Fashion Interpretations: Dress, Medium & Meaning

Lead Research Organisation: Courtauld Institute Of Art
Department Name: History of Art


This international, interdisciplinary network focuses on the ways modern and contemporary fashion is continually reinterpreted through varied mediums, to gain insight into the ways representational modes translate and reconfigure the meaning of fashion itself. Through a series of events and a publication, it brings together academics, curators, stylists, editors, illustrators and artists to examine their own practice and reflect on case studies from the past.
Fashion history and theory rarely considers the importance of media and how drawings, photographs and exhibitions, for example, each re-articulate representation and reception of designed objects. This is a transitional moment within fashion interpretations, as digital media have provided greater access than ever to photographs and film of dress, while simultaneously aiding the revival of its more traditional rendition as illustration. In the past few years platforms such as Instagram have radically altered the way media are seen, and evened out differences by placing them all on a screen. In so doing, fashion brands and consumers have altered their expectations of what fashion is, can be and how its representation impacts its reception.
This network unites academics with practitioners to enable interrogation of the ways fashion is transformed by its varied iterations. Its focus is on representational forms, that is, what happens once a garment enters the network of media in which it is interpreted for a wider public, whether magazine readers, gallery visitors, or Instagram viewers. It develops greater understanding of fashion as visual and material culture, and builds upon the strengths of the co-investigators and their respective institutions. In so doing, it considers the ways shifts in mediums used, for example the change from illustration to photography, were facilitated by technology, for example, printing capabilities and digital media, but also connect with perceptual changes in the way viewers and consumers look at fashion, and perceive its meanings.
The inclusion of academics from different disciplines - fashion, art, and film historians, as well as literature enables the project to bring varied approaches to bear on its key questions, and encourages cross pollination of ideas. Each participant will represent and reflect upon different ways to write about fashion mediums, and enhance current understanding of this area. Curators add a three-dimensional awareness, through visual and material comprehension of meanings within space and a consideration of audiences within their interrogation of the network's theme. These disciplinary concerns are further extended by the inclusion of illustrators and artists who themselves work in varied mediums, to explore their own practice and its relationship to that of academics and curators. By working with an editor and a stylist, in part to create a medium in which to situate the network's outcomes, the project creates a meta interpretation of fashion mediums, transforming the writing and imagery participants produce into a magazine.
Together the participants provide expertise in communicating and rendering fashion in varied mediums themselves - from the academic article, to Instagram posts of drawings and reinterpretations of clothes through styling and curatorial choices - this network provides a forum to engage with each other's practice, discuss work in progress and examine common themes and resonances.

Planned Impact

This project will create a long term, sustainable network of academics, curators and practitioners focused on the impact of medium on fashion's meanings. It will provide the foundation to investigate approaches and interconnections between interdisciplinary, international participants to identify common methods and potential collaborations to be explored in a larger international project. The partner institutions will therefore be impacted by the network, as will the international institutions of the participants.
The artists and curators involved in the network will be impacted by their participation and discussions with academics, and this impact will in turn be felt by the audiences to their work.
The scholarly work produced by the PI, CI and other participants will impact their subject areas - fashion, art, film histories and curation studies - and will suggest a change in the ways fashion can be understood, analysed and represented.
The network's digital outputs are central to its work, and will have international impact given the status of the artists involved; there will be considerable impact on their audiences too, and on the fashion and arts media which will impact specialist and general audiences.
The network will impact national and international fashion studies in its broadest terms, since it sets out to question the highly contemporary question of how changes in medium impact what is one of the largest global industries, and leader of digital content.


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