This book derives from a series of lectures organised by Kingston University in collaboration with the Italian manufacturer retailer MaxMara. The lectures, entitled 'Perspectives in Fashion', were launched in 1994 to explore emerging themes in the history and theory of fashion, with the objective of considering them in the context of contemporary industrial practice. Both Kingston and MaxMara shared the view that this would primarily benefit students of fashion design, opening their eyes to the intellectual significance of their chosen field, and would consequently be of service to the industry itself.
The lecture series represented an opportunity to consolidate the diverse lines of approach that were being pursued in the name of fashion, often in isolation. Since its inception, around five lectures have been presented each year by a broad spectrum of speakers: historians, academics and curators, designers, industrialists, magazine editors, journalists and public relations consultants. It was envisaged that this would constitute a multi-disciplinary arena which would enable the progressive formulation of a more useful, holistic view of this complex subject than single prescriptive approaches could allow. It was hoped that understanding of contributory disciplines would be enriched by the dynamic established between them.
Although the historical ambivalence towards fashion in academic circles is widely acknowledged, the lecture series was established at a time when this situation seemed to be changing.
The history and theory of fashion has, over the past decade, become a field of unprecedented academic interest, some interdisciplinary tensions and lively methodological disputes, which the lecture series has naturally reflected.
During the same decade, the media profile of the fashion business has been raised to heady levels.
ID Magazine reported in 1999 that 'the 90's have been a decade of heightened celebrity and fashion designers some of its brightest stars. The grand narratives of fashion fame are as fascinating as any pop or celluloid',1 whilst the sociologist and anthropologist, Joanne Finkelstein notes that fashion 'now functions as a form of global entertainment reported in the nightly television news broadcast . . . the romances, wild escapades and indiscretions of the fashion industry's supermodels and the occasional political insensitivities of its flamboyant designers all fuel the gossipy tabloids, and sometimes ignite the mad indignation of the international press'.2 The contemporary appetite for fashion is insatiable, and yet it seems that the practical realities of the fashion business are little known to very few other than those who work within it, including it appears to the many authors of academic discourses on the subject. It must also be noted that very few of those who practice within the fashion industry are even dimly aware of the body of academic research which has grown up around its theory and history. That a subject's theory should be thus divorced from its practice is unusual; the MaxMara lectures aim to address this divide, for the benefit of practitioners and academics alike and, with this book, we hope to bring it to the attention of a wider audience. This, we believe, is the first sustained attempt at a conciliation of such diverse views.
With the analysis of the fashion arena in the post-war period as its central theme, the book is divided into three principal sections which have emerged from the lectures as the sites of important debates: the theory and culture of fashion, design and industry, image and marketing. The text begins with Valerie Steele's contextual overview of the history of fashion in the second half of the twentieth century.
The first section which addresses theory and culture of fashion begins with Christopher Breward's analysis of recent methodological debates, now at least partly resolved, that have engendered a multidisciplinary approach which promises to be highly effective for unravelling complex contemporary issues. Evidence of this can be found, for example, in Amy de la Haye's study which demonstrates the recent return of interest in the relationship between fashion and craft. Through observation of contemporary practice and artefacts considered in the light of design historical and ethnographical studies, de la
1. Cole, B., 'Receive the Look. Replicate the Look. . .' I.D. Magazine, October 1999, p. 159.
2. Finkelstein, J., 'Chic - A Look that's Hard to See', Fashion Theory, vol 3, issue 3, Oxford: Berg, 1999, pp. 363.
Haye provides us with an analysis of the phenomenon which is as useful and meaningful to the practitioner as it is to academics from any of the fields which have informed it. Reka C.V. Buckley and Stephen Gundle's chapter illustrates the potential for apparently obliquely related academic disciplines to throw light on issues which lie at the very heart of fashion. In this case, cultural history helps to develop our ideas about glamour. Importantly, this chapter does not simply use fashion as a specimen on which the authors' theories about their discipline can be tested. Rather, the aim is to use the author's perspective as a key to unlock the issue.
The second section encompassing design and industry introduces the practitioner's perspective, which has been largely ignored in the academic development of the field of fashion. Redress of this imbalance can do much to locate fashion practice at the centre of its own academic study, rather than as a subject incidental to others. We have nevertheless to note the general reluctance of practitioners to involve themselves in academic work. Ian Griffiths' chapter draws on his simultaneous experiences as an academic lecturer and designer to give a practitioner's view of the body of discourses which is generally understood to constitute the academy of fashion. He argues that a body of work informed more directly by the agencies and activities which generate fashion would lead to a more complete understanding of the subject. The contributions of both Luigi Maramotti and Brian Godbold illustrate how an academic understanding of the theoretical aspects of fashion may be enhanced by inside information. Luigi Maramotti's chapter gives an incisive view of creativity within the industry, a topic about which there is a good deal of miscomprehension, whilst Brian Godbold offers a wealth of anecdotal evidence on which to test our theories about fashion, demonstrating the kind of empirical evidence which will be critical to the development of an academic study capable of tackling the complexity of contemporary fashion. Godbold's testimony might prompt a reappraisal of some of the perceived tenets of fashion theory, such as the way in which design functions in relation to the mass market.
The third section, which tackles image and marketing, gives an academic insight into the means, mechanisms and devices which the fashion industry uses to present and promote itself. Lou Taylor effectively illustrates how contemporary fashion uses images to ascribe value to products which goes beyond their material worth. Caroline Evans examines modernity and spectacle through contrasting analysis of the later nineteenth-century department store and world fair, with the 1990s fashion shows of John Galliano. Rebecca Arnold, in her study of 1990s minimalism, shows how fashion's endlessly redefined constructs perpetuate our interest. Nicola White's chapter, which investigates the significance of style and national identity in
Italian fashion, demonstrates how understanding of industry and practice are central to issues of identity in dress and shows that the 'look' of Italian clothes cannot be separated from Italy's industrial capabilities.
We hope that the reader will appreciate how key issues in fashion are highlighted from different angles. For example, Luigi Maramotti's thoughts about the creation or intuition of desire dovetail with Rebecca Arnold's study of changing meanings in luxury. Whilst we believe this book to the first of its type, we also hope that it will be the first of many. A cumulative body of multi-disciplinary work, with inside information will unlock many more riddles than this book can hope to do and in that case we look forward to its being joined and surpassed by others.
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