Object of the Month: June 2018

MA History of Design and Material Culture student Sarah-Mary Geissler investigates a display of defunct Apple computers at Aldrich Library

Fig 1.

Image 1: Apple: The Early Years (1977-2004) currently on display at Aldrich Library, Moulsecoomb Campus, University of Brighton.

Out-dated computers sitting in the corner of a university library sounds like a dump rather than a museum, but Apple: The Early Years (1977-2004) shows that when it comes to technology, you need not delve too far into the distant past to reveal just how much society has changed. The humble museum in Aldrich is just a row of six Apple computers, all saved from office clear-outs at the University of Brighton. The information panels explain the growth of tech juggernaut Apple, while the machines illustrate the university’s relation to technology over 40-odd years.

Image 2

Image 2: An Apple II Plus, formerly belonging to the Department of Computing and Cybernetics at Brighton Polytechnic.

Each object would have been at the forefront of tech in its time. The earliest model we have is the Apple II Plus from 1982, used in a former life by the Department of Computing and Cybernetics, when Brighton was still a Polytechnic. The computer may look like it’s missing something, however Apple didn’t actually provide monitors with their computers until 1984, instead it would’ve been compatible with a standard television set. Costing the equivalent of £3100 today, this device has 48KB of RAM, roughly 40 times less than most iPhones on the market.

By just observing these six discarded objects, we can see how tech goes from essential to obsolete in a few short years; each sat next to its usurper. Though the tech is old it’s not necessarily broken, it’s possible to interact with the machines and even switch some on. The display stirs various emotions in its viewers; younger students gaze at the early tech like Egyptian relics, ancient and mysterious. Other viewers are reminded of their own early computing education, when that very machine represented the cutting edge of innovation.

Image 3.

Image 3: Reproduction of screen display from a game playable on the Apple II Plus.

Technology evolves at a blistering pace, moving much faster than any other field and leaving increasing amounts of outdated gadgets in its wake. Apple, in particular, contests frequent accusations of designing tech with planned obsolescence, though the appeal of their products undeniably inspires consumers to discard “old” things before the end of their natural lifecycle. Experts estimated that 50-million tonnes of electronic waste would be produced this year, a staggering amount that these items very nearly contributed to. The Time-Warp Tech display is an innovative example of creating uses for objects otherwise considered useless.

To find out more about the Timewarp Tech project, follow their blog: https://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/ismuseum/

Working with the costume collections at Worthing Museum

As University of Brighton and Worthing Museum launch Objects Unwrapped, PhD student Suzanne Rowland discusses her research into Worthing Museum’s collections

Boxes of blouses

Image 1: Boxes of blouses, Worthing Museum (photograph by author)

I first heard about the amazing dress and textile collection at Worthing Museum from Professor Lou Taylor during an MA History of Design and Material Culture seminar. Soon after, I arranged a research visit and was delighted to find so many examples of my essay subject: Edwardian blouses. I used the collection again for my dissertation titled A Discomforting Account of Edwardian Blouses.

While studying for the MA, I also taught at City College Brighton & Hove (now Brighton Met). Part of my job was to propose new courses, lasting for 2 hours and to run for a period of 10 weeks. A history of fashion, decade by decade, seemed an ideal choice to fit this model. The course first ran in in 2011 with a small group of students at the Jubilee Library in Brighton. I then approached Worthing Museum with an idea to adapt the course to suit Worthing’s unique collection of mainly homemade and shop bought clothes. Gerry Connolly (then Curator of Costume, now Museum Manager) negotiated various obstacles that meant we were able to offer a course starting in September 2012. We needed 12 people to sign up for all 10 weeks for the course to be viable and so it was a nervous summer waiting for the numbers to rise! With great relief they did and, in addition to the core group, others signed up for weeks of particular interest.

Land Girls

Image 2: World War Two land girls uniform (photograph by author).

We selected a range of garments, accessories, and printed materials to display in the education room each week. Not an easy task due to the wealth of material available. Each session began with a 40-minute illustrated talk followed by tea and biscuits (very important!) During tea break white cotton gloves were provided for participants to handle the collection. [image 2] The second part of the session involved a shorter talk, sometimes followed by film footage supplied by Screen Archive South East. Each week participants shared their fashion memories and brought in objects from their own collections. This ranged from black and white family photographs to a silk Pucci blouse bought directly from the designer’s boutique in Rome at the end of the 1950s. One week, Gerry took small groups for a short behind-the-scenes tour of the archive, which proved very popular. We repeated the same course the following year and then decided to rest it in favour of a series of one-off talks and workshops. [images 3,4,5]

Fashion History lecture poster

Image 3: 20th Century Fashion History lecture poster

In 2015 I began work on my first book Making Edwardian Costumes for Women (2016). The book recreates authentic museum clothing with step by step photographs and instructions. While five projects are based on garments from Brighton Museum, a further five are based on garments and a hat from the Worthing collection. Researching the book involved many visits to the archive to select the projects with Gerry’s help, to make sketches and notes, and to take photographs. Worthing Museum has a fascinating collection of primary and secondary materials, including Edwardian dressmaking manuals and sewing magazines which were invaluable for understanding terminology and techniques. The museum also holds the archive of an Edwardian fashion illustrator Ida Pritchard who worked for Peter Robinson’s department store.

Fashion talks leaflet

Image 4: Autumn Fashion Talks leaflet

My second book Making Vintage 1920s Clothes for Women (2017) also recreates garments from Worthing Museum. Archival materials used for research included a scrapbook of fashion cuttings, and copies of Weldon’s Home Dressmaker. I am currently in the second year of PhD study (title: ‘The role of design, technology and business networks in the rise of the fashionable, lightweight, ready-made blouse in Britain, 1909-1919’).The Museum’s boxes of blouses have once again proved an invaluable source for understanding the development of styles, sizing, and manufacturing techniques. As a member of Objects Unwrapped my first essay, perhaps not surprisingly, is called ‘Understanding an Edwardian Blouse Through Remaking and Re-enactment’.

Autumn fashion talks

Image 5: Autumn Fashion Talks leaflet

The launch of Objects Unwrapped: Hidden Histories of Worthing Museum and Art Gallery will be held on Saturday 30th June from 1.30-4pm.


Image 6: Objects Unwrapped

A silk flower hat shares its secrets

Second year Fashion and Dress History student Donna Gilbert on researching a hat in the University’s Dress History Teaching Collection

Fig 1

Fig 1: Woman’s cocktail hat, late 1950s, early 1960s. Silk petals on a silk organza base. University of Brighton Dress History Teaching Collection, Pavilion Parade, Brighton. Personal photograph by the author. 16 Feb 2018.

As part of our second year Constructing Histories module, we were asked to write a catalogue entry based on one of a range of items selected from the Special Collection at St Peter’s House Library and the University of Brighton Dress History Teaching Collection. As a Fashion and Dress History student, my eye alighted on a frivolous pink silk flower hat, illustrated in figs 1 and 2, which perfectly summed up the femininity and impracticality of one of my favourite eras for fashion, the 1950s.

Fig 2.

Fig 2: Woman’s cocktail hat, late 1950s, early 1960s. Silk petals on a silk organza base. University of Brighton Dress History Teaching Collection, Pavilion Parade, Brighton. Personal photograph by the author. 16 Feb 2018.

Hats used to be such an important fashion accessory; in the Edwardian era no woman, whatever her class, would dream of going out without a hat or bonnet.  By the 1950s fashion had become increasingly informal but women were still expected to wear a hat for church and social occasions such as weddings, christenings and graduations. Veiled hats and floral cocktail hats were popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s and featured in the collections of several of the major French couturiers, including Balenciaga and Christian Dior.

Fig 3.

Fig 3: c.1950s ‘Coquette Original’ evening dress. Photo: PP-Photography.

‘Franck et Fils’ department store

This silk flower hat features the label ‘Franck Modes, Paris’ and is assumed to have come from ‘Franck et Fils,’ an exclusive Parisian department store.[1]Emma Franck opened ‘Les Galeries Parisiennes,’ her first mercerie, or haberdashers in 1897, selling fabrics, ribbons and original hats and incorporating a workshop which would quickly complete client’s orders.[2]After World War One the store became ‘Franck et Fils,’ dedicated entirely to women. The Franck Modes cocktail hat features silk petals designed to resemble sweet-peas (Lathyrus Odoratus).These are glued to a silk organza base, which features darts for shaping, and hand-stitching. The fact that the flowers are glued indicates that the hat was produced for the ready-to-wear market, rather than couture.

The silk flower industry

What particularly interested me about this hat was the manufacture of the silk petals. This was something that had intrigued me since I came across a 1950s ‘Coquette Original’ evening dress, illustrated in fig 3, which had leaves imprinted with veins (fig. 4) on the bodice and cascading down the front. I was curious to know how these had been achieved.

Silk flowers have been produced in Europe since the eighteenth century and are manufactured using traditional processes which are highly skilled and time-consuming.  The silk is attached to a frame and then dropped into a gum, starch or flour bath to ‘dress’ it.  The fabric is then layered in a cutting press and each flower-type has its own punch to cut the petal shapes. This was physically demanding work and mostly carried out by men. Once cut, the silk petals would be hand-coloured. After the initial colouring a second colour is applied to produce the shaded effect, bleeding off the edge of the petals.[3]When the petals are dry, they can be pressed in special moulds which imprint them with the veins and texture. Brass tools are then used to shape them. These are heated over a flame until they are hot enough to gently mould the petals into flower shapes. These traditional techniques continue to be used today by skilled manufacturers.

The silk flower industry was huge up until World War One, with women from all classes donning flower bonnets and hats. The 1891 census reported 4011 silk-flower makers in London alone, but the flowers were often produced in appalling conditions. The Children’s Employment Commission of 1865 found that most women assembling the flowers were under eighteen years of age, and some were as young as eight. Factories had them working between twelve and eighteen hours a day.[4]The disruption of war and changing fashions had a huge impact on the flower-making industry and many houses closed. The popularity of floral hats declined during the 1960s and since the 1970s, cheap artificial flowers from the Far East have infiltrated the market.

Fig. 4

Fig 4: Leaf detail on bodice of ‘Coquette Original’ evening dress, illustrating the imprinting of the leaf veins. Personal photo by the author.

The silk flower hat highlights a period in history when women were bound by social mores and the wearing of hats, at least for social occasions, was expected. During the 1960s these expectations were relaxed and hat-wearing amongst both men and women became a matter of choice rather than convention.

[1]“Franck et Fils”, France Today.Web. 16 Feb 2002. www.francetoday.com/culture/shopping-boutiques/franck_et_fils

[2]Celine Vautard, “Franck et Fils: The end of an Institution in the district of Passy,” Fashion United, 3 June 2016. Web. fashionunited.fr/actualite/retail/franck-fils-la-fin-d-une-institution-du-quartier-de-passy/

[3]“The House of Legeron – History”. Web. http://www.boutique-legeron.com/en/37-history

[4]Beatrice Behlen and Natasha Fenner, “The lost art of flower-making,” Curators, The Art of Flower-Making Display, 3 March 2016. Web. www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/lost-art-flower-making.

‘Is it a bird…? Is it a plane…?’ Researching Superman

Second year History of Art and Design student Sally Lawrence on investigating a special edition Superman comic

Fig 1

Figure 1: External Front view: Superman Masterpiece edition. Chronicle Books. 1999. 40x40x10cm. St Peter’s House Library Special Collection, Brighton.

Despite never having read a comic book, I was instantly drawn to the 1999 Superman Masterpiece Edition (See figs. 1-4), when it was presented to me during the History of Art and Design Constructing Histories module this year. Our task was to select one of the many items from either the University’s teaching collection or St Peter’s House Library’s Special Collection to write a catalogue entry about.  This lead me on a fascinating journey through 1990s collecting culture; which ultimately inspired my dissertation topic about 1990s collecting, consumer culture and the merchandise of The Simpsons. So, I wanted to share some of my thoughts and ideas about this thought-provoking box set.

Fig 2

Figure 2: Internal view left: Superman Masterpiece edition.Chronicle Books. 1999. 40x40x10cm. St Peter’s House Library Special Collection, Brighton.

In 1938 DC Comics paid creators Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster just $130 (US) for the rights to Superman.[1]This was an extraordinary investment. Not only would Superman soon become an American icon, but also ‘one of the most lucrative merchandising properties of all time’.[2]Such merchandise became incredibly popular in the 1990s; as an interest in “Golden Age” or late 1930s, ’40s and early ’50s comic-books rose at a staggering rate. Comic-books that were originally sold for mere cents were now ‘worth hundreds and thousands of dollars’.[3]Taking advantage of this craze for comic-book nostalgia, companies began to produce products specifically for the collectables market. This 1999 Superman Masterpiece Edition (figures 1-4)is a beautiful example of the trend for ‘year one flashback projects’, which transported nostalgic fans back to the early years of the world’s first superhero.[4]

Fig 3

Figure 3: Internal view Right: Superman Masterpiece edition. Chronicle Books. 1999. 40x40x10cm. St Peter’s House Library Special Collection, Brighton.

Each new incarnation of Superman, on film, television or radio, seems to require a new set of merchandise, reflective of the contemporary vision of heroism. By continually reinventing Superman, whilst also maintaining his most distinctive qualities, DC Comics are able to capitalize on both Superman’s contemporary and historic presence. Produced as a reaction to the 1990s craze for comic-book nostalgia, the Superman Masterpiece Edition was then a sixty-year-old story being repackaged for a new market. Each item reflects both the age that it celebrates and the age that it was produced in. DC Comics produced a nostalgic product, but they did it in a very modern way, by outsourcing production to China. They were celebrating history by utilising modernity.

By the end of the 1990s it became clear that mass-producing collectables was somewhat problematic. The reason original comic-books are so much more profitable is because so few of them still exist. In the early days, print runs were much smaller and children would use, abuse and ruin their comic-books.[5]In the collectables market value comes from rarity; the fewer there are, the more expensive they become. Nonetheless, this has not stopped DC Comics producing collectables and memorabilia. The mass-produced products are worth less to collectors but still have a sentimental value for the fans who purchase them the world over.

Fig 4

Figure 4: External back view: Superman Masterpiece edition. Chronicle Books. 1999. 40x40x10cm. St Peter’s House Library Special Collection, Brighton.

DC Comics have certainly made the most of their $130 investment. With his core values and his signature look remaining largely intact, Superman is instantly recognisable from any era. Over the last eight decades Superman has infiltrated popular culture by appearing in comic-books, radio, television and film.[6]Each new incarnation came with a fresh set of merchandise, some more collectable than others. Perfectly suited to the 1990s comic-book market the Superman Masterpiece Edition creates a sense of nostalgia for a long gone, yet ever-present Superman.


Duncan, Randy and Matthew J. Smith. The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture. London:The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. 2009. Print.

Kidder, David S. and Noah D. Oppenheim. The Intellectual Devotional Modern Culture: Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Converse Confidently with the Culturati. London: Rodale. 2008. Print.

O’Rourke, Morgan. “Up, up and away”, Risk Management. 55:12. 12/2008. 62. Print.


[1]Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith. The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture. (London:The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. 2009.) 32.

[2]Duncan and Smith, 32.

[3]Duncan and Smith, 76.

[4]Duncan and Smith, 78.

[5]Morgan O’Rourke. “Up, up and away”Risk Management. 55:12. (12/2008.)62.

[6]David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim. The Intellectual Devotional Modern Culture: Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Converse Confidently with the Culturati. (London: Rodale. 2008.) 84.

What I Learnt About Street Style in Japan

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.