Featured Student: Joanna Karagiorgou

joanna-karagiorgouWhat is your background?
My background consists of a mix of various fields. I have a Bachelors in Business Administration while at the same time as my studies I was also studying Ballet and Contemporary Dance. After that I studied Fashion Styling, before coming in the UK for my Masters.
What made you decide to study MA Fashion Cultures?
I knew that I wanted to study at the London College of Fashion, so I started researching what course would be the best for me. I’ve always curious in exploring why people wear what they do, what drives them and how that tells about culture and society. This course proved to be the best choice.

vaslan-nijinsky-sceherazade-1912-by-george-barbier

Nijinsky in Scheherazade, by Georges Barbier

Is there a particular project you have enjoyed working on during the course?
I enjoyed my essay on the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, which inspired me so much that I continued with the subject for my dissertation. My focus was on the concept of masculinities and how his performances pushed the boundaries. He was the main dancer for Ballet Russes from 1909 until 1916, and while there are many writers that have focused on Ballet Russes in relation to its influence on female fashion, few have written about Vaslav Nijinsky.

 

What are you writing your dissertation on, and how did you decide upon this subject?
My dissertation focused on masculinities, by analysing Vaslav Nijinsky and two other male dancers of the early 20th century: Jean Börlin, who was the main dancer for Ballet Suédois, and Ted Shawn, who was an American dancer. Those three dancers were of great importance not only because of their performances, but because each one of them pushed the limits of the accepted masculinity of that time.

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Nijinsky in Scheherazade, 1912

What’s next?
Throughout the year I’ve been working on my portfolio as a Stylist which is what I want to do. The knowledge I gained from my course gave me valuable insight on several aspects on fashion, a fact which I think will be important to my styling practice.

 

Click here to read Joanna’s posts on Intangible

Find Joanna online:
Instagram: @joannaa_kr
E-mail: joanna_kr[at]windowslive.com

 

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Exploring evolving fur discourses through advertising

By Lindsay Parker

label-me

Luxury, glamour, wealth, status, success, exclusivity; these are the words most commonly associated with fur; they conjure up the embedded cultural meanings that have been established through years of use, regulation and representation of the material. Though these meanings have been (and continue to be) challenged by anti-fur campaigners, with arguably some level of success, fur is still considered the ultimate luxury, unattainable to most and increasingly prevalent once again in the collections of luxury fashion brands.

However, as the industry has faced a backlash from anti-fur campaigners, the allure of glamour and luxury alone is no longer always a sufficient tool for the promotion of fur. In the 1990s, in the UK and US at least, the material began to be linked with unnecessary cruelty and out-dated notions of glamour and the industry had to alter conceptions whilst retaining the elements of its appeal which had been built through years of intertextual discourse.

One response has been the use of technology with new techniques used to disguise and enhance furs, and new colours, textures and forms of fur clothing developed, in some instances, to create even more expensive and exclusive products (For example, Fendi’s silver coated, 1 million Euro Coat).

fashionistas

Fur brands have also updated their image through advertisements which aim to appeal to a younger demographic, referencing “highly energetic, totally trendy and gloriously glamourous fur” (Vogue September 2006) and highlighting technical developments. This appeal to youth can be seen as one of the key elements of furs resurgence in recent years, reaching out to those who have not grown up through the height of the anti-fur movement or have tired of the hard hitting and relentless campaigning by animal rights groups.

Increasing consumer awareness of a vast range of ethical and environmental issues has meant that, for many, issues surrounding what constitutes responsible and sustainable fashion are no longer black and white. This shift is reflected in the appearance of advertisements which promote fur as sustainable, natural and timeless, as opposed to wasteful fast fashion or environmentally damaging synthetic alternatives. For example, the Origin Assured “label me…..” campaign featured high profile designers such as Oscar de la Renta claiming that – “Buying Origin Assured furs removes a lot of questions for a customer. It allows her to buy fur with confidence.” the advertisements are designed to introduce the new label which claims to promote transparency and adhere to strict animal welfare standards” suggesting that real fur can be part of an ethical fashion wardrobe.

Reviewing advertisements past and present suggests that, no matter how established fur is as a sign, discourse on fur in fashion is subject to change to correspond with the ever altering wider social discourses which impact on the field of fashion. This means that advertisements must respond to these discourses, and more recently this has been through adapting existing meanings to appeal to consumers changing understanding of ethical and responsible fashion and by embracing new technologies to shake off unwanted associations with times gone by.

Featured Student: Anushka Tay

Anushka Tay PortraitWhat is your background?
I have a Bachelors degree in performance costume (1st) and worked for several years in the theatre across a variety of roles: designing shows, making costumes, and working backstage. I am also a musician, so my background is essentially in storytelling, whether through clothing or music.

What made you decide to study MA Fashion Cultures?
Costume is a powerful medium because it conveys everything written and unwritten about a character onto a body; but it is often overlooked. I wanted to give more consideration to the conceptual and communicative powers of clothing, and discovered that Fashion Studies is a fast-growing subject. It’s an exciting field in academia, and I wanted to be part of it.

Is there a particular project you have enjoyed working on during the course?
I enjoyed learning about a vast array of social theory and philosophy in the first term, and the challenge of applying these complex intellectual theories it to fashion and clothing – so often deemed superficial and unimportant. I was also fortunate to be the first student to do the Erasmus exchange with Stockholm University, where I loved writing a paper on costumes in Hitchock’s films.

tippihedren-the-birds

What are you writing your dissertation on, and how did you decide upon this subject?
My dissertation researches the samfu suit (AKA ‘Chinese pyjamas’) during the mid-20th Century. I was keen to explore and apply post-colonial theory to fashion and dress history, in an attempt to ‘look back’ from the Orientalist gaze that I’ve been feeling quite fed up with. A literature search demonstrated a distinct lack of writing on this style of clothing; and even less has been written about the dress history of Chinese people living in diaspora. So I decided to fill a gap.

samfu16

I won the Costume Society’s Yarwood Award and the Pasold Textiles Research Grant, which funded a trip to Singapore and Hong Kong. There, I discovered the archive of a brilliant mid-20th Century Chinese women’s magazine called The Young Companion; and carried out oral history interviews as part of my research. I also discovered that my great-grandmother had really great clothes in the 1950s, which was quite surprising since she lived in a village surrounded by rubber plantations in rural Malaysia.

What’s next?
I’ve truly enjoyed studying MA Fashion Cultures, and am planning on continuing the academic route. I hope to research, write and teach, and would like to contribute towards the continued diversification of Fashion History.

Click here to read Anushka’s posts on Intangible

Find Anushka online…
anushkatay.co.uk
Blog: Dress Me Up, Drag Me Out
Twitter: @AnushkaTay
E-mail: byanushka[at]gmail.com

A Tactile National Identity: Latvia’s Map in Mittens

By Anushka Tay

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Mittens Map of Latvia – Sena Klets, Riga, March 2016. Photo: Anushka Tay

To what extent can a place be experienced, understood or consumed through dress? I recently spent a day in Riga, Latvia, where I made sure to visit Sena Klets – the National Costume Centre. Nestled in the touristy heart of Riga’s Old Town, I was expecting it to be a museum of Latvian traditional dress; so was surprised to discover that it functioned equally as a display of folk costume, organised by region; and a tourist souvenir shop. I was previously aware of Latvia’s famed knitting traditions; but didn’t realise that the patterns were governed by location. The hand-made items on display were presumably created specifically for sale to tourists, and were priced to a reflect some consideration for the labour time (€54 for a pair of mittens). As is so common in tourism, national identity is presented as a commodity for consumption. However, in this case, what is also being sold is the concept of supporting cottage industries, and of promoting a country’s textile heritage.

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Hand-knitted colourwork mitterns – Sena Klets, Riga, March 2016. Photo: Anushka Tay

Is this yet another iteration of what Simona Reinach refers to as the ‘romantic nationalism of the past’?  Traditional dress, or folk costume, occupies a strange place within the discourses of fashion in today’s industrialised, increasingly globalised world. In academia, fashion is largely agreed to constitute the system of change, with the individual styles of clothing themselves irrelevant (Kawamura, 2006). The adoption of the Western fashion system has in many ways come to symbolise a marker of progress, and Reinach (2011) demonstrates how with the rise of more and more smaller fashion weeks around the world, the fashion industry is more than simply an arm of commerce, but has come to consecrate national identity and mark countries’ presence as a major player in the global economies. Skov (2011, p.149) further analyses the relationship between fashion designers and folk culture, whereby on the one hand there is ‘the common perception that folk culture is the opposite of fashion— rural, static, backward, and soaked in nationalism’ – yet ‘fashion…has had no qualms about incorporating all kinds of colorful elements from non-Western, including Russian, folk culture. The new demand is that designers engage with their national culture and dress tradition, but in such a way that it can be attractive to outsiders.’

Whilst the mittens and other items in the National Costume Centre weren’t presented as fashion items, I personally found it fascinating to see that colours and patterns often used as references in ‘folk style’ fashions were still being produced. Integral to their production and display was the notion that they were still being worn; a sense of national identity embedded in craftwork, and displayed in a strange contradiction of exhibit and commodity.

 

References:

Kawamura, Y. (2006) Fashion-ology: An Introduction to Fashion Studies. Oxford and New York: Berg

Reinach, S. S. (2011) National Identities and International Recognition” in Fashion Theory 15:2, pp.267-272

Skov, L. (2011) “Dreams of Small Nations in a Polycentric Fashion World” in Fashion Theory, 15:2 pp.137-156

Chanel Eco Couture: inspirational or exclusive?

By Lindsay Parker

ChanelSS16{ Chanel – SS2016 ~ image source }

Two weeks ago, fashion blogs and magazines covering the couture collections were celebrating the “eco-couture” displayed on the Chanel runway.

Whilst reading the coverage of the show, I couldn’t help but recall a discussion in one of our recent seminars about globalisation and ethical fashion. One of the points for discussion was the availability of information for consumers regarding exactly where not only the garments are made but also the fabric and components that make up the clothes we wear each day – and how difficult this can make being a conscious consumer when it comes to fashion. The Chanel collection featured materials and components fashioned from a wide range of sustainable materials, a fact that we are made aware of through the surrounding publicity regarding Lagerfeld’s decision to “Go Green”.

A couture garment is seen by many as a collector’s piece and an investment; therefore great care would be taken to ensure the quality of each element, each stitch and material used. The finished piece cannot be further away from the mass produced fast fashion which is the cause of so much waste and inequality within the industry. Considering this collection in terms of what this could mean for the possibility of a more sustainable fashion future, it occurs to me that it only further emphasises the differences between fast fashion and high fashion. Whilst (to borrow a term from Bourdieu) the consecration of “eco-fashion” by established designers such as Lagerfeld can only be a positive in terms of raising awareness, the complete unavailability of these designs to the majority could serve to reinforce the opinion held by many that ethical fashion is too expensive and at times difficult to track down.

It will be interesting to see if the use of recyclable and sustainable materials is a trend which “trickles down” and is taken on by the high street in a more inclusive and available form.