Getting to Know the Class of 2016 – A Letter From Shaun Cole

It has been a great year on the [In]tangible blog, with stimulating content that was both specific to the curriculum of the MA History and Culture of Fashion as well as that concerned with more personal interests relating to fashion, dress, clothing and culture. As the fifteen months of study for the 2013-14 cohort draws to a close and dissertations are being finished, so a new group of students have begun their journey on the course. It is my hope that those who have posted over the last year will continue to contribute to the blog and the debates that it raises, and that both current students and alumni of the course engage in an ongoing dialogue.

In the first week of the course, as a way of getting to know one another and to stimulate thoughts and ideas for the first assignment, we went on three exhibition visits. The first of these was to the Fan Museum in Greenwich where curator and LCF alumnus Jacob Moss showed us around his exhibition of advertising fans; followed by Lime Wharf Gallery where we saw the ‘After Dark’ exhibition of prints by David Holah, formerly one half of my favourite design duo, BodyMap, and a stimulating and entertaining film directed by Joseph Wilson – ‘Drag Is My Ecstasy’. Finally, we moved to the Victoria and Albert Museum for the exhibition ‘Wedding Dresses 1775-2014′.

The latter exhibition has been a long time in the planning and after an international tour has returned to the fashion gallery at the V&A. Working within the glass case constraints of the ground floor of the fashion gallery, the first part of the exhibition offered an overview of the historical development of dresses worn for weddings, of which by far the most impressive was the dress designed by Norman Hartnell for the marriage of Ethel Margaret Whigham to Charles Sweeny at Brompton Oratory in London in 1933, which was accompanied by design drawings, newspaper reports and film footage. Beautiful but also moving in their more constrained designs were the Second World War wedding outfits, particularly the dress made from furnishing fabric.

On the upper floor were designer creations and various celebrities’ gowns, offering a glimpse of how wedding dresses have reflected both popular fashion and fashions for understated elegance or ostentatious extravagance. Here, there were examples that also illustrated non-western traditions and the ways in which particular wedding outfit traditions from, for example India and Japan, have been integrated with the western wedding ideal. Looking at this exhibition with the new intake of students naturally led to interesting conversations about their own wedding outfits and / or attitudes to marriage; beginning the kinds of debates that I know will carry on both in the classroom as part of the discussions around the subject of course lectures and seminars, and here on this blog.

For me, what was great to see in the exhibition was the inclusion of men’s clothing (though not strictly wedding dresses) demonstrating that weddings are not just an occasion for the bride to revel in her beautifully designed and constructed dress on the ‘happiest day of her life’ but also one where for the groom’s appearance is important and considered. Bringing the idea of weddings and marriage up to date the exhibition included the suits worn by fashion studies’s very own Christopher Breward and his partner James for their civil partnership ceremony.

A week after we had been to see the V&A’s exhibition I acted as an usher at a friend’s wedding in Sweden; this is not a role usually assigned at Swedish Weddings but a conversation about wedding plans led my partner and I to pretty much volunteer ourselves to take on this role. Of course, that meant that we got to meet all the guests and evaluate their choices in wedding outfits, as well as be in a prime position to see and admire the grooms new suit and the brides beautifully made off white silk and lace wedding dress, the design of which she and I had spent a lot of time discussing.

Exhibition reviews have, and will continue to be, featured on this blog and the new 2014-15 editorial team will oversee posts that reflect on the course, issues, ideas and debates in and around the study of fashion, as well as interviews with LCF staff and guest lecturers and profile interviews of the current group of students.

Over to you.

Shaun Cole

Programme Director Curation & Culture
Course Director MA History & Culture of Fashion

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