New Journal: International Journal of Fashion Studies

The first issue of the International Journal of Fashion Studies was recently published. Edited by Emanuela Mora (Università Cattolica di Milano), Agnès Rocamora
 (London College of Fashion) and Paolo Volonté (Politecnico di Milano), it presents an innovative publishing model, by allowing articles to be submitted and peer-reviewed in a number of languages besides English. This approach acknowledges the scope and geographical breadth of the field and allows for a greater range of scholarship to be widely read, as the accepted articles are translated and published in English—which has become (for better or worse) the lingua franca of academia.

The first issue presents a diversity of approaches fully aware of the complexity and multi-disciplinarity of fashion studies. A few years back, I wrote an article on the topic for Fashion Theory, and thus found the introduction co-written by Mora, Rocamora and Volonté particularly interesting and an important addition to these discussions. Among other topics, the introduction makes evident the anglo-phone bias of the field (not unlike most academic fields) and calls for a post-colonial fashion studies.

The issue is a beginning toward the fulfillment of that wish with a number of contributions from Latin America alongside those from the U.K., Finland, the U.S., France and New Zealand.

To find out more, you can read the first issue, free of charge, on the Intellect site

Francesca Granata

Titania Inglis: Fade From Green

By Sarah Scaturro

A favorite look from Titania Inglis' F/W 2012 collection.  Photographer: Dan Lecca

Fashion Projects has been a fan of Titania Inglis ever since she launched her eponymous label a few years ago, so it was such great news to hear that she had won the 2012 Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award for Sustainable Design.  While I initially thought of Inglis as an "eco" designer, it quickly became apparent that the term "eco" was simply too reductive for her design philosophy. For her, sustainability is not a gimmick, or just about sourcing yet another ecotextile. Rather, she is moving towards a concept of sustainability that emphasizes longevity, quality, and thoughtfulness.  We are very pleased to present this interview with Inglis, coming on the heels of her recent F/W 2012 fashion presentation at Eyebeam.

Fashion Projects: Congratulations on your recent Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award for Sustainable Design.  How has winning the award affected your business?

Titania Inglis: Thank you! Receiving the Ecco Domani award is such a dream come true — I didn’t believe it at first when I received the email telling me I’d won. It’s opened a lot of doors for me already within the fashion industry, and I was able to put together an incredible team for my show this season, including stylist Christian Stroble, makeup artist Lisa Aharon and hairstylist Ramona Eschbach, photographer Aliya Naumoff, set designer Ryan Crozier of Forgotten City — and collaborating on a series of leather body accessories with Bliss Lau, a designer whose innovative work I’ve admired for years.

Inglis making adjustments before her F/W 2012 presentation begins. Photographer: Georgina Southen

Your F/W 2012 collection presented a very cohesive vision, with a strong design vocabulary.  Having followed your work ever since you began designing, I’ve noticed that you’ve developed signature elements. Your garments exhibit a strong affinity for geometry, asymmetry, and minimalism and you also create an unexpected sense of architectural space through your precise pattern-cutting and juxtaposition of rigid and supple fabrics. Can you explain a little bit about your inspirations, techniques and processes? Where did you hone your skills?

My father is an architect, so I grew up steeped in his lessons about architectural movements and polyhedra. As a math major in college, I was fascinated by topology, which studies surfaces and transformations — and I see fashion in much the same way: a transformation of two-dimensional fabric into three-dimensional forms, but forms that interact with the wearer’s body and personal style, and at the same time reference fashion history. Or to put it in less-nerdy terms, I find it magical to be able to go from a flat piece of fabric and a flat paper pattern, to an empty garment on a hanger, to a dress absolutely coming to life when its owner puts it on and imbues it with her personality.

I studied industrial design at California College of the Arts in San Francisco; conceptual design at Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands; and fashion design at FIT. I learned my patternmaking skills from Prof. Evan Blackman, the outstanding menswear department head there, and through internships at Jean Yu and Threeasfour, both designers I loved for their ingenious and endlessly creative patternmaking.

One of Inglis' amazing coats from her F/W 2012 collection.  Photographer: Dan Lecca

You continue to revisit designs, like your circle skirt, from previous seasons.  Is there a reason for this? I personally think that by doing so you are reinforcing the well-designed, thoughtful process behind your clothing – they are so well-made, and “beyond” fashion that they don’t seem to go out of style.

I find that the most stylish women are those who sharply define their personal look and keep it over time, perhaps evolving gradually to stay current, but not changing constantly with the trends. I see my collection in the same light: adding interest from season to season in the form of new colors, patterns, and fabrications, while always retaining its underlying character. And part of that consistency lies in creating signature pieces that carry over from season to season.

Another advantage of bringing designs back is that it allows me the chance to refine them a little each season, as well as to experiment with different fabrications over time. I’ve discovered that my architectural silhouettes tend to work quite well in rigid as well as soft, drapey fabrics, and I love to discover them anew each time I source new fabrics.

Backstage at Titania Inglis' F/W 2012 presentation.  Photographer: Aliya Naumoff

A look from Titania Inglis' F/W 2012 collection.  Photographer: Aliya Naumoff

We often talk about the state of the eco-fashion movement in NYC.  One minute we’re exhilarated about all the new things that are happening, and the next minute we bemoan the fact that it seems like such a small world, where everyone knows everyone and we’re all preaching to the same choir.  Do you think the fact that you are considered an “eco” designer actually helps or hinders you?  Do you ever feel marginalized or misunderstood due to having the “eco” tag attached to you?

To be honest, at this point, the word “eco” really makes me shudder. It’s been so overused that it’s come to represent a marketing gimmick rather than a serious philosophy of doing business, and I wish we could just retire it. I prefer to describe my work as thoughtful design, taking into consideration all the cradle-to-grave implications of each design decision, from the origins of the fabric I’m using to the future use and care of the garment. Ultimately, I believe that a beautifully designed and manufactured garment is the most sustainable thing to make: a piece striking enough to stand out in the here and now, yet classically proportioned and so well-made that its owner will want to wear it for a lifetime.

The most difficult challenge in designing sustainably is finding low-impact fabrics that are high quality and that fit with my clean, androgynous aesthetic. I’ve already traveled to London and Tokyo to source gorgeous organic fabrics, and scoured the New York garment district for dead stock options. And I’ve found some beautiful ones, but the more I search, the more I realize that the production process of the fabric is less important than beautiful craftsmanship and quality that will wear well over time. Taking the long view, production is only one part of the garment’s life cycle. If a fabric is made from organic wool, but pills and wears out almost instantly, then the fact that the farmer polluted less in raising the sheep is completely outweighed by the fact that the end product is quickly headed for the dumpster.

Another difficulty with sustainable design is people’s narrow interpretation of what that means. It’s not possible to design anything to be 100% perfectly sustainable; we all have to choose our battles. Some designers choose to use local production, others organic fabrics, others yet use zero-waste cutting techniques. I’ve had people question my use of leather; but as a lifelong meat eater, I’m happy that the skin from the animals we slaughter is used to make something beautiful. Leather exists mainly as a byproduct of the meat industry, and it’s a beautiful, supple, and long-lasting material that perfectly showcases my simple, architectural designs.

Set design for F/W 2012 presentation. Photographer: Georgina Southen

You've been collaborating quite a bit lately, with people like Bliss Lau and Christian Stroble, and organizations like the Textile Arts Center.  Do you have any other dream collaborators you'd like to work with?

Working with Bliss and Christian this season was an absolute dream; in addition to having very strong fashion visions, they’re both incredibly smart and resourceful and really mentored me through the whole process of organizing a show and creating a larger collection. I’d never worked with a stylist before and was a bit hesitant to let somebody else impose their vision on my work, but Christian’s input really helped take the collection to the next level.

One of my favorite parts of running this line is collaborating with performers in other creative fields. My first season I choreographed a video with three Merce Cunningham dancers, and for last fall’s video I worked with a trapeze artist. Next up, I’d love to collaborate with a musician: There are so many dynamic, inspiring women in rock these days, from Alison Mosshart to Lykke Li to the Dum Dum Girls, and it’d be amazing to see them wearing my clothes!

What is next in store for you?

After all the excitement of the award and last week’s show, I’m taking it easy and waiting to see how sales go before I decide what to do next. Of course, taking it easy is relative; I’m also getting ready for sales, ramping up spring production, and in the back of my mind, starting to plan out the Spring 2013 collection and how I’d like to present it. I already have a couple of favorite new fabrics squirreled away that I’m dying to see made up in some nice architectural shapes. And I’d love to do a shoe collaboration next season...

Photographer: Georgina Southen

Fashion Projects and Other News

by Francesca Granata

This upcoming fall, I will be starting a new post at Parsons the New School for Design as Assistant Professor in the School of Art and Design History and Theory.

If anyone is interested in finding out more about the school, its faculty and their impressive new MA Fashion Studies program, please visit the school’s and program’s sites respectively.

Additionally, Fashion Projects is thrilled to announce that our new print issue -- on the topic of fashion criticism -- is underway. It will feature interviews with Suzy Menkes, Robin Givhan, Judith Thurman and many others…so please stay tuned!

Recent Fashion Exhibitions in Paris

"Madame Grès, la couture à l'oeuvre,” at the Musée Bourdelle, photo by Laura McLaws Helms

by Laura McLaws Helms

While fashion is often viewed as a lesser art, used by museums to draw in a broader range of visitors, recent exhibitions in Paris have illustrated the vastly different ways costume can be looked at in regards to its place in society. Of them, the exhibition “Madame Grès, la couture à l'oeuvre,” at the Musée Bourdelle (till July 24th), covers the most traditional view of fashion history - a retrospective on a single couturier. Conversely, “L'Orient des femmes vu par Christian Lacroix” at the Musée du Quai Branly and “Les années 1990-2000” at the Musée de La Mode et du Textile in the Musée des Arts décoratifs are focused on aspects of dress history that are commonly overlooked, and when viewed together allow for a more varied understanding of costume.

The ongoing renovations of the Musée Galliera have left Paris without a museum expressly devoted to fashion, but provided its curators with the opportunity to stage a fashion exhibition amongst the sculpture of the Musée Bourdelle, the first time a multi-disciplinary show has been done there. The high quality work of Grès’ dresses, many of which can be closely analyzed, is a remnant from a past world - a fact which is further emphasized when compared with "Les années 1990-2000" organized by Musée de La Mode et du Textile (which closed May 8th). The second half of their ‘Histoire idéale de la mode contemporaine,’ the designers and looks chosen were the very apotheosis of Grès’ inimitable classicism.

Azzedine Alaia exhibited in “Les années 1990-2000” at the Musée de La Mode et du Textile in the Musée des Arts décoratifs, photo by Laura McLaws Helms

Opening with Margiela and the Belgians, the two floors of the exhibition were a rabbit warren of glass boxes filled with mostly prêt-a-porter outfits that bare little in common with the stately chic of Grès. The work of the thirty designers on view revealed the unquestionable influence of street style on contemporary fashion, with disparate ideas from grunge, punk and goth all making appearances. The diverseness of the looks on view (Lacroix’s gaudy couture vs. Miyake’s architectural pleated forms) made for an enjoyable exhibition, though one that at times seems too have been organized too soon — Lanvin RTW cocktail dresses two years out of the stores appear more ridiculous than prescient in the context of a museum. It is always difficult to truly analyze trends as they occur from a historical point of view, and the constructed tableaux often drew directly from the runway videos, emphasizing the seemingly unbreakable bonds between the garments and their mediated visions.

Prada exhibited in “Les années 1990-2000” at the Musée de La Mode et du Textile in the Musée des Arts décoratifs, photo by Laura McLaws Helms

In sharp contrast to the Parisian high fashion focus on those exhibitions (all of the designers at MAD primarily show there), “Women of the Orient” (February 8- May 15) was a woven and embroidered journey through the Middle East. Beginning with a map, this factual analysis of the traditional garments of Syria, Jordan, Palestine and the Sinai desert was concerned with form and the craftsmanship. Though curated by Hana Al Banna-Chidiac, an eminent scholar of Middle Eastern textiles, this exhibition was the idea of Christian Lacroix, who following the closure of his couture house has found himself able to indulge his other passions, including a fascination with ‘Oriental’ dress dating to childhood. The heavily embroidered garments, layered and topped with jangling beads and coins impacted his design work, and Lacroix saw these women as “both witnesses and actresses in a contemporary history, which they lived through with their rebellious elegance, their cuts, their shapes, their traditions, their motives, their embroidery.” Viewed as a celebration of disappearing art forms and cultures, this exhibition was peerless in drawing together truly exceptional examples of native cultural dress. At a time when France has banned the wearing of the burqa in public, a display case of intricately embellished versions is of cultural import. The problems with this show rest more on a lack of editing and a failure in the design — apparently faced with choosing between many fine pieces they went with all of them, placing one behind another on sloping platforms meant to represent the jagged topography of the region. Hung flat to draw attention to the lack of tailoring, it was often difficult to see the dimly lit robes in back.

"L'Orient des femmes vu par Christian Lacroix” at the Musée du Quai Branly, photo by Laura McLaws Helms

While the garments in these exhibitions are examples of three different types of manufacture — haute couture, high end ready-to-wear and traditional handcrafts — they can be seen as symbolic of the constantly ebbing flows of fashion in France and the rest of the world. The handwork that is a requirement of haute couture and of traditional ethnic clothes has increasingly become unnecessary, replaced by many of the same manufacturing processes found in prêt-a-porter, yet the continued interest in these types of work, through exhibitions such as these, aids in their continuing relevance and influence.

Unravelling Knitwear in Fashion

Sandra Backlund, Collection ‘Body, skin and hair’ (c) Photography: Johan Renck, Stylist Ellen Af Geijerstam

by Sarah Scaturro

I first met Karen Van Godtsenhoven when I was in Brussels last fall giving a lecture as the keynote speaker at the Camouflage Takes Center Stage conference at the Royal Military Museum.  She gave a wonderful presentation on camouflage in Belgian fashion - it was quite hilarious to watch all of the stiff military personnel (mostly men) chuckle uncomfortably as she showed a video of Bernard Willhelm's Spring/Summer 2004 presentation parodying the US military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in which partially-clothed men walked out of a closet (literally) wearing camouflage and face paint and then proceeded to irreverently jump on a couch (see the video at the bottom of this post).

Van Godtsenhoven is a relatively new fashion curator with a promising future - "Unravel," the exhibition on view now at Momu, is the first time she has taken the helm as lead curator (along with the guest curator Emmanuelle Dirix, a lecturer at Central Saint Martins and Antwerp Fashion Academy.)  Following is an interview in which she talks about why she chose to dissect knitwear in fashion, what some of the challenges were in mounting an exhibition on this topic, and who she thinks some of the best knitwear designers are today. Her upcoming projects include exhibitions about Nudie Cohn and Walter Van Beirendock.

Fashion Projects: What inspired you to curate a show about knitwear in fashion?

Van Godtsenhoven: It's been a favorite subject and fascination of ours here for years. It was literally a research file ‘in the cupboard’ waiting to come out. With the current vogue for knitwear with young designers, but also the popularity of knitting within the wider public (think knitting cafés,, guerrilla knitting), we thought it was the right time for the subject to come out of the closet.

Unravel Installation,  MoMu, Antwerp, Photo: Frederik Vercruysse

You selected a mix of historical and contemporary pieces - besides the actual structure of the garments (non-woven, single element) did you find any surprising similarities or differences in how knitwear was used in the past as compared with today?

Yes, the changing status of knitwear in fashion is a subject of endless study possibilities. Whereas we see knitwear emerging very early on as a kind of handmade utility garment (related with warmth, hygiene and sturdiness - this element is still with us today), machine knitting is also a very old technique (16th century, long before the industrial revolution), which was very technologically advanced and resulted in very fine gauze- like materials. There are a few dresses and jackets in the show from the 17th, 18th and 19th century, of which many visitors cannot believe that they are knitted, the same goes for many of the 19th century socks: they are embellished and knitted so finely it looks like embroidery or lace. So, before the industrial revolution, machine knitting was considered high-class. Now we see an opposite appreciation: handmade goods are more costly than machine made ones.

There are many continuing ideas about knitwear (jersey is still used for sportswear, handmade goods are still associated with the domestic sphere and now also the DIY movement), but the short history of knitwear in fashion shows that there have been many (r)evolutions: from underwear and swimwear to Chanel’s jersey dresses and marine sweaters, to Schiaparelli and Patou’s abstract motifs, to the knitted A line dresses in the sixties, as a result of the sexual revolution, and the deconstructed 1990s knitwear that had its origins in the 1970s punk movement. Knitwear has always gone with the waves of society, and that makes it very interesting. I think the so called ‘revival’ (whilst knitwear has never really been away from the catwalk) of knitwear these days can be linked to heightened ecological awareness and a longing for handmade and body-hugging goods, and I'm curious in which form it will come back in the future.

Bathing suit by Elsa Schiaparelli, ca. 1928 (c) Condé Nast Archive/CORBIS

Were there any challenges to exhibiting knitwear pieces, especially due to conservation issues?

Yes, both the heavy and voluminous pieces, as well as the fine gauze-like knits weigh themselves down under their own weight: knitwear is a more ‘open’ material than a woven cloth and will hence open up even more when hanging. This is a risk for skirts and dresses stretching, or growing longer up to 40 cm in the 5 months they are on show.

We covered the busts and mannequins with a fine jersey, which ‘clings’ well to the knitted silhouettes and keeps the pieces in place - we also provided waist and hip supports for the dresses. The very frail pieces are displayed flat in cases. Knitwear is really always best kept flat...I've learned this from my own experience!

Tilda Swinton for Sandra Backlund. Published in Another Magazine, Autumn 2009 (c) Photography by Craig McDean, Styling by Panos Yiapanis

What are your favorite objects in the exhibition? Were there any objects you wanted but couldn't obtain?

I have to say that my favorites change often, but amongst the returning are: the four sweaters by Elsa Schiaparelli, the 3D silhouette by Sandra Backlund (made out of four different experimental dresses), and the knitted metal sweater by Ann Demeulemeester - it may sound like a punk outfit but it’s actually more like a very delicate jewel when you see it.

Oh, and maybe also the knitted boliersuit and miniskirt by Courrèges!

We were very sorry not to be able to get the sweater with holes (1982) by Comme des Garçons as it went missing, since it’s such a seminal piece for knitwear in high fashion - it completely changed our view on the formless in fashion, and regarding knitwear, to the ‘un-knitted’. In the title group ‘Unravel’ you see the evolution of how ‘waste’ (punk sweaters with holes, knitted in glaring colors) became fashion (Comme des Garçons, and many Belgian designers like Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester, Raf Simons) and is now hugely popular (Mark fast, Rodarte).

You included new avant-guarde designers like Sandra Backlund and Mark Fast.  Who are some other emerging knitwear designers that we should keep an eye out for?

Good question, there are so many! I like Sandra Backlund and Mark Fast because of the very personal and highly different ways they treat knitwear. I also think Craig Lawrence, Kevin Kramp (menswear), Christian Wijnants (Belgian) and Iben Höj (from Denmark) all have very interesting, personal styles. Some come up with highly structured, sculptural pieces in raw wool, others treat the knitting process as something as delicate as lace making, others experiment with materials unheard of (fur, metal, rope), it is very exciting to watch these new talents.

Kevin Kramp A/W 2009-2010 (c) 2009 ACM Photography + Kevin Kramp

What do you think of the emergence of subversive knitting and yarn-bombing?

I really like it and think it is a very positive kind of urban ‘graffiti’ and shared engagement with the urban environment. We also had a small guerrilla action here around the museum as well with knitters from Brussels who ‘protest’ against ugly buildings or city furniture by covering them in knitted plastic wraps (waste instead of a more noble material like wool). We got a lot of response to the call and it was really great to see the more routined artists from Brussels working together with the Antwerp volunteers. The police came by and said they thought it was ugly, but that was ok for the knitters, as they were actually showing the ugliness of some city sights by covering them in knitwear. It was not a very subversive or artistic act but a very fun process; what struck me is that knitting is really a social activity these days, more so than sewing, pattern cutting or other fashionable hobbies, it is something that can be done whilst talking and seeing your friends.

******* Bernard Willhelm's Spring/Summer 2004 Presentation (courtesy of Karen Van Godtsenhoven)

Bernard Willhelm SS 2004 from Sarah Scaturro on Vimeo.