned body such as the AAH, whose annual conference will be held at the University of Brighton in 2019.

Having received such positive feedback for my dissertation from my tutors as well as the AAH has been encouraging in terms of applying for further study, with the aim of building a career in fashion curation. Since graduating from the University of Brighton, I have done volunteer work at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, alongside working in fashion retail. While I have opted for a break from academia for the present year, I am applying for a number of Master’s degrees for the coming autumn. Hopefully, having been shortlisted for the AAH dissertation prize will be helpful in terms of applying for further study as well as, eventually, in securing future employment.

Read Elina Ivanov’s dissertation: ‘“West Coast Ophelia”: Stevie Nicks and Representations of Pre-Raphaelite Femininity in Fashion and Rock Music of the 1960-70s’ here.

The 2019 Association for Art Historians Annual Conference will be held at University of Brighton. The Call for Sessions is here.

Seminar Style! February 2018

Bookmark and Share

 

In the first of our new monthly series Seminar Style: sartorial snapshots from University of Brighton we report on trends spotted on the University’s campuses

Billy at Grand Parade

Billy at Grand Parade

Name: Billy

Course: Fashion Design with Business

What: Vintage millennial pink jacquard-weave dress, new-ish black Fila trainers, oversized gold glittery polo neck jumper dress from H&M, fuchsia granny bucket hat from a charity shop and new chunky hoop earrings which cost £1 from Peckham.

Style influences: “wacky older ladies”

Instagram: @btempestradical

Mass Observation: Objects in Everyday Life

Bookmark and Share

 

How can historians investigate what people wore in everyday life and what it meant to them? Hannah Smith (MA History of Design and Material Culture) explores some of the many micro-histories contained in the Mass Observation archive…

For my MA dissertation I have researched practices of dress in everyday life as presented within the Mass Observation Project Spring 1992 and Spring 2006 ‘One Day Diary’ directive responses. Housed within the University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep near the South Downs in Sussex, it is made up of handwritten letters, typed emails, photographs and drawings, produced at the hands of the hundreds that make up the panel of writers known as ‘Mass Observers’. This material is divided into the Mass Observation Archive (1937 – early 1950s) and the Mass Observation Project (1981 – present). It is the latter Mass Observation Project (MOP) that I have been using in my research.

The MOP defines itself as a ‘national life writing project’. Former director of the project, Dorothy Sheridan described it as, “…ordinary people observing and reflecting on everyday life…” (Sheridan, 2000:10). The intent of both the Mass Observation Archive and Project was to give voice to the ‘ordinary’ everyday person, giving them “the authority over knowledge” (Sheridan, 2000:10). Mass Observers are sent up to three sets of ‘directives’ a year with the invitation to write about a wide range of themes and events. Examples have included “Gardening”, “The Refugee Crisis” and “Your Home”.

Figure 1. Responses to the Spring 2005 ‘Charles and Camilla’ Directive. Image courtesy of Mass Observation.

Figure 1. Responses to the Spring 2005 ‘Charles and Camilla’ Directive. Image courtesy of Mass Observation.

My interest in the MOP came about during my first year on the MA History of Design and Material Culture at the University of Brighton. We were encouraged to use the MOP as a primary resource for a group project entitled ‘Interior Lifestyles’. Using the directives ‘Objects about the House’ and ‘Collecting Things’ we explored the relationships between the Mass Observers and the objects they decorated their homes with. Aside from the aforementioned project, the ‘New Years Eve’ and ‘One Day Diary’ directives that I had had the opportunity to look through particularly inspired me. As a researcher of dress and fashion in everyday life, here was access to narratives of real experiences of living, breathing people interacting with dress and fashion, rather than a constructed representation or media ideal. I therefore initially assessed these diary-format directives and developed my own methodology for using the MOP within a material culture study, ultimately leading to my dissertation research in practices of dress.

As well as being able to track the Mass Observer’s use of dress as they weave amongst different contexts throughout the narrative of their day, it has given me rare insight into the ‘wardrobe’ moment – the moment when which the bricolage of the visual self we see in more public spaces is created. Through using Mass Observation, I have been allowed the opportunity to explore not only how people use dress in more public spaces, but also in move private spaces – whether that be their dressing gowns, pyjamas or nothing!

Figure 2. Examples of additional personal papers (including diaries and letters) donated to the project. Image courtesy of Mass Observation.

Figure 2. Examples of additional personal papers (including diaries and letters) donated to the project. Image courtesy of Mass Observation.

Initially, I was overwhelmed due to the vast amount of material and its seemingly limitless capability for endless threads and tangents of research. By reading as much as possible about how other researchers had used the material, I was able to see that every Mass Observation researcher has shared the same struggles and frustrations. Through learning from their problem solving, I was able to tailor their theories to my research interest and develop my own methodology for using the material as well as providing a structure for sampling.

With its interdisciplinary appeal the material transcends boundaries, making it an exciting resource that can always be further explored. Whilst students, academics, media researchers and the public have taken advantage of the unique collection – it is ultimately a treasure trove for anyone with an interest in everyday life. For a researcher of design history and material culture, it provides a rare platform to witness the reality of objects interacting in everyday life. Since I’ve been working with the material, the Mass Observation staff, and the staff at The Keep, have been incredibly helpful and approachable. There is an openness towards anyone that is interested in engaging with the material.

As much as it may seem intimidating during an initial encounter, this should never prevent anyone that is interested from engaging with the material. Now more than ever Mass Observation provides an important platform for recording the reality of lived experience, giving voice to the micro-histories that grand-narratives have tendency to silence. It is inspiring to know as an individual in society, as well as a researcher, that there is a space for your voice to be heard and a space that seriously considers what you have to say. Working with a collection such as this is incredibly important if we are to understand the reality of how we negotiate lived experience and exist as a society and as individuals.

 

Dress Detective: using Brighton’s Dress History Teaching Collection

Bookmark and Share

 

Sarah-Mary Geissler (MA in Design and Material Culture), reflects on how one seemingly uninspiring garment led her to unexpected places…

Fig. 1: Front, side & back view of the 1880s Mauve Altered Afternoon Dress. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

Fig. 1: Front, side & back view of the 1880s Mauve Altered Afternoon Dress. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

It really is amazing is how far one project can take you. From what started simply as a class presentation led to assisting lectures, journal publication and even curating a display just a year later!

During my final year studying the BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History at the University of Brighton, we had the privilege of being taught by Professor Lou Taylor, pioneering dress historian. The spring term Special Subject module focused on case studies of objects in the Dress History Teaching Collection. Throughout her career, Taylor has amassed a wealth of dress objects which now reside at Pavilion Parade, an incomparable resource waiting to be utilised by students. Each piece has a fascinating backstory – rejected by museums, donated by alumni, rescued by students – though only a small percentage of the collection has been thoroughly researched. The aim of our module was to improve our own analytical and interpretive skills as dress historians, but also to provide a selection of objects with proper catalogue entries. The garment I had my heart set on was already selected by someone else, so I unenthusiastically settled on researching an 1888 Mauve Day Dress. I began the project totally convinced that there was nothing exciting about the Victorian era, and grumbled to friends how boring this project would be. I was so wrong!

View inside the dress bodice. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

Fig. 2: View inside the dress bodice. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

Eventually I found how to apply my own interests to the research. Once I moved past my preconceptions of 19th Century dress, the analysis process became fascinating. I studied the dress inside and out, then compared it to other dresses from the period: it was clear that it wasn’t a straightforward example of 1880s fashion. As a dressmaker myself, the garment’s messy construction intrigued me. Other evidence in the garment led to the conclusion that it could have been an 1860s dress altered over 20 years. My project became a detective-style investigation into who the wearer was; where/when was the dress first made? Why was it altered so dramatically? And was this dress renovation typical for the period?

View of the skirt hem, showing previous stitch perforations. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

Fig. 3: View of the skirt hem, showing previous stitch perforations. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

Throughout the assignment, I contacted several museum-based professionals regarding the dress, and became more confident networking as a researcher. I looked into museums policies regarding altered garments, and how different keepers of costume interpret their collections. Over the course of the module, I developed a specialist understanding of mid-late 19th Century home-dressmaking, strengthened my ability to read dress, learned how to properly mount costume, and found out a great deal about the theory of dress history and the field today. Outside of university, this project gave me the confidence to submit an exhibition review to Textile History Journal, which was selected for publication last November!

Knowing how invested I was with my case study, Professor Taylor asked me to assist with her first year lecture and object handling session, and to do a small talk about the dress. I was so nervous about speaking in front of a large group, but the session went brilliantly. It was surprising how much information I could recall about the dress; I started to feel like a proper historian! This year I was asked to help out again, and so came prepared with notes and printed images to aid my talk.

Dress on display in the Pavilion Parade Foyer. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

Fig. 4: Dress on display in the Pavilion Parade Foyer. Photo by Sarah-Mary Geissler

The success of this led to a conversation about displaying the dress in the School of Humanities’ Pavilion Parade foyer. With help from Clare in the office, mounting the dress was straightforward, though preparing information for the posters was challenging. I had to figure out what story was being told and how to make it interesting for a public viewer. Revisiting an undergrad project as a postgrad student, it was clear to see how much my work has strengthened in just a year (frustratingly, I found a spelling mistake on the first page of my original paper!). Displaying my research made me consider how museums and heritage sites interpret their collections, and this little display pushed me to develop my own curatorial skills.

All in all, I never expected the work done for one assignment to be the basis for such fantastic things. Having the Teaching Collection as a resource has been an invaluable part of my education at Brighton, and has reinforced the importance of understanding objects as sources of information to be read. I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities at the university to provide me with experience I can take into my career. It would be great for more students to get involved showcasing other pieces from the Teaching Collection in future, as there are many, many more fascinating stories to be shared!

 

Perspectives on Fashion Curation

Bookmark and Share

 

What does it mean to exhibit fashion today? Student Jade Bailey-Dowling (BA (hons) Fashion and Dress History) visited the London College of Fashion event Perspectives on Fashion Curation to find out.

For a two week period, London College of Fashion (LCF) took over House of Vans in Waterloo with an exhibition and programme of events called Found In Translation, showcasing work from the School of Media and Communication postgraduate courses at LCF.  These include Master’s courses of interest to Brighton’s History of Art and Design BA programme students including Costume for Performance, Fashion Cultures, and perhaps most relevant for those studying Fashion and Dress History, Fashion Curation.

On Friday 17 February, I attended Perspectives on Fashion Curationa series of presentations by some of the leading figures who teach on LCF postgraduate programmes in Fashion and Dress History and Fashion Curation. The event was chaired by Ben Whyman, the manager for Centre of Fashion Curation, and began with presentations from several experts in the field talking about different areas of fashion curation and exhibition making.

Perspectives on Fashion Curation. Photo by Jade Bailey-Dowling, 17 February 2017

Perspectives on Fashion Curation. Photo by Jade Bailey-Dowling, 17 February 2017

Susanna Cordner introduced the London College of Fashion Archive which is open by appointment only and has a vast array of fashion objects, literature and other artefacts. The collection includes 650 shoes from the Cordwainer College Archive dating back to the 18th century. Cordner has worked hard to create an immersive experience from the archive and organises events such as the Object Reading Group, where an object is presented and attendees discuss them, and Sartorial Stories, when a guest speaker from the industry, from designers to editors, bring in an object and discusses it in relation to their career and the fashion industry.

Jeff Horsley explored concepts of exhibition making, and spoke in great detail about the fashion displays in Antwerp that he has been researching for his PhD. Themes of his talk included the importance of exhibition entrances, concepts of what ‘objects’ are within a museum context and the use of mannequins for historical dress vs. contemporary haute couture that could be displayed on a live model. This is something Claire Wilcox  – curator of the exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty – has explored with Fashion in Motion at the V&A by presenting contemporary fashion on live models around the museum rather than confined to a glass cabinet. Wilcox, who began working at the V&A in 1979, also spoke about changes in fashion collecting and the shifting attitudes towards fashion exhibitions and contemporary designers in a museum collection.

The penultimate presentation was an overview of the Fashion Space Gallery that is at the campus just off Oxford Circus. The space relaunched in 2014 and was described by Ligaya Salazar, the gallery director, as an ‘interdisciplinary incubator of ideas about fashion” and a “think tank for curatorial ideas and experimentation.” Although it is a small space, there is arguably more freedom than at a larger establishment, leading to innovative use of space and creative curatorial decisions. The current exhibition, Museum of Transology, curated by E-J Scott, documents objects of importance to members of the trans community and runs until 22 April 2017.

Their work also goes outside of the gallery with the travelling Polyphonic Playground. This off-site project is a kind of playground apparatus that can be used to make sound art as all of the surfaces use touch technology or electrical conducting thread to create sound.  Similarly, Alison Moloney spoke about a traveling exhibition she worked on called Cabinet Stories in which 7 curators would use the small cabinet space to display objects in different venues, including a women’s prison, an NHS hospital ward for people with suffering with personality disorders, a charity shop in Poplar and an old peoples home. At all the venues, people were encouraged to then display objects that meant a lot to them. This meant that people could get involved from the community in curation, showing the diversity of fashion outside of the museum. Moloney also introduced the project 1914 – Now, a series of films and essays summarising the themes of this event, which was displayed in the exhibition space at House of Vans and also available on SHOWstudio. Fashion films explore initiative ways to present fashion using film, visuals and sound, much in line with the inovations presented at this talk related to new ways to exhibit fashion and dress.

MA Fashion Curation final show at LCF. Photo by Jade Bailey-Dowling, 17 February 2017.

MA Fashion Curation final show at LCF. Photo by Jade Bailey-Dowling, 17 February 2017.

The final portion of the event was a panel discussion with Amy de la Haye, Alison Moloney, Jeffrey Horsely, Ligaya Salazar, and Claire Wilcox, where they discussed what curation meant for them, motivations when creating an exhibition and generally what it is like to curate a fashion exhibition. It was fascinating to hear differing approaches on the subject of fashion curation and to learn more about how experimental the field is.