Working at a Fashion, Costume and Textiles Auction House

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Sarah Carnall, Third Year BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History student discusses how knowledge from the course helped her work as an intern at an Auction House and how her practical experience helped her on the course.

Mannequins Styled in Pucci Blouses for Photographing. Kerry Taylor Auctions, London. Photograph by author.

Last Summer I received the opportunity to complete an internship at Kerry Taylor Auctions; described on their website as ‘the world’s leading auction house specialising in exceptional fashion, fine antique costume, European, Asian and Islamic textiles’. This year, I returned to work there to help with their reoccurring ‘Vintage Fashion, Antique Costume & Textiles’ auction. This type of auction specialises in vintages pieces. Some may be damaged or stained, but can be repaired and worn again.

Fig.2: Rachel Steaming a Bridal Slip Dress. Kerry Taylor Auctions, London. Photograph by author.

As an intern, the main role is to work with another intern and assist the photographer in shooting the garments for sale, including steaming and dressing mannequins. I was fortunate to work with my friend and fellow dress history student, Rachel, and we worked together in keeping the shoot moving quickly in order to work to a deadline. This job has taught us important dress handling skills, as many of the garments have tears or dropping beads, as well as how to dress a mannequin to reflect the assets of the clothing. I utilised the knowledge learnt from my course to help understand what these assets were. For example, dresses from the eighteenth century need particular attention to ensure the silhouette is perfect. By using items such as bustles and petticoats, as well as stuffing mannequins with tissue, the desired silhouette is achieved. These tasks have complimented my degree well as it has been helpful to actually visualise a specific shape in person, rather than simply looking at pictures. This has been especially helpful during the pandemic when access to physical material has been greatly limited.

It was interesting to work in this environment during a pandemic. We have to ensure we wear our masks and maintain social distancing where possible, making certain tasks such as dressing more complicated. I was also saddened we missed the opportunity to be able to meet potential customers and have them explore the garments in the normal environment, as health measures meant only private viewings were possible and distances were kept.

This internship was a fantastic way to gain skills and work experience to add to my CV, and have the opportunity to work with professionals like Kerry and Lucy in learning what goes into producing an auction, the photographer George on how to style and shoot a garment, and Victoria on the behind-the-scenes of the business. The environment is welcoming and friendly, and they are more than willing to help with any research you may be doing.

Victorian Bodice Being Mounted onto a Tailor’s Dummy. Kerry Taylor Auctions, London. Photograph by author.

Kerry Taylor Auctions usually offer internships in the run-up to their auctions, so I would recommend following their Instagram, @kerrytaylorauctions, to find out when they’re available, as well as their website to see their archive of amazing garments!

Drawing with the Dress Detective: Learning to See

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Rachel Ng, Third Year BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History student discusses her experience of attending a workshop with Dr Ingrid Mida on observing a garment through drawing.

Screen grab from the drawing with dress detective workshop. The image illustrates Ingrid Mida handling dress and a detail of a drawing

Figure 1: Screengrab from Drawing with the Dress Detective: Learning to See, 2021.

Author of The Dress Detective and Reading Fashion in Art Dr Ingrid Mida recently hosted a drawing workshop online via MS Teams. Her ‘Slow Approach to Seeing’ methodology demonstrates how to analyse a garment, focusing on slowing down and using drawing as a tool for learning. In her 2020 book Reading Fashion in Art, Mida states that ‘[…] drawing as a method of slowing down can help identify specific elements of dress as well as the nuances of an artist’s process’. (42) The workshop allowed us to understand the difference between looking and seeing and how one can look but not really see.

Mida describes: ‘For me, drawing facilitates seeing and a deeper level of engagement with a thing. I record the path of my eyes on the paper as I study the object or artwork, and even if my drawing bares little or no resemblance to the thing I am looking at, when I finish a drawing, I feel like I have touched that thing’. (2020: 42) To fully understand this process, we were asked to complete three short drawing exercises to warm-up for a larger drawing piece later. The short tasks allowed us to break down any expectations we may have had about the ways in which our drawings may have looked. Instead, we were encouraged to focus on the process over product. We were drawing a Chinese dragon hat. We started by using two pencils in one hand, focusing on the aerial view of the hat. Then we were asked to draw with our non-dominate hand, focusing on the side view. Lastly, we looked at the front view, drawing in one continuous line without glancing at the paper. As you can see in Figure 2, my drawing did not look too much like the hat, but then again it wasn’t supposed to. For our final longer task, we drew a jacket and then had a discussion which revealed the details people picked up on, that might have been otherwise overlooked. For example, the piece’s overall construction, hidden buttonholes, and the lack of pattern matching. This process has allowed me to think differently about the next time I view a garment and how drawing can really help to highlight the details that may point to the wearer’s intentions, such as the points of stress on a piece.

line drawing of mask illustrating the process of drawing

Figure 2: Side-by-Side Comparison of a Continuous Line Drawing with Object, 2021. Pencil on Paper. Photograph. Author’s Own Image.

Due to the pandemic so much of our lives now inhabit the internet and screen time. People’s attention span has dropped, and this workshop has reminded me of how much you can easily miss when you do not slow down and really focus on something. This method can, of course, be challenging for people who have expectations of how they want a drawing to turn out, but as Mida said in her talk, you have to let go of expectations and return to a childlike mind to fully appreciate this method of research. What resonated most with me was her closing statement, ‘wanting to discover the information has to be more important than the drawing’.

It was great to be able to put a face to the well-renowned author and gain a better understanding of how to break down and construct garment drawings. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and will be using this approach in the future.

Screengrab showing tips on drawing from a garment

Figure 3: Screengrab from Drawing with the Dress Detective, 2021.

Developing subject expertise – from undergraduate to postgraduate study

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Slyne and Co pearl satin and gold lame lace gown, circa 1937. Photo author’s own and taken with the permission of Caroline Quinn of Dirty Fabulous, Monaghan.

Emma Kelly, 2018 BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History graduate reflects on her journey as a student from undergraduate to postgraduate study, finishing her MA during lockdown and developing subject specialism along the way. Congratulations Emma!

I graduated in 2017 from BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History and have recently completed my MA in Design History and Material Culture at National College of Art and Design, Dublin.  What I most enjoyed about my time at Brighton were studying the rich and varied topics covered in the lectures and seminars and how tutors encouraged primary research including visiting archives and using the University’s Dress History Teaching Collection. Working with the collection was amongst the highlights of my three years of study, uncovering stories of the trends, makers, sellers and wearers of fashion. One of my favourite projects was researching Bradleys of London, beginning with a 1930s ensemble from the department store. I encountered Bradleys again during my postgraduate studies whilst researching Sybil Connolly, the Irish couturier who worked at Bradleys in the 1940s. What I wouldn’t do to spend an afternoon back in the collection!

Throughout my undergraduate studies, I was fascinated by Irish dress history, though I never had the chance to delve into the topic. So much of the material discussed in lectures and seminars centred on Britain, France, America and the Soviet Union. In comparison, the field of Irish dress is very underdeveloped, a problem I first encountered during my undergraduate and an issue that remains to this day. Touching on the topic briefly in my BA dissertation made me all the more determined to focus on the field in my future work, beginning with a Masters.

I decided to return to Ireland for my postgraduate studies, informed not only by my desire to tackle Irish dress but also the uncertainty caused by Brexit. In September of 2018, I began my study on the Design History and Material Culture MA at NCAD in Dublin. I was immediately drawn to its multidisciplinary nature and the freedom it offered to tackle a wide range of topics. My tutors were extremely supportive of us pursuing our own research interests and developing our own writing style. Every assignment offered up a new opportunity to tackle a different theme, topic and time period, whilst also allowing me to call upon my experiences from Brighton, particularly my work with the Dress History Teaching Collection.  One of my first assignments centred on a Ballet Russe inspired satin and chinchilla tunic dress from the mid to late 1910s and enabled me to research a Dublin-based dressmaker, Mrs McAsey, the influence of and the reaction to Parisian fashion in Ireland in the 1910s. An essay focused on a 1950s Sybil Connolly suit offered an opportunity to examine the presence of Irish fashion in the domestic and international print media.

My thesis, echoing some of my undergraduate and postgraduate work, began with a dress, a satin 1930s gown attributed to Slyne and Co, a Dublin-based fashion establishment. Set to the timeline of 1885 to 1937, my thesis centred on the business as a multi-faceted, female-led establishment located on the main shopping street which sold custom creations, copies and ready-made goods in line with the latest Parisian and London fashions.

Finishing my Masters in lockdown was not expected and definitely had an impact but I have been so lucky to have studied on two amazing programmes that have equipped me with strong research skills and a deep understanding of my field that were called upon time and time again.

Slyne and Co pearl satin and gold lame lace gown, circa 1937. Photo author’s own and taken with the permission of Caroline Quinn of Dirty Fabulous, Monaghan.