Symposium Report: “Fashion in Libraries: Collecting

Materials and Documenting Stories”

Auditorium of the Museum of Santa Caterina, Treviso


Friday, July 4, 2014

By Martina Bernardi

“Fashion in Libraries: Collecting Materials and Documenting Stories” was an opportunity for dialogue amongst fashion library personnel, with the purpose of reflecting their identity and issues of contemporary culture. Involving libraries from different institutional contexts, such as museums, universities and fashion industries, it was the first opportunity of this kind in Italy, where collections of fashion-related materials are numerous, but often uncoordinated and isolated from one another. The event – promoted and organized by MISA Associazione Italiana degli Studi di Moda (Italian Association for Fashion Studies) on the occasion of Fashion at IUAV 2014 – drew upon national and European case studies to develop a fashion libraries network and discuss the “iconaut” – the library user as a browser of visual contents. The program chair of the symposium was Alessandra Vaccari, associate professor at IUAV University of Venice and member of MISA.The need to improve fashion libraries’ interrelationships was highlighted by MISA President Maria Luisa Frisa (IUAV University of Venice) in her introduction and gained enthusiastic support from the conference participants.


The first panel – “Fashion Libraries: Best Practice in the Context of Fashion Museums, Academic Institutions and the Fashion Industries” – compared the inspiring experiences of leading institutions through keynote speeches by Dieter Suls, chief librarian of MoMu Fashion Museum Antwerp; Adelheid Rasche, curator of Lipperheide Costume, Art Library, State Museums Berlin; Gloria Bianchino senior researcher and former director of CSAC Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione, Parma University; Laura Lusuardi, Fashion Coordinator Max Mara Group, and Federica Fornaciari, Curator of BAI Max Mara Company Archive and Library. The panel highlighted different definitions of fashion library, focusing on the idea that a fashion library works in partnership with institutions that deal with fashion from different perspectives. Suls’ presentation discussed the concept of “blurring boundaries” between museum and library. He questioned the relationship between fashion library and museum, and concluded that the distinction between the two institutions was vague rather than concrete. Further, the hybrid nature of fashion ephemera, for example, a Dries Van Noten invitation to his Autumn Winter 2006-2007 Womenswear show, which was actually an edible chocolate praline covered in gold foil, complicated the division between library and museum objects and required new strategies of conservation and presentation. Rasche opened his presentation by stating: “I am more a curator than a librarian” and Bianchino described the CSAC as “a museum that works like a library”. Finally, Lusuardi defined the Max Mara BAI Library as a “fashion lab”.


The first panel’s speakers emphasised the need to make the tactile aspects of fashion materials available to library users, who included researchers, curators and fashion designers. Suls explained how the MoMu Library was entering into a “regression to the analogue world”, whereby audiences would be introduced to a “study collection” of real objects. While a digital collection can address a wider range of users through a platform of information, the study collection is intended for building up expertise by accessing the materiality of the objects. In contravention with traditional museum conservation philosophy, this seminal project – which will feature historic and contemporary artefacts – enters the debate about the museum’s responsibility to preserve objects and present them to visitors simultaneously.


Lusuardi and Fornaciari emphasised the importance for fashion designers to comprehensively study the materiality of fashion through the direct experience of garments, books and magazines. The question and answer session that followed the first panel raised the issue of accessibility to archives and fashion libraries for learning and research purposes. The enthusiasm roused by European institutions’ new ideas and research proposals dried up when the discussion dealt with day-to-day financial problems and public expenditure cuts, especially in Italy.


The first round-table discussion was called “Networking Issues” and was moderated by Alessandra Citti, the director from the Central Library at the University of Bologna. The moderator asked the participants the following stimulating questions: “What is the cost, in terms of duplicated effort, of not being aware of what others are doing? Would it help if we knew what other libraries had purchased? Do we think it might be useful to build a network? Can MISA help us to create such a network?” The discussion highlighted the need to coordinate efforts to conserve resources, which could be jointly fulfilled by establishing an information sharing system and  also encouraged proposals from participants about how to improve communication between fashion libraries. Examples of good practice were given when Rasche spoke about the German Netzwerk Mode Textil (, a limited access forum of members engaged in the cultural history and theory of textiles, dress and fashion where it is possible to share questions and Suls suggested the Europeana Fashion Portal ( as a sharing system where different Italian fashion library catalogues could be joined. Anna Tonicello, head of University Library System (IUAV University of Venice), addressed MISA association as possible coordinator for these basic activities, gaining positive support of the audience.


The second round-table discussion, “Addressing the Iconauts”, moderated by Professor Mario Lupano (IUAV University of Venice), focused on fashion library users. Lupano’s initial hypothesis was that “the practice of ‘iconauts’ – typical of iconographic material users who are specifically interested in the construction of visual discourses and projects – generates new patterns of behaviour in fashion library users and, more broadly, in visual culture library users”. The debate brought forward, on the one hand, the important role of fashion libraries to teach younger users about the materiality of books and, on the other hand, to better understand the novel issues created by digital collections, especially their impact on library space.


The symposium ended with some closing remarks and conclusions by Professor Paola Colaiacomo (IUAV University of Venice), who identified “hybridisation” as an issue of central importance. Given that fashion has a hybrid nature, fashion libraries should offer a multiple way of experiencing objects, and incorporate multi-sensory experiences including reading, touching and looking at images and materials.


Martina Bernardi is research fellow at the University IUAV of Venice and heads the project “The archive as a source of innovation and development of creative and economic potential in wool textile processes”, European Social Fund 2007-2013 for Veneto, operating partner: Wool Mill Paoletti, Follina, Treviso (Italy).



Review/Symposium Report – Fashion In Libraries, Treviso, Italy

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