Featured Student: Fenella Hitchcock

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in the grey Midlands town that gave the world Bauhaus, Alan Moore and a plot for the film Kinky Boots. I spent the first two decades of my life devouring books and records, flirting with subculture and making plans to escape. ‘I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible’ and so on…

I moved to London to study pattern cutting at university, hoping that the whole experience would be a hybrid of The House of Elliot and Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. Needless to say, the reality was rather different. After graduating I worked as a pattern cutter, made sculpture and taxidermy, taught craft classes and essentially tried my best to strike a balance between creative satisfaction and being able to pay the rent!

Most significantly, I spent some time volunteering at the Museum of London in their fashion and decorative arts archive. It offered me a new way to fall in love with dress at a time when I was feeling quite jaded about industry. The experience has also informed my dissertation in both subject and approach.

Why fashion?

I first saw David Bowie on a television set when I was about five and I instantly swore to myself that when I grew up I would be Ziggy, or at the very least something equally as exotic and strange. My inability to mutate into a glam rock messiah from outer space is almost certainly the greatest failing of my adult life to date. Much later, I was given a collection of records and clothes by a family friend who’d been actively involved in subcultural scenes of the 1980s. My favourite items were a taped copy of Juju and a velvet Pam Hogg coat, and somewhere in between all of these second hand treasures I found a performative identity that seemed to resonate with who my teen self was and who she wanted to become. I was particularly pleased when, many years later, Pam Hogg told me that Isabella Blow was wearing the same coat on the night that she met her husband.

I feel like these two instances manage to summarise my interest in the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of dress quite well and their themes are present in the type of academic work that I enjoy. I’ve dedicated a lot of time to contemplating what clothes mean to me, so it seems natural that this curiosity extends to the lives of others. Perhaps it’s just how I’m wired or maybe Bowie fried my brain!

Why did you join this MA?

The course is unique in both its content and approach to the study of fashion. I was attracted to it because it allows you to consider a wide range of perspectives and explore where your own ways of thinking sit within the discipline as a whole. I knew that the faculty would be receptive to my interests and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from several academics whose work I admire greatly. Most of all, I just wanted to connect with other people who shared my obsession about clothes and wanted to talk about it in a serious, scholarly manner. It’s a bit like joining a gang in that respect. Or a cult.

Give us an example of a particular project you have enjoyed working on during the course.

Each assignment has been rewarding in its own way but I’m particularly enjoying conducting oral history interviews for my dissertation. I would be quite content to dig around in archives for the rest of my life but interviews are my method of choice and they add a little of the present to work that’s firmly rooted in the past. I also find the unpredictable element exciting, if a little stressful!

What extra-curricular activities have you been involved with?

I’ve presented research at an archive symposium and in lectures for the general public. I’m presently juggling my dissertation with another research project on kink press of the 40s and 50s, and I’ll be lecturing on this in the autumn. I have also been published in a journal, which was a real milestone for me, and I make an effort to attend as many different lectures, panel discussions, study days and conferences as I possibly can. Fortunately, a full diary brings me a deep sense of contentment!

Where do you hope to be in two years’ time?

I’d like to be working towards a strong research profile and have gained more experience in lecturing in an academic environment. In an ideal world, I would also be thinking about starting a PhD, which is an ambition I’ve only recently realised I possessed. Ultimately, I’m open to whatever opportunities may arise and as long as I can contribute to my chosen field in some way, I’ll be very happy.


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