Q&A with Agnès Rocamora

By Paula Alaszkiewicz

Dr. Agnès Rocamora is a Reader in Social and Cultural Studies at London College of Fashion. Her current research centers on new fashion media and journalism, specifically fashion blogs. Dr Rocamora studied at Sciences Po in Bordeaux before undertaking a PhD in sociology at Goldsmiths, which she completed in 2002.

Your background is in sociology. When and how did you begin addressing fashion in your academic work?

I moved to the UK from Paris and I was very interested looking at the way fashion was talked about in the British newspapers compared to the French ones: these are two different realities, it seems like it is two different types of fashion. I thought it would be interesting to look deeper into that discursive construction of fashion. I was really into the work of Pierre Bourdieu and thought I could find in his work the tools that would be useful to engage with this idea of fashion discourse.

How would you define your position and the work you do within the field of fashion studies?

First and foremost, I am a sociologist by trade. My post says I am a Reader in Social and Cultural studies. The field called “Fashion Studies” is consolidating at the moment; it is a mix of humanities, social sciences, and arts-based approaches to fashion. I guess I am a fashion studies scholar from a sociological background, as opposed to maybe a historical background or anthropological background. But fashion studies is in fact interdisciplinary.

There seems to be a fervent debate over the terms “fashion,” “dress,” and “costume” amongst fashion scholars. What do you make of this debate of semantics?

It depends what is said! The heritage of fashion studies is in dress studies and costume history. Fashion is more of an intangible reality; costume and dress are material culture. A lot of work on dress and fashion came through costume history. Fashion is beyond that; it is material culture but it is also systems. It’s about the discursive construction of things. This literature on fashion really developed in the late seventies and early eighties, such as Elizabeth Wilson’s Adorned in Dreams, that was really a key text.  I think fashion is much wider, it is a much more about encompassing notion and costume/dress analysis or history is one branch of it.

If any lesson has stood out to me in the last three weeks it is to define your terms, especially in a new field where definitions are not completely agreed upon or codified.

They might not be and maybe they shouldn’t be. What is fashion? The boundaries are fluid. It’s up to you to set the parameters of what it is that you are referring to when talking about fashion.

In historical research, personal diaries and journals are seen as quite valuable primary texts. Do you imagine a future in which blogs will carry the same significance as historic diaries?

They have already started being used as primary texts, it’s data, and you can analyze it in the way I have done in writing on blogs. What happens on blogs, how women take pictures of themselves and represent themselves.

What to you is the key difference between the contemporary fashion blog and the historic version of the diary?

It is a debate. Some authors have said that blogs are new digital versions of the old diary. Some are querying that, not least because diaries are addressed to the self whereas a blog goes to a wider public. I think it is also a different exercise; it is part of a digital culture, a way of talking about the self and communicating, which is not simply about exposing the self. The diary might be about the self or what the self might mean, a blog is about sharing experiences… There is a narrative, and a date, but otherwise I think they are different types of platforms with different cultural context. Also, they have emerged in a culture where notions of public and private have shifted as well.

What makes London College of Fashion unique in comparison to other colleges and universities that deal with fashion?

 Inter-disciplinarity. I think it’s wonderful that we are all working with fashion but from such different angles and that is very, very rich. We were discussing the work of Amy [de la Haye], for me it’s fascinating. Sometimes I might tend to forget that fashion is material culture with a material and historical dimension so it’s really wonderful to be near this research. At LCF, I get insight into the actual practices and the making of 3D fashion, which is helpful from a scientific view. The plural-disciplinarity is very enriching and is a reminder that there are different ways to think about objects.

What is the greatest challenge facing fashion studies today?

The greatest challenge would be making sure that it is done in a vigorous way, through sound theoretical underpinnings and clear methodologies. Just because it’s fashion does not mean that anything can be said without any structure. Whatever a fashion scholar does has to be scientifically framed by sound theories, sound knowledge of existing theories and related debates, and a sound methodology informing the research and purposes. Fashion studies, has to be like good scientific work.

Does that relate to what you would consider your “vision” for the future of the study of fashion?

I would say the internationalizing of it. A lot of the history of fashion – to some extent related to the history of cultural studies – is very Anglo-American, which is the same old thing, the Western Anglo-American foot that has dominated, not least because it is in English so it is more available. There is a lot of work going on in Brazil and Japan and other cultures. It would be good to know more about this. So that knowledge can circulate it would be important to de-Westernize, de-centralize and support the internationalization of fashion studies. I think it is quite interesting that this is happening more than ever in this unit [Approaches to Contemporary Fashion] because it is a more international class. Students will say that a certain theory doesn’t square with their experiences or encounters in another culture. It is important to hear these narratives and voices.

So yes, those two issues: sound theoretical and methodological framework and de-centering it.

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