REVIEW:

 

“FASHION AND THE BODY”

THE CENTRE FOR FASHION STUDIES,

STOCKHOLM UNIVERSITY

5th-6th  MAY 2015

 

Fashioning Everyday, Absent and Other Bodies

By Erica de Greef

The Centre for Fashion Studies at Stockholm University invited international PhD students to participate in an interdisciplinary two-day workshop, titled “Fashion and the Body” on 5 and 6 May 2015. The workshop coincided with the fifteen-year anniversary of Joanne Entwistle’s canonical fashion studies text, The Fashioned Body: Fashion, Dress and Modern Social Theory (2000).

Entwistle (Kings College London) joined Caroline Evans (Central Saint Martins) and Andrea Kollwitz (Centre for Fashion Studies, Stockholm University) to respond directly to the selected work of thirteen PhD candidates. Over the two days, they engaged with questions of the socially situated, embodied practices of fashion, and navigated the multiple sites and methodologies of contemporary fashion studies. The group consisted of scholars at various stages of doctoral study from institutions in the UK, USA, Canada, Denmark and Sweden, and myself, from South Africa. The presentation, discussion and workshop approach allowed for sustained, and very useful interrogation of the conceptual issues, arguments and challenges of our current work.

Entwistle’s open lecture (7 May 2015) addressed some of the issues that surfaced over the two-day workshop. In her address (which spoke to her forthcoming revised second edition of The Fashioned Body), Entwistle identified a range of key changes in the landscape of contemporary fashion studies, that included the impact of materiality studies; fashion’s complicit relationship with modernity; the embodied and performed notions of gender and identity in relation to fashion; and more broadly, shifts in thinking about alternate sites of fashion, sustainability and ethics.

Xhosa ibulukwe (ARTEFACT SAM 14395) is a re-purposed, beaded pair of vintage off-white men’s naval or sporting shorts, from Iziko Museum’s Anthropology Collection. Photo: E de Greef

Xhosa ibulukwe (ARTEFACT SAM 14395) is a re-purposed, beaded pair of vintage off-white men’s naval or sporting shorts, from Iziko Museum’s Anthropology Collection. Photo: E de Greef

Interestingly, archival objects and their display were the focus of four research presentations, each drawing on the complex relationship between historical, material, disembodied, and detached objects of dress, and their subjective, missing, yet agential bodies. Based at the University of Cape Town, my research begins with the sartorial archives at the Iziko Museums, and in my paper, I followed the colonial traces found in selected artefacts from the collection (by working through a taxonomy of trousers), to imagine the ‘absent bodies’ in these previously segregated, anthropological and cultural history museum collections. Bethan Bide (Royal Holloway, University of London) investigated the material evidence of counter-identities to the dominant post-war narratives at the Museum of London, and the role and agency of individuals in the making of London as a fashion capital. Julie Ripley (University of Falmouth) responded to the ephemerality of surf culture, which prompts new archival approaches to imagine the absent and missing materials in the British Museum of Surfing, situated in the south west of England. Lastly, Lucy Gundry (Royal College of Art) interrogated the intimate and embodied responses of visitors at fashion exhibitions in museums with the ‘Do Not Touch’ rule as viewers overcame the tactile barrier through their own tacit, haptic memories. This research situates fashion studies within a wider framework of critical engagement with the archive, and recognises the powerful political, cultural and structural configurations of archival records, and the contemporary refiguring there-of in ways to imagine alternate understandings of the past, and introduce new narratives for the future.

Imagery from the 3 May 1963 issue of French Elle, from the research of Alexis Romano.

Imagery from the 3 May 1963 issue of French Elle, from the research of Alexis Romano.

Also presenting fashioned, dressed bodies across time and place, various media (such as newspapers, magazines, Facebook, and video) are sites for rich investigation of ‘mediated’ bodies; not only of the nature of the bodies expressed, but also in terms of identifying the producers and participants of these identities, and the ideologies supporting or challenging the narratives scripted into, and out of, these visual and textual frames. This included Lauren Downing-Peter’s paper on Locating Plus-size, Alexis Romano’s analysis of Ambiguous Urban Bodies and Spaces in French Magazines, 1961-1966, Mario Roman’s comparative masculinities study in Materialising GQ Bodies, Jorge Sandoval’s reading of the Queering of Male Bodies in Football Fandom, Jessica Conrah’s introduction to Pop/Rock Bodies in early Music Videos, and finally, Alex Hoppe’s Micro-sociology of Aesthetic Evaluation. Key to this research is the changed focus of the body typologies investigated here, beyond the heteronormative, fashionable, feminine ideal (such as alternate, queer, other, ‘fat’, black), as well the nature of the relationships (in terms of co-construction, manipulation, suppression, or aggregation) between individuals, groups and the media considered.

From the research of Ellen Sampson

From the research of Ellen Sampson

Whilst Entwistle did highlight how the materiality of fashion has developed notably in recent years, only two studies addressed the material object of fashion in this workshop, via an interrogation of design, form and function. Both studies highlighted the embodied nature of dress, and the social situatedness of these objects of fashion. Ellen Sampson’s creative practice-led research responded to New Shoes, Old Shoes, Worn Shoes, while Julia Valle proposed a new Aesthetics of Dress through exploring bodily movement and sustainable design concepts.

 

LEXICON

A moodboard exploring a new lexicon for fashion, envisaged by Tanveer Ahmed.

Finally, a question raised at Entwistle’s lecture (pointing to the dominance of the Western locus of knowledge production – perhaps even more particularly, the centrality of English as language and ideology, in the construction of the fashion studies discourse), is a concern that surfaces constantly in my own study of dress/fashion in the global South, and one raised by Tanveer Ahmed in her paper Fashioning Utopias: Strategies for Fashion Educators. Considering the power vested in the language used and perpetuated within the pedagogical framing of educational practices, Ahmed pointed to the challenge of questions of race, and cultural othering and appropriation inscribed in the pedagogical frameworks of the hegemonic, Western discourse that underpins most fashion design education.

Similarly, these notions of what fashion is, how dressed bodies engage and interact in social and cultural relations, and, the discourse that critiques these practices, needs to invite more diverse, multi-cultural participation in terms of critical discussion and publication into the making and marking of contemporary, global subjectivities.

 

Further Reading:

Joanne Entwistle (2015) The Fashioned Body: Fashion, Dress and Modern Social Theory. London: Polity Press, 2nd ed.

Agnès Rocamora & Anneke Smelik 
Eds (2015) Thinking Through Fashion: A Guide to Key Theorists. London: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd.

 

Contributor:

Erica de Greef is a fashion theorist, curator and lecturer on notions of history, culture and identity politics in South African fashion. Erica is currently a PhD Scholar in African Studies, and Research Fellow with the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative at The University of Cape Town, interrogating the possibilities for transformation in local museums via the curatorial potential of thinking through fashion.

Review: Fashioning Everyday, Absent and Other Bodies

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