Whatever: The Representation of Women in Clueless

Wednesday 22nd February saw our first film night, hosted by Katie Godman and Stacey Richards from MA Fashion Cultures. We screened the 1990s classic ‘Clueless’. For some of the audience it was a good opportunity to reminisce about slumber parties past, while for others it was a first time viewing. The film met with a positive response and many laugh out loud moments!

The screening was followed by a panel discussion with Roberta Degnore and Sian Hunter. Roberta Degnore is a writer, lecturer, activist and film maker. Sian Hunter works in fashion marketing and is a MA Fashion Cultures graduate, whose masters’ project focused on teen movies. The questions posed focused on the use of costume and space in the film, in relation to the female characters. The film’s  feminist merits were discussed and the panelists agreed that the film was empowering as the characters embrace sexual freedoms, fashion and feminism as well as supporting other women. The costume of the film came up for discussion, since it started many trends and it was achieved on a relatively small budget. The film also predicted the way modern life would evolve with increasing use of mobile phones and apps.

Interesting points were also raised by the audience, including the representation of LGBT characters.

Our next film night will be on Thursday 27th April and we will be screening the James Bond film, Skyfall – quite a contrast! On the panel will be LCF’s own Pamela Church-Gibson, a reader in Cultural and Historical studies, as well as course leader for MA Fashion Cultures: Fashion and Film and editor for Film, Fashion and Consumption. Joining her will be Llewella Chapman, film historian and PhD candidate from University of East Anglia who is currently writing a book on Bond films and has previously had work published on fashion promotion in the franchise.

Whatever: The Representation of Women in Clueless

The film Clueless was released in the middle of the nineties and for many people captured the look of the decade perfectly. The film conjures to mind plaid skirts, knee high socks and feather boas. On the surface this is a fun, feel good film about frivolous teenage girls but is there more to it?

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Clueless has a female lead (Cher played by Alicia Silverstone) a female director, (Amy Heckerling) and is based on a classic of English literature written by a female author (Emma by Jane Austen). The film spawned many parodies and imitations, as well as its own TV series. Made at the end of the 20th century, what does it really say about women’s changing roles in society? How do women portray themselves and how is fashion used in the film to get this message across?

To celebrate and examine one of the ultimate teen movies of the 1990s, we are hosting a screening on February 22nd at LCF. It will be followed by a discussion with Renaissance woman Roberta Degnore, award winning novelist, screenwriter, director, scholar and psychologist as well as LCF MA Fashion Cultures’ graduate Sian Hunter, who wrote her dissertation on teen movies and has a background in fashion marketing.  It should make for an interesting evening! Book your (free) place here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/whatever-the-representation-of-women-in-clueless-tickets-31319223641

Review: Fashion Cities Africa, Brighton Museum by Lindsay Parker

Situated in Brighton museum, Fashion Cities Africa focuses on four African Cities and the key agents involved in their fashion scenes, from designers and stylists to photographers and bloggers, a diverse and vibrant representation of fashion and style is presented to the visitor opening with the exclamation that “The time for Africa is now. The world is looking to us for inspiration” (Tiffany Amber, designer.)

The exhibition is made up of a selection of garments, interspersed with photography, video and sound which are displayed across three rooms and divided into different sections – with each of the fashion cities (Johannesburg, Casablanca, Lagos and Nairobi) made distinguishable through the use of different coloured backdrops. A series of platforms, line the edges of the space and statistics and key information for each city are also provided. Each platform is dedicated to a “fashion agent” and contains a selection of three or four outfits along with information about the agent and the garments on display.

A range of women’s and menswear, couture and street style are displayed with pieces ranging from the androgynous styling of Sunny Dolat (Niarobi) to the elegant formal wear of Lagos fashion week, craft centred pieces created by traditional Moroccan artisans (Amina Agueznay, Casablanca), to the politically aware collection of The Satarists (Johannesburg), serving to create an impression of the diversity and depth of African fashion. It is clear that the agents themselves were involved in curating the “looks” that appeared in the exhibition and that they hold meaning for them.

What makes the exhibition particularly engaging is the choice of subjects; the overarching theme being that the agents are all advocates for enterprise and creativity. They represent the burgeoning fashion scenes in their respective cities, and give candid opinions about both its growth and uniqueness, and the challenges that they face.

Historically, the study of Fashion and dress has been decidedly Eurocentric, with a focus on the global North resulting in the “othering” of fashions from elsewhere, and despite more recent publications beginning to address this imbalance a divide still exists.

Although this exhibition may not directly reference the hegemonic underpinnings of fashion systems, it is successful in demonstrating to its visitors that contemporary African fashion is diverse and exciting enough to merit its own exhibition, in offering a new perspective from the voices of that continent and in going some way towards addressing the balance through visual language.

Curation, the idea of Tailoring

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( by Stacey Richards 2017)

I was given the opportunity to curate the glass boxes, within the JPS campus library. The theme for January was Tailoring, an area I have a strong interest in from my freelance work as a military costumier. At first it was a little daunting, but at the same time it seemed like a great experience to take.

 

My first meeting was to discuss the idea of tailoring and to get a feel for the items I would have access to. The head of the Special Archives Elizabeth Higgs, met me with me towards the end of December to work through my ideas and to show me what I could use to curate the spaces.

 

After this first meeting, some planning was need and more in-depth thought was given. We met again just before closing for the Christmas period where she had kindle pulled the items I was interested in using for me to see.

 

Then the day came for me to actually get to work and put my personal idea of tailoring into the glass boxes. I had decided to a woman’s box and a man’s box as the Special Archive had some really stunning pieces that would suit this idea.

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(by Stacey Richards 2017)

The large single tier box I decided to use for the woman’s display, for this I wanted to include my own personal Alexander McQueen unfinished tailored jacket. For me, this piece really put across the notion of tailored construction. In the box also is the Visionaire issue 58, which is the tribute volume to McQueen.

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(by Stacey Richards 2017)

I used the images within the box to form the base for the objects. The case is set up with tailoring items and some of the archives women’s construction books. I had the idea of using my own pattern pieces and drawing on the glass using chalk pens. I wanted to incorporate more of the feeling of making and being in the making environment into the space.

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(by Stacey Richards 2017)

From then I moved on to the men’s tiered box, for this I wanted to start with modern ideas of tailoring and then move down into more traditional works on the subject. Again the Special Archive has some beautiful pieces to include, one such piece was an Artist book, which is at the very top of the case.

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(by Stacey Richards 2017)

I simple loved the Visonaire collection we have and so included the issue 35 Man. I also mixed in issue 20, which was about Comme des Garcons. Then the space moves into traditional shirts, waistcoats, military attire and ends on pattern cutting.

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(by Stacey Richards 2017)

The experience is one I really enjoyed, and despite initial nerves of exactly what I should do, I would love the chance to do something similar again.

Stacey Richards MA Fashion Culture: Fashion in Film.

British Asian Style: Fashion and Textiles/ Past and Present edited by Christopher Breward, Philip Crang and Rosemary Crill Reviewed by Katie Godman

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British Asian Style: Fashion and Textiles/ Past and Present was first published in 2010 by the V and A. This book predates The Fabric of India exhibition and the publication of Muslin by Sonia Ashmore, though comes after the museum’s publication of Textiles and Dress of Gujarat by Eiluned Edwards.

Considering the V and A’s  galleries heavily feature Asian art and textiles there is a relatively small amount published by them on this topic, however the publication of British Asian Style seeks to rectify this ‘This book is the first to consider the ways in which these intertwined (Asian and British) histories…have contributed to a vibrant and under-represented aspect of Britain’s cultural heritage and contemporary creative environment…we hope it inspires all those with an interest in a centuries old story of exchange, travel competition and creativity.’ (P.9)

The editors have chosen to examine these ‘intertwined histories’ with a diverse collection of essays, including photo-essays, focusing on the relationship of Asian (primarily Indian) and British fashions, textiles and culture, from the time of the British Raj to the modern day. The essays are written by a range of academics from fields of fashion, anthropology and cultural geography. The writers come from a mix of British and Asian backgrounds, and backing is provided by the Diasporas, Migration and Identity Programme as well as the Arts and Humanities council. An array of sources are used across the essays including interviews, entries into Bridging Arts’ British Sari Story project, photographs from the museum’s collection as well as fashion photography and paintings.

Aimed at the museum-going public, the book assumes the reader has knowledge of history, religion and social customs, as well as life in modern day, urban Britain and its subcultures. Since it was published by a British museum it’s aimed at people living in a post-colonial and increasingly multicultural society. Using fashion and textiles as a framing device it examines the relationship between Britain and Asia in a largely positive way, using examples of successful Asian fashion businesses as well as interviewing sources who treat cross-cultural borrowing or appropriation with humour or pleasure and have generally had positive responses to their Asian or mixed modes of dress.

The book is laid out in three sections: Textiles, Styles and Spaces. Textiles aims to ‘establish the material threads that have bound Britain to India and Pakistan’ (P.9). This is carried out rather neatly, with essays tracing the roots of the British trade with India in Chintz, through to Indian styles serving as an inspiration to the modern British high street and the British Sari Story Project.

In looking at the history of the two countries it glosses over the importance of dress in Gandhi’s protest movement. This was something The Fabric of India exhibition did examine. It also fails to mention as a result of the Industrial Revolution the British market was producing cloth and shawls in Indian styles on their own shores, thus damaging the Indian economy. What is focused on is the British bohemian enthusiasm with certain Indian crafts, demonstrating how these practises might have died out if not for this interest. This paints a rather rose tinted view of the history of British and Indian trade.

Styles is the largest section and contains seven essays, which examine fashion and how it has been adapted and appropriated by different groups, from western bohemians to modern day British Muslims. There are some essays which focus on men’s fashion, however the overall focus is women’s fashion as well as women’s religious dress. Apart from the photo essays the turban is overlooked, while veiling and modest dress is examined in detail, perhaps because it has become a hot topic in recent years.

Generally, the tone of the essays is positive, telling the reader how in the past Asian communities had to try and assimilate due to prejudice but now happily dress in styles reflective of their religion and cultures, many marrying elements of both British and Asian cultures as they feel they belong to both. No mention is made of the rise in Islamophobic attacks on women wearing hijabs or attempts to ban Islamic modes of dress, and the view that veiling is oppressive to women is not discussed.

The last section focuses on space; how Asian fashion and textiles has been curated and sold in the UK. Each essay uses a variety of sources from interviews to historical texts, the aim to ‘investigate the enduring presence of south Asian textiles in British shops and in the museum itself, reminding of the ubiquity of British culture.’ (P.9). By referencing high street stores and using modern photographs as well as charting the exhibition of Indian textiles in British museums the book demonstrates how closely intertwined the cultures are but also queries whether British culture has romanticised India.

The book’s wide range of essays means it skims the surface of a wide range of topics without delving too deep. It doesn’t draw many negative conclusions and overlooks modern racism, controversies surrounding Islamic dress, the negative effects of colonialism, and Gandhi’s movement, all of which could have formed interesting essays.

However, the introduction states that it wants to ‘inspire interest’ and by keeping a generally positive tone, and accompanying the text with plenty of colour pictures it certainly does this. Since it is published by a museum, part of its purpose is to encourage visitors to the museum, and considering it predates the hugely successful The Fabric of India exhibition, it can be assumed it was successful in doing this. This allowed further examination of Indian textiles and also looked at India’s relationship with Britain. With an upcoming exhibition next year focusing on another aspect of Britain and India’s cultural exchange (Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London) we can hopefully assume the V and A is keen to continue the discourse on Britain and Asia which it intended to ‘inspire’ six years ago with the publication of this book.

 

 

References

 

Breward, C., Crang, P. and Crill, R. eds., 2014, British Asian Style: Fashion and Textiles/ Past and Present, 5th Edition, London, V and A Publishing

 

Bryant, J., 2016, The William Morris of India, V&A Magazine, Autumn/Winter, p67-73

 

The Fabric of India, October 2015-January 2016, exhibition, The V and A Museum, London

 

Alam, F. 2005, We Must Move Beyond The Hijab, The Guardian, 29th November 2005, https://www.theguardian.com/education/2005/nov/29/highereducation.uk, 16th October 2016

 

Alibhai-Brown, Y. 2014, Refusing the Veil, London, Biteback Publishing

 

 

How Punk was Institutionalised: The capitalist hijacking of youth contempt by Stacey Richards

Punk has refused to die as so many other subcultures have.  It keeps resurfacing, in different forms around the world in Tokyo, Berlin and Paris.  Why? More than a fad, Punk is a deep-rooted part of British cultural history. As Vivienne Westwood (Westwood and Kelly, 2014) said

Give me a punk and I’ll show you the man.”

One man of example is John Lydon, even though the Punk heyday is now in recess its ethos remains in its first generation and who even now are revered by the current generation of Punk loyalists.

Celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the movement,  “Punk 1976-78 “at the British Library was an exhibition especially focused on punks early beginnings in London and the influence this had on fashion, music and culture.

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(By Stacey Richards 2016, British Library)

On arrival no information leaflets were available for the exhibit, as it was only classed as a small piece. A small leaflet with key images on would of informed the exhibit visitor to understand the thought process behind the curator’s installation celebrating 40 years of punk and how important this subculture has been, not just to the new waves of youth but also many generational and culturally changing effects this has had on the population.

One entrance to the exhibition was up the stairs to the left hand side, where you were greeted with a large neon pink background with black text discussing the exhibition and what it was trying to say. The text was clear and easy to read, although half way through it most visitors just moved on into the exhibition, which adhered to a chronological timeline.

Only after having gone further into the exhibition did I realise I had entered at the wrong point. Having missed the opening pieces, which explained what was happening in British society within the years 76-78.  Some better signage would have avoided this.

Aside from the somewhat peculiar start point, the layout felt fluid and easy to navigate. The exhibition cases felt thought out over the chosen objects and the placement of them. The use of neon highlighter colours through added a nice touch. It drew you into what seemed to be key aspects of the exhibition. It had structure in the order of the items and information was shown on clear white background with black text, making this easy to read.

The objects on show were clearly linked within their cube exhibition spaces, the quality of the items used I thought made good connections between each item used within them. No object felt as if it was in the wrong segment or out of place.

Lighting throughout was dark in areas, which did hinder the ability to read the text plaques accompanying items. Spotlights on key pieces and information of importance felt perhaps like the curator was trying to make us feel like we were at a gig, the main focus being the band in the piece.

No background music was used through the exhibition, but you could hear pieces throughout the exhibition, especially the recordings of the unedited ‘Anarchy in the UK’ track.

The use of the audio headsets at certain points throughout the exhibit gave you the feeling, albeit for a short moment that you were watching The Sex Pistols with its crackling and live atmospheric recordings. The main audio listening station was placed next to a lime green backdrop of live performance photos of The Sex Pistols. Photos were shot on Polaroid film, perhaps trying to catch that spirit of a live gig.

Although the exhibition was interesting and informative, it failed to capture one aspect of Punk, which was that anybody could form a band. It had a social inclusion and an anti-elitist standpoint. This in my mind should have been the whole idea of this exhibition, the deep-seated meaning of the Punk movement between 76-78.

Ted Polhemus wrote (2010, p.132), “..1976 London…where economic, social and cultural conditions gave Punks’ cry of ‘No Future’ a ring of truth and realism.”

The punk movement made their own future disregarding social structures that had previously bound them. Punk says: you who came from the gutter, the roughest estates in Britain, even the middle class, you can become whatever it is you want to be, regardless of your social class stature. The message being: to break the mould and rebel against society, if Johnny Rotten can do it, so can you.

Yes, the exhibition informs you of how Punk started and key influences of bands such as The Sex Pistols in the UK. Does it give you an insight into an underground culture? To an extent you can say it does. It is an exhibition well thought out and although has some brief confusion at the entrance point, it was on the whole an enjoyable experience that did educate you.

Do I agree with punk being shown in such a curated way? The spark, the anger and disdain felt by young people during an era of oppressive society is lost in translation in the context of the exhibition.

The exhibition did try to bring this sentiment in via the audiovisual content but ultimately Punk can never be portrayed in such a serious institutional surrounding. Punk is the uproar of a generation that can only be felt by being part of it.

The Westwood quote above was nowhere to be seen even though it sums up what the exhibition was trying to achieve: to give the public of today, the chance to see what Punk did between 1976-78.

The ending to the exhibition talks about what happened after 1978: how Punk was absorbed into not only the music scene but also fashion and literature. That this particular youth subculture stood it’s ground and continues to influence cultures around the world today.

The most successful part of the exhibit shows a set up of a record store: a whole wall is lined with vinyl record sleeves of bands that were inspired by these two historical years.  The room has listening points for you to select bands to immerse yourself in. It didn’t come across as too corny or staged but genuinely felt as if the curatorial team had taken this end point into serious consideration.

The last piece to this exhibition is clear and to the point, in bold black lettering on the very last wall it simply says:

 Now form a band

 

References

  • Polhemus, T. (2010) Street Style. Jon Swinstead.
  • Westwood, V. and Kelly I. (2014) Vivienne Westwood. London: Picador.
  • Worsley, H. ( 2011) 100 Ideas That Changed Fashion. London. Laurence King Publishing Ltd.