What I Learnt About Street Style in Japan

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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

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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.

How my dissertation on Alison Settle, editor of British Vogue, became an article in Fashion Theory

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History of Design and Material Culture MA graduate (2014) Ilaria Coser on being published in academic journal Fashion Theory

 

"Alison Settle, Editor of Vogue, early 1930s. Handwritten note at the back of the photograph states: “Alison at her desk, Editor’s room, Vogue, with dolls house in background”

Alison Settle, Editor of Vogue, early 1930s. Handwritten note at the back of the photograph states: “Alison at her desk, Editor’s room, Vogue, with dolls house in background”. (courtesy of Alison Settle Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives).

A few months ago my article on the diaries of Alison Settle was published in Fashion Theory. It felt like a great accomplishment, fulfilling an aspiration I had held since the completion of my dissertation on the great British journalist and editor of British Vogue. Today, Alison Settle is virtually unknown outside fashion circles, with no auto/biography or other literature about her life and her achievements in fashion journalism. Settle reported on “women’s topics” for over 50 years, mostly in British magazines and newspapers. She was an advisor to the British textile and retail industries, and was a member of government bodies tasked with improving post-war British design. For nearly a decade between the Wars, Settle was also the editor of British Vogue, a position which required her to be actively involved with the smart set of London Society.

"“Alison Off on a Jaunt,” 1915. Private photograph from the Charles Wakefield Private Archive

“Alison Off on a Jaunt,” 1915. Private photograph from the Charles Wakefield Private Archive. Permission obtained from Charles Wakefield.

My dissertation focused on the personal diaries written by Settle in the early 1930s, during the last four years of her Vogue editorship. The diaries had been preserved and cared for by Settle’s descendants, particularly by her grandson Charles, who lives in Canada. Charles was incredibly supportive and generous in sharing material and information, and I corresponded frequently with him and established a friendly collaboration. I also drew on material held in Settle’s collection at the University of Brighton Design Archives. As my research progressed, I grew increasingly invested in making Alison Settle’s name more widely known in the public domain – not only because her stature deserves recognition, but also because this would mean a lot to her family.

Fashion Theory’s theoretical and critical approach to fashion has made it my favourite academic journal throughout my studies in dress history. When my tutor, Professor Lou Taylor, mentioned that my MA dissertation had the potential to be published, Fashion Theory was my first choice. I knew that my research was a good fit for the journal, as it focused on Settle’s bodily presence as a key to access the knowledge required of her to be the editor of Vogue.

The process for publication was straightforward. Firstly, I searched online the requirements for submission. Fashion Theory is now published by Taylor & Francis, and their website hosts a very clear section for authors, detailing all the key steps. Having gathered all the practical information – word count, referencing style, recommended font, and so on – I identified a few published articles with similar characteristics to my research. Reading them provided a compass to establish which parts should be kept and which should be discarded, given that my dissertation would have to be reduced to a third of its original word count.

"Alison Settle with husband Alfred and daughter Maggie, 1921. Private photograph from the Charles Wakefield Private Archive.

Alison Settle with husband Alfred and daughter Maggie, 1921. Private photograph from the Charles Wakefield Private Archive. Permission obtained from Charles Wakefield.

The re-writing of my text took longer than I expected. I had done a huge amount of detailed research on Settle’s life and I had been very selective on which parts should be included in my dissertation; for the article, I had to focus even more on the theoretical and critical aspects. Once I felt satisfied with the final draft, Professor Lou Taylor was kind enough to read it and confirm it was ready, as well as following up my submission by writing to Valerie Steele (the editor-in-chief of Fashion Theory) to introduce me and my research.

Articles are subject to peer review, and I was surprised at how quickly I received feedback. I made most of the changes recommended by the reviewer and submitted my new draft, together with a point-by-point explanation of the suggestions I had implemented and those I had opted not to apply. For example, the reviewer had suggested cutting out Settle’s biography. However, I strongly believed that it would be important to keep it, because of the complete lack of information published on her life. So, although reduced, the chapter remained.

The article was approved for publication, which happened very quickly. I was contacted by a team who supervised the proofreading and editing, requiring me to revise the text in detail and authorise further changes – changes related to syntax and grammar rather than content. And a couple of days after approving the final proof, I received confirmation that the article was published, with tips on how to broadcast the information as widely as possible.

Overall, I feel that an essential aspect of getting published was the support I received from my tutor – first hearing that my work was worthy of publication, and then her advocacy on my behalf when I submitted it to the journal. It is very satisfying to know that now there is research published on Alison Settle. Through the laborious task of transcribing her journals, I had looked into names and places and events that made it possible for me to understand the complex web of relationships in her life, and through those, her personality and values. Of course I retain my research notes and findings, and the idea of one day writing, or contributing to the writing of her biography remains my ambition.

Link to article: Ilaria Coser (2017) ‘Alison Settle, Editor of British Vogue (1926–1935): Habitus and the Acquisition of Cultural, Social, and Symbolic Capital in the Private Diaries of Alison Settle’, Fashion Theory, DOI: 10.1080/1362704X.2017.1371982

 

Christian Dior at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs

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Second year Fashion and Dress History students Caroleen Molenaar and Donna Gilbert discuss their visit to the Christian Dior exhibition in Paris

Fig. 1: The Colourama Room at the Christian Dior Designer of Dreams Exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. 30 Nov. 2017.

Fig. 1: The Colourama Room at the Christian Dior Designer of Dreams Exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. 30 Nov. 2017. Photograph taken by the authors.

The Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams exhibition at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris (from July 5 2017 to January 8 2018), celebrated seventy years of the House of Dior. It combined the work of Christian Dior with that of the six artistic directors who followed him – Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri – in what can only be described as a sumptuous feast of fashion.

The House of Dior opened in 1946, funded by Marcel Boussac, France’s cotton king. Dior’s first collection in 1947 was described as revolutionary, but was also scandalous, requiring many yards of material in a time of austerity. Dior said “We were emerging from a period of war, of uniforms, of women-soldiers built like boxers. I drew women-flowers, soft shoulders, flowering busts, fine waists like liana and wide skirts like corolla.”[1] Carmel Snow, Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar dubbed this the ‘New Look’ and it took the fashion world by storm, helping Paris to regain its title as the ‘Capital of Couture.’ During his ten-year reign, Dior continued to introduce new shapes such as the Oblique (1950), the Tulip (1953) and the Spindle (1957) and influenced many designers including Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin, who both worked for the House of Dior.

Fig. 2: The Garden Room at the Christian Dior Designer of Dreams Exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. 30 Nov. 2017.

Fig. 2: The Garden Room at the Christian Dior Designer of Dreams Exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. 30 Nov. 2017. Photograph taken by the authors.

In the exhibition, the Colourama rooms were the first to showcase all the different types of items and accessories that the House of Dior created. These included dresses, shoes, purses, tiaras, miniature dresses, perfume bottles, jewellery, gloves, and drawings. This wide array of items were displayed together, by colour, to fit in with Dior’s belief in fashion as an all-encompassing feature, with fashion accessories matching a woman’s dress to create perfect harmony.[2] In the first room (Figure 1), the colours of the items displayed ranged from tints and shades with white, going through different forms of grey ending in black; as well as warm colours, beginning with tan, to yellow, to white, to orange to pink to red. The second room was primarily made up of cool colours beginning with green, leading to dark green, dark blue, blue, grey into lilac, purple, maroon and then red.

From a young age, Dior had always had a large affinity for nature and flowers. His childhood house, Granville, had a large garden that he would sit in and enjoy. As a fashion designer, Dior would often retreat to the garden of one of his six properties to acquire inspiration for his upcoming collections.[3] The design of the Garden room in the exhibition perfectly emulated a garden through the thousands of white paper cut leaves and flowers hanging from the ceiling, and the changing coloured lights representing the different colours of flowers. All of the garments in the room had different influences of nature and flowers: from printed materials, to flower appliques, to embroidered flowers, or dresses shaped like flowers. Figure 2 shows some of our favourite dresses in this room, and shows how the influence of nature and flowers was incorporated in contrasting ways in each.

Fig. 3: Christian Dior’s Junon from the Tulip Collection, 1953. 30 Nov. 2017.

Fig. 3: Christian Dior’s Junon from the Tulip Collection, 1953. 30 Nov. 2017. Photograph by the authors.

The Ball Gown room, the last room of the exhibition, was by far the grandest in its display and content. The design of the room itself encompassed two mirrored walls, with two Rococo-style decorated walls where paintings of women wearing ball gowns by Gainsborough, Winterhalter and Renoir were hung, emulating the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. Dior’s interest in ball gowns stemmed from his enjoyment of high society Parisian parties held after the Second World War. Attending these balls inspired him to design many lavish garments.[4] One of our favourite ball gowns displayed in this room was Dior’s ‘Junon’ dress; made as part of his Tulip collection in 1953 (Figure 3).

Overall, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams was an exhibition where you wanted to go back to the very first room as soon as you had left the final one, to see the things in each dress or accessory you had missed first time round. For both of us, it was the most visually-pleasing, and fashion-filled exhibit we’d been to, and has set the bar high for future fashion exhibitions.

[1] Roux and Müller, Christian Dior, 40.

[2] Roux and Müller, Christian Dior, 58.

[3] Valerie Steele, Paris Fashion, A Cultural History, (Oxford: Berg 2nd Ed, [1988] 1998) 270

[4] Raphaëlle Roux, and Florence Müller. Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Paris: French Society of Artistic Promotion. 2017) 62.

 

Diana’s dresses

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

Becoming a curator

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Graduate Iona Farrell describes how passion, persistence and hard work paid off in her quest to find a museum job

Image 1: 1950s sateen and lastex swimsuit by duCros from the Plume collection

Image 1: 1950s sateen and lastex swimsuit by duCros from the Plume collection, Southend Museum (image by author)

I graduated in 2016 from Brighton’s BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History degree and am now Assistant Curator of Social History at Southend Museum, where I work with the social and local history collection as well as the extensive costume archive. Highlights of the collection include the EKCO radio archive and the Plume swimsuit archive, the largest collection of swimwear in the country.

Brighton provided me with the starting step to pursue a career in museums. What I most enjoyed was how tutors encouraged primary research through visiting archives and using the University’s Dress History Teaching Collection. This approach has proved useful within my current role, where I am often handling artefacts. In a recent donation to the museum I used my undergraduate training to explore a beautiful silk chiffon dress. The garment’s delicate stitching showed the handiwork of a skilled dressmaker, whilst a tiny tear on the fragile hem pointed to a heel catching in the fabric, perhaps when the wearer was dancing. Details like this will inform how the garment is stored, as well as providing a ‘biography’ of an object crucial for creating an exhibition narrative.

Throughout my time at university I loved uncovering stories like these and spent many an hour at St Peter’s House Library using its extensive periodical and microfiche archive. One of my favourite projects was researching the clientele of 1920s couture, which meant poring over the Vogue archive. At times like these I knew I had chosen the right degree! For all current students, I really recommend making the most of these brilliant resources and, being a current Masters student, I must admit I miss the well-stocked shelves of St Peter’s!

Image 2: 1930s guides to Southend from the archive, Southend Museum (image by author)

Image 2: 1930s guides to Southend from the archive, Southend Museum (image by author)

In my second year I started research for my dissertation, which explored the performance and liminality of 1950s swimsuit pageants. I was keen to ground my writing in archival research and this led me to Southend Museum’s swimwear archive. Being from Southend, it was fantastic to discover the wealth of the collections and this inspired me to start volunteering. A major project I undertook as a volunteer was cataloguing over 500 swimsuits from the Plume collection. Along the way I assisted in exhibition installations and co-curated an exhibition on the history of toys, allowing me to build up a diverse range of skills. Volunteering seems to be a prerequisite for gaining paid work in Museums and local museums truly can provide brilliant opportunities for anyone intent on working in the sector.

After graduation I worked part-time for the University of Essex Library and started a Masters in Museum Studies, a distance-learning course, which has allowed me to continue to work. I must admit studying for a Masters, whilst being in employment and trying to gain entry into the museum sector was a challenge! As many have probably experienced, gaining work in museums can feel like an uphill struggle of endless online application forms. But I must stress that it will happen eventually! Always take whatever opportunities come your way, whether this means volunteering in your local museum like me, or gaining hands on experience within an archive: it’s all relevant experience and it’s fun.

Image 3: Inside the costume store, Southend Museums (image by author).

Image 3: Inside the costume store, Southend Museums (image by author).

By volunteering at Southend I was able to build up a large amount of experience and apply for the post of Assistant Curator. It’s fantastic to work now with such a wide-ranging collection and every day is different, whether this be accessioning donations, undertaking exhibition research, taking part in school visits or co-ordinating a touring exhibition. A major responsibility is undertaking the rationalisation of the social history collection, ensuring it is relevant and usable for generations to come. An upcoming project, Snapping the Stiletto will see museums across Essex collaborate to celebrate Essex women and dismantle the ‘Essex Girl’ stereotype. I am excited to build strong partnerships across Essex and the culminating touring exhibition and events across the county are something that people should look out for in the coming year.

It’s fantastic to be in an industry that is so creative, one that has the ability to tell so many stories and to inspire so many people. I am so glad that I applied to Brighton and grateful for the starting step it gave me.

Mass Observation: Objects in Everyday Life

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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.