Graduates 2021: Rachel Ng: Fashion and Dress History

Brighton has been the perfect place to study because of the creative and accepting lifestyle here. I love being by the sea and the connections to London are perfect.

Hi Rachel, can you tell us a bit about your work?

Before I came to university, I spent 5 months travelling around China and southeast Asia. Whilst waiting for my flight back to England in Bali, I fell down a rabbit hole of videos about the history of Barbie and it really piqued my interest. In the back of my mind, I thought ‘this is what I want to write about for my dissertation’. I had no idea what my research would consist of, but I knew Barbie would be involved, which is funny because I never really played with them when I was younger and if I did it would be to cut all the hair off the doll!

Fast forward two and a half years and I needed to start researching. I’d come across numerous designers on Instagram that use the Barbie doll as their mannequin for their glamourous and intricate designs. These designers became the focal point of my dissertation, titled, Femininity and the Fashion Doll: How Contemporary Designers are Engaging with the Barbie Doll.

My research focused on Beijing-based Guo Pei, Italian duo Magia2000 and Singaporean Jian Yang. The three case studies enabled a global look into Barbie’s influence on people. Renowned for her embroidery, Pei transforms her haute couture designs into miniature. Similarly, Magia2000 transform Barbie’s clothes from the everyday into the fantasy through camp and extravagant designs. Contrary, Jian Yang parodies the fast fashion industry through his ‘flushable fashions’ made from ephemeral materials such as toilet paper.

Barbie has gained the title of being the height of femininity and this is explored through my research, drawing on Queer theorist, Judith Butler. Her theory of gender expression (femininity and masculinity) being a social construct is explored. The instability of femininity allows contemporary designers to approach and interpret this in any way they wish through their designs without conforming to the prescribed femininity produced by Mattel (Barbie’s makers).

How have you found your course/time at Brighton?

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Brighton. My degree has allowed me to understand the heritage and museum sector more and made me realise that this is what I want to pursue in the future. I have developed my confidence and independence hugely whilst studying and I can definitely see myself continuing my life around Brighton.

Brighton has been the perfect place to study because of the creative and accepting lifestyle here. I love being by the sea and the connections to London are perfect.

How did you choose your course – why did you choose to study that subject?

Originally, I thought I wanted to study interior design at university. However, after visiting a few open days I realised that the interior design courses were not for me. I have always had a love for both history and art, so it made sense for me to pursue the history of art courses. I didn’t actually realise Brighton offered the fashion and dress history course until I attended the open day. I decided to apply for both courses, and I ended up choosing the history of art one. However, during my gap year I had time to think about my decision and thought that I would enjoy the fashion one more. I changed my course and I’m so glad I did. Although I felt very out of my depth during the first year of uni (as I had previously never studied anything like this) I gained confidence and thoroughly enjoyed the topics we studied.

What are your plans after graduation?

I am continuing at the University of Brighton, and I am studying the Master’s degree in Curating Collections and Heritage. I’m looking forward to specialising more in an industry I hope to further pursue.

Whilst I wait for September, I am completing a heritage internship in London, which is providing me with great experience for the future.

Find out more about BA(Hons) Fashion and Dress 

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