In celebration of the fourth issue of Fashion Projects, a panel discussing the current state of fashion criticism was held on March 12, 2013 at The New School. The panel, moderated by Francesca Granata, Assistant Professor of Fashion Studies at Parsons the New School for Design and editor of Fashion Projects featured three distinguished fashion critics, Robin Givhan (the first fashion critic to receive a Pulitzer Prize), Guy Trebay (culture and style reporter for the New York Times), and Stefano Tonchi (the editor-in-chief of W magazine), all of whom were also interviewed for the concurrent issue of Fashion Projects.
The frank conversation took many directions by addressing a number of otherwise avoided topics within the fashion press, from the struggle for fashion writing to be considered a legitimate topic of discussion within established periodicals due to its prescribed association to the feminine realm, to the cultural valence of aesthetics in America versus Europe and how this difference manifests itself in each culture’s appreciation or understanding of fashion. Trebay reminisced on a pre-millennial era when the fashion scene belonged to a small, contained world and where the knowledge of this niche community was not widely dispersed as it is today. Stemming from observations he made in his Fashion Projects interview with Jay Ruttenberg, Trebay remarked that the cultural force of fashion catapulted quickly after 2000 through strategic moves by the few multinational corporations that monopolized the fashion industry. Fashion stars were churned out, runway shows become these theatrical spectacles, and with the aid of digital media, the fashion scene became a globalized attraction. Givhan added that the alliance between Hollywood and the fashion industry has intensified the public’s interest in all things concerning fashion, yet she lamented that this now symbiotic partnership has damaged the credibility of the industry. As such, much of the fashion content published is dominated by celebrity and consumer driven stories that bank off the entertainment value of fashion while doing little to enlighten readers about its intricacies and creative nature.
The discussion brought to the fore a highly debated phenomenon amongst contemporary fashion journalists – the emergence of fashion bloggers. Indeed, the public access and participatory nature of digital media has opened the floodgates to an exorbitant amount of fashion interpretations, criticisms, and narratives, but it is precisely this lack of moderation that concerns the panelists. Between the three fashion critics there was an overall less than sanguine opinion of the fashion conversations found online. Givhan and Tonchi implied that the overt marketing objectives of certain popular fashion blogs compromised the ethics of journalism in that fashion houses and brands utilized these online personalities as PR tools, often times flying them out to Fashion Week or gifting them merchandise to promote on their personal blogs. In regards to the writing found in these digital spaces, Trebay and Tonchi not so subtly stated that the majority of the fashion conversations on blogs lacked a “compelling” factor and were subpar in that frequently the references to fashion history were inaccurate or the observations contributed no original perspectives to fashion discourse. Pointing to the main difference between print and digital media, Givhan observed that online there was no such thing as a correction – mistakes were rectified as “updates.” She went on to explain that because the barrier to entry is so low with digital media, Internet culture has cultivated a value to be placed on timely delivered and easily digestible content rather than well-researched information.
The panel ended on a more personal note with a question from the audience asking the critics to reflect on peers whom they admired. Givhan praised the author and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell as well as The Wall Street Journal’s fashion critic Teri Agins. Tonchi paid tribute to his fellow Italians, the late fashion writer and style icon Anna Piaggi and the author and Vogue Italia art and fashion critic Mariuccia Casadio. For Trebay, the work of author and fashion historian Anne Hollander was paramount in cultivating his perspectives on the intimate relationship between the body and clothing. Ultimately, the panelists’ critiques and observations advocated for fashion to be integrated and accepted as a part of a more informed cultural dialogue. Perhaps, the takeaway from this critical discussion could be best summarized by Tonchi’s obvious yet critical advice for the future generation of aspiring fashion writers in the audience – know your history!
Gisela Aguilar is completing her MA in Fashion Studies at Parsons the New School for Design. Her thesis explores the evolving modes of consumption and production of fashion discourse specifically within print magazines and online fashion media.
NB: Change of Room Update: Due to high demand, we changed the location to the Theresa Lang Student Center at 55 West 13th on the second floor. Again to RSVP, please visit eventbrite (more seats have been added!).
Coming up this Tuesday March 12th from 6:00 to 7:30 pm in the Theresa Lang Student Center at 55 West 13th Street at Parsons the New School for Design is a panel on fashion criticism to celebrate the new issue of Fashion Projects on the same topic. The panel features Robin Givhan (the first fashion critic to receive a Pulitzer Prize), Stefano Tonchi (editor-in-chief of W magazine) and Guy Trebay (New York Times culture and style reporter) and will be moderated by me.
If interested, please RSVP here as space is limited.
The issue, the journal’s fourth print edition, features interviews with Givhan, Tonchi, and Trebay as well as Judith Thurman (New Yorker), Suzy Menkes (International Herald Tribune), and other leading fashion critics. Praised by the Columbia Journalism Review for covering “the discipline, accessibly, from an academic perspective,” it includes contributions from alumni of Parsons MA Fashion Studies and MA in the History of Decorative Arts and Design. It was designed by Sarah Smith, a graduate of Parsons BFA in Communication Design.
Fashion acts as a mirror of society, which is what art used to be. It seems that fashion has supplanted art in reflecting cultural values, but has largely lacked critical reflection on its practices. At the Design Intelligence; Fashion event which took place September 18 and 19 at Parsons New School of Design in New York, questions of how intelligent design could impact the issue of sustainability were considered by a group of 100 “influential players in fashion”, including fashion designers, academics, manufacturers, trade council reps, and media. On the first day, participants were divided into small groups of five to six people to talk through some of the issues. On the second day, a series of lectures featuring such notable speakers such as Joel Towers, Hazel Clark, Otto von Busch, Sarah Scaturro, Gudrun Sjoden, Rebecca Earley offered their perspectives on the issue. This post summarizes my thoughts after the event.
At my table, the question posed to the group was: Emotions make us buy, whilst feelings make us keep. How do we create fashion that has a chance not only to connect emotionally, and create attachment, but also to retain it?
This question made me think of my work as Collection Co-ordinator of the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. Each garment is imbued with the memory of its wearer, in the imprints of their body, in the stains and signs of wear in the textile and in the stories sometimes noted in the records and more often untold but still embedded in the folds. Garments offered for donation to a collection typically are ones that hold a special memory to the owner. They might have hung at the back of a closet for years before they are offered for donation.
You only need to ever handle an item of couture once to know that such items demonstrate enduring quality. Think of the Hermes Kelly bag or a Chanel jacket. These are not items that get tossed in the bin after a season, because they are classics, and made to endure. Buying such a thing represents an investment and involves a ceremony of purchase. In the past, there was also a deeper level of involvement in the making of a garment. Whether it was a visit to a couture house or a local tailor, acquiring a garment was a thoughtful process that had an element of ceremony, imbuing the piece with emotion and memory.
In contemporary society, consumers are divorced from the production process. Clothes have become commodities and the purchase of a garment can be an impulsive act. Getting something new for a single event is not uncommon, and that piece might only be worn once, after which it might be discarded and end up in a landfill. Fast fashion and the media fuel desire for the latest item and the result is long-term environmental damage from toxic production processes and post-consumer textile waste. It is estimated that over 21 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste gets dumped into US landfills each year (Eric Stubin, Chariman Council for Textile Recycling). If some of that could be diverted for reuse and up-cycling, this could have an enormous impact.
The idea of attachment and emotional connection to a garment encourages the wearer to retain that garment and to wear it beyond a fashion cycle. Engaging in thoughtful design is part of the solution, but is only part of the story. People need to make more thoughtful purchases and consider such options such as resale or swaps and the remaking or recycling of the garment. Some companies have already implemented such practices, with labels offering recycling information and facilitating sharing among communities of wearers. Hazel Clark referenced the slow food movement which equates closer ties to the producer and sensorial engagement with the product as a possible model for sustainable fashion.
But, there is no single prescription to the problem, because our economic model is driven by consumption. Fashion has become linked to entertainment, and people want to buy more than they need in order to fit in, to create an emotional lift, and/or to satisfy aspirational motives. The fashionable image, hyped by the media, has created an insatiable cycle of desire for change.
To date, sustainability has largely been presented in the media as a fringe issue when it actually is an issue that affects us all. The question is: can we really afford cheap things? The cost of an item at the register actually represents a very small piece of the “real” cost if the costs of disposal as well as the costs of human rights violations and environmental damage were factored into the price tag.
What is needed is a fundamental shift of values so that sustainability becomes a shared paradigm. This might seem like an unattainable goal, but there is a precedent. Smoking used to be cool, but over time, government policy, education and social censure have redefined smoking behavior. For a similar thing to happen with sustainability, there must be a fundamental shift in values. Our purchases must be considered in terms of their true costs to the community and to society as a whole. Such a paradigm shift requires collaboration between designers, producers, consumers, media, educators, and government. If I drew a visual map, this would take the form of a spider web with the values of sustainability at the core, and webs linking all the players in a shared goal to encourage thoughtful participation in the acts of producing and consuming fashion.
Sustainable fashion can embrace a cool and sexy vibe, but requires thoughtful and intelligent choices on the part of both the designer and the consumer. Sweden seems to be on the forefront of this issue by sponsoring this Design Boost event and the rest of the world should take note. Government policy can encourage and support our actions and education can help change value systems, but in the end, we each make choices and by making small steps towards better choices, we are all better off.
Some of the choices we can each make include:
1. Making more thoughtful purchases, looking for lasting quality and when possible, embracing designers who use sustainable practices. Some designers to consider include: Gudrun Sjoden www.gudrunsjoden.com, Preloved www.preloved.ca, and bodkinbrooklyn www.bodkinbrooklyn.com.
2. Washing clothes less often, using less detergent and hanging to dry when possible.
3. Repairing and remaking clothes. Sarah Scaturro of the Costume Institute of the Met, suggested fashion hacking as a way to “recreate” a designer piece.
4. Recycling all clothing, footwear and textiles, either through resale or donation to charities that support recycling initiatives (such as Goodwill). Do not throw clothing items into the garbage, even if they are torn or stained. Visit www.weardonaterecycle.org for more information on recycling your clothing.
During the course of the event, it was clear that fashion cares. One look around the room told me that embracing sustainability as a cause does not equate to frumpy and unfashionable. I think it is time to declare that sustainability is sexy.
Next Tuesday May 15 I will participate in a panel in conjunction with the exhibition “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Costume Institute. The panel Defining Chic: Then & Now is moderated by Julie Gilhart (fashion consultant) with Leandra Medine (The Man Repeller), Scott Schuman (The Sartorialist), and Lynn Yaeger (Vogue.com Contributing Editor).
One of the most directly relevant talks was by Harold Koda—curator-in-charge at the Costume Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art—who started his career assisting Diana Vreeland and spoke about how Vreeland brought a certain glamour and theatricalization to fashion exhibitions, often at the cost of historical accuracy. Koda, however, traced the ways curators (including himself) eventually engaged in the balancing act of retaining the dynamic quality of display and presentation brought forth by Vreeland’s approach while keeping historical accuracy in the way the garments were exhibited.
Another theme which transpired was the relation between the process of editing and curating, one which was obviously central to the proceedings, since Vreeland started consulting at the Costume Institute only after having been famously fired from Vogue, which she had glamorized in a similar vein.
The exhibition engaged in re-appropriating and re-interpreting Vreeland’s curatorial innovations. Frisa said the idea for the title came to her while visiting Sherry Levine’s exhibition in New York, as it is—as the title suggests—a very reflective exhibition: an exhibition about exhibition-making. Among Vreeland’s curatorial vocabulary that the exhibition decoded and recoded was her love for armor, and for horses—boldly presented at Palazzo Fortuny by a horse covered in toile. Another visually engaging re-appropriation of Vreeland’s vocabulary was her use of tights or elaborate wigs to cover the mannequins’ heads.
Among the most interesting point which Judith Clark made in relation to the relationship between exhibitions and magazines was the idea that in the context of a magazine you can play with proportion and dramatize a detail of a dress simply through close-up, whereas in the context of an exhibition you have to do it through lights or props—something Vreeland certainly mastered. Another idea which places on a continuum Vreeland’s work as consultant for the Costume Institute and of editor was the fact that meaning is not always best communicated through the gown itself—something which is certainly true for fashion photography.
Drawing a parallel between the Met’s Costume Institute and the Victoria and Albert Museum, Amy de la Hay brought an interesting and very little known example of an early take on dynamic and dramatic fashion exhibitions, which predated Vreeland: The 1969 “Fashion: An Anthology,” curated by Cecil Beaton. Once again equating magazines to exhibitions, de la Hay pointed out how fashion exhibitions became more dynamic and less static at the same time fashion photography did. Equally fascinating was Alexandra Palmer’s discussion of the early curators at the Costume Institute: Polaire Weissman, and later, Stella Blum. Blum was the curator while Vreeland consulted for the Institute, and Palmer discussed Blum’s difficult job of negotiating between Vreeland’s input and her own role as curator.
I am incredibly excited to having been invited to participate to the symposium “The Discipline of Fashion between the Museum and Curating,” which will take in place in Venice on March 10, and promises to be one of the most interesting and wide-ranging symposium to have ever been organized on the topic
The symposium coincides with the opening of the exhibition “Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland” curated by Judith Clark and Maria Luisa Frisa at Palazzo Fortuny, which will be on view from March 10 to June 25, 2012.
“Organized by the Università Iuav di Venezia and the London College of Fashion (University of the Arts London) in collaboration with the Centre for Fashion Studies (Stockholm University), the symposium aims to discuss the evolving discipline of fashion curating, and brings together prominent voices from the field. The conference will use Diana Vreeland’s exhibitions and experience as Special Consultant to The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (1972-1989) as a starting point from which articulate reflections on the relationships between fashion, exhibitions and museums.
Specialist panel sessions will focus on Diana Vreeland’s legacy and the principal themes brought forth by her work at the Costume Institute including: the display of fashion in museums; the definition of fashion exhibition and the relation between fashion curating and exhibition making; the relationship between the roles of fashion curator and fashion editor; the role of fashion curating in academia.”
Among the many notable speakers are Harold Koda, Akiko Fukai, Alexandra Palmer, Kaat Debo, Mario Lupano and Stefano Tonchi. My contribution will be to a panel titled “Fashion Curation & Academia: New Insights,” which is chaired by Louise Wallenberg, Director of the Centre for Fashion Studies, Stockholm University and Marco Pecorari also from the Centre for Fashion Studies.
Below are some installation photos at Palazzo Fortuny. More to come…
Miniabito con dischi e frange in plastica gialla, Paco Rabanne, seconda metà anni sessanta; Soprabito in seta ricamata, Chanel, etichetta “Cannes-31 Rue Cambon-Paris-Biarritz”, n. 5046, anni venti (appartenuto a Eleonora Duse). Estate of Simone Valsecchi ARCHI-V-E
This Thursday, January 26, I am giving a talk titled “Fashioning the Grotesque Body,” at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, in which I will discuss the work of Leigh Bowery and Rei Kawakubo. The talk, which is taking place in conjunction with the exhibition Textility, is free and open to the public. Below is some more information on the center and the talk:
“The Visual Arts Center of New Jersey will feature Francesca Granata, ADHT Professor of Fashion Studies, in their Spring 2012 season of Thursday Evening Salon Series on January 26. The series, now in its fifth season, functions as a forum for current topics in the arts, humanities and the social sciences with artists, curators, philosophers and writers.
Dr. Granata’s discussion, called “Fashioning the Grotesque Body,” will focus on the proliferation of grotesque images of the body within contemporary fashion and will explore the link between art and fashion through the work of experimental designer Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons to the designer and performance artist Leigh Bowery.”
Thursday Evening Salon Series
Visual Arts Center of New Jersey
Spring 2012 Season: January 12-May 17
68 Elm Street, Summit, NJ
Free to the public. Seating is limited and reservations are required.
Red Babydoll dress. Jeremy Scott, fall 2009, Photo courtesy of the Jeremy Scott Studio.
I am happy to announce that students at NYU Steinhardt’s Visual Culture: Costume Studies Program (some of whom I have taught in the past), in collaboration with Shannon Bell-Price (Associate Research Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute), have curated an exhibition of contemporary fashion designs. Titled “Imprint (NYC): The Evolution of Motifs in Fashion,” it opens January 12.
“Polka-dots, stripes, camouflage, novelty/conversational prints, houndstooth, plaid, animal prints, and “digital rococo” will all be represented in Imprint (NYC) by current and emerging designers from the New York metropolitan area including Thom Browne, Norma Kamali, Diane von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, Jeremy Scott, Anna Sui, and Jason Wu.”
The exhibition, which runs through February 4 at NYU Rosenberg Gallery, explores the critical history, potent symbolism, and iconic contemporary use of popular motifs in fashion. Imprint (NYC) will have an opening reception Thursday, January 12 from 6 to 8pm. An exhibition symposium will be held Wednesday, January 25 from 6 to 8pm. (preceded by a reception at 5pm). The Rosenberg Gallery is located in NYU’s Barney Building, 34 Stuyvesant St. (between Second and Third Avenues). The exhibition is free and open to the public. Gallery hours: Wednesday through Saturday, 2 to 8pm; Sunday noon to 6pm.
An exciting conference in the field of Fashion Studies is taking place in Milan from June 7 to 9 at the Universita` Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, The conference is organized by Modacult (Centro per lo studio della moda e della produzione culturale.) Abstract are due November 30th!
Since its beginnings in the middle of the XIX century, fashion has been narrated through multiple media, both visual as well as verbal, and for different purposes such as marketing and advertising, art, costume history, social research and cultural dissemination. At the same time, fashion has worked as an important piece of material culture in the modern industrial urban societies: artifacts that embody workmanship, tastes, lifestyles etc. Fashion, namely, has always been both material and intangible, a system of material production and a system of signs. It has always involved differently skilled people whose purposes have often been divergent and barely overlapping. And the same has happened also with fashion events, tales and writings, i. e. the narrative representations of fashion. Media professionals, communication and marketing consultants, academic scholars and curators develop discourses, use similar languages, try to sometimes work together, comparing and sharing jargons and methodologies, in order to create their products: art exhibitions, catwalks, photo books, movies, magazines, ads, blogs, scientific essays and interviews etc. These tales are a part of fashion imaginary, as well as of collections.
Fashion Projects began in New York in 2004, with the aim to create a platform to highlight the importance of fashion — especially “experimental” fashion — within current critical discourses. Through interviews with a range of artists, designers, writers and curators, as well as through other planned projects and exhibits, we hope to foster a dialogue between theory and practice across disciplines.
We are primarily a print journal, however we also publish web-based updates and interviews (a “digest” version of which you can receive by signing up to our mailing list or via our RSS feed) and are currently working on exhibits based on past and future issues. To order any of our issues visit our ordering page.
We are a nonprofit organization, which has previously received grants from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
We are currently a sponsored project by the New York Foundation of the Arts, a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization. Contributions on behalf of Fashion Projects can be made payable to the “New York Foundation of the Arts,” and are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by the law. For more information please don’t hesitate to contact us.
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