Department of Art and Art Professions

Master of Arts in Visual Culture: Costume Studies

Presentation Titles

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(Last updated on Tuesday, May 1 at 3:15pm.)

Karen Trivette Cannell, MLS
Asst. Prof., Head of Special Collections and FIT Archives
Gladys Marcus Library  | Goodman Resource Center
Fashion Institute of Technology – SUNY
When it comes to Fashion Studies today – whether the focus is on points of history, theory, or practice – original scholarship is the foundation of the field’s credibility and longevity. In this presentation, I will introduce attendees to the Department of Special Collections and FIT Archives’ holdings of rare, and mostly unique material, which are, in and of themselves, the foundation for original scholarship. I will address the various measures used to evaluate resources for their suitability vis-à-vis acquisition, accession, and preservation; highlight the myriad formats found in the collections; and share specific, actual examples of holdings that make the Department of Special Collections and FIT Archives deserving of its special status. Attendees are encouraged to explore the various fashion-related curricula at the Fashion Institute of Technology (http://www.fitnyc.edu/33.asp), which drive much of the department’s collection development policy and practice, and the Department of Special Collections and FIT Archives’ web site (http://www.fitnyc.edu/library/sparc) ahead of the presentation.

Jill Cole

Graduate Center, CUNY
Himba in the Mix: The catwalk politics of culture in postcolonial Namibia
In 2010, the Franco Namibian Cultural Center (FNCC) and the National Arts Council of Namibia sponsored a photography exhibit and fashion show in the capital city of Windhoek entitled “Himba in the Mix”. The event was organized with the stated goal of countering the “consistent life threatening pressure” being exerted by the forces of globalization upon the Ovahimba people, who are one of ten ethnic groups indigenous to the Southern African nation of Namibia.

In this paper, I use the Himba in the Mix fashion show to illustrate the unexpected ways in which fashion and beauty take on political dimensions in the context of Namibia’s transition to democracy. By animating notions of culture and gender, discourses surrounding the fashion show reveal anxieties over the meanings of ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’, as well as the stakes of such meanings in a local economy that is increasingly invested in cultural tourism. Through the analysis of travel literature and documentary film, I demonstrate how a female aesthetic has come to dominate representations of the Himba, and suggest that this tendency is taken up by the organizers of the fashion show through the very deployment of the medium of fashion. In this way, I aim to broaden understandings of the political potential of the catwalk, beyond an emphasis on its structure as an aesthetic performance, and towards an understanding of its use as a technology of identity in the context of globalization.

Grazia D’Annunzio
New York Special Project Editor, Edizioni Conde Nast
“I ALWAYS START WITH THE CHARACTER FROM THE SHOES UP” (Laurence Olivier) The Function of Costumes in Hollywood Movies

From Adrian to Edith Head, from Ann Roth to Milena Canonero, costume designers have always played a pivotal role in cinema story-telling.  This paper will explore these masters designers’ ability to develop stories and characters . The paper will also assess their contribution to popularizing fashion trends and creating the glamorous image of many stars.  Period movies will be analyzed, with emphasis given to the outfits created by the Oscar nominated Arianne Phillips for Madonna’s latest movie “W.E”.

Joanne Entwistle
, Kings College London
Don Slater, London School of Economics
Models as brands: critical thinking about bodies and images

This paper critiques conventional ways in which images of models are framed within popular and academic debate and aims to rethink our relationship to such images and their effects. Models are already the object of considerable academic and popular concern (for example articles and books by Bordo 2003; Mears 2011; Wolf 1990), largely framed in terms of either (or both) the vulnerability of the model’s body (anorexia, sexual exploitation, commodification) or the vulnerability of (particularly female) viewers to the ‘impact’ of the images models appear in. We contend that the intense focus on model images and the effects of such images may not be the best way of getting to grips with the socio-political significance and consequences of models.

 Models, we argue, are complex objects whose meanings are actively constituted in multiple locations. They are also objects widely dispersed so that the meaning of the model is never captured in any one location so meaning cannot be reduced to the real body of the model, or to the surface of the text/image, or to the various investments made in images through media commentaries or readings. Thus, models can be considered like brands in the way that Lury (2004, 2009) has argued, as event and as interface, which focuses our attention on the way in which the model’s look is assembled across a range of different practices. Once we begin to think about models in this way, in terms of multiple locations – from model agency, to fashion magazine, and reader engagement, the distinctions between real/representation, material/immaterial break down and we can begin to think about models and their ‘influence’ in more complex and comprehensive ways.

Francesca Granata
Fashion Studies: Points of Connections
Starting with my doctoral thesis as an example, this paper highlights the need for the inclusion of theories and methods from a number of disciplines and fields of studies when writing about fashion, and the challenges inherent in synthetizing such a wide variety of approaches and bodies of knowledge. Mirroring my doctoral thesis, The Bakhtinian Grotesque in Fashion at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century, the paper focuses on fashion studies’ intersection with material culture, visual culture, as well as performance studies and film studies. Finally, it opens up for further discussion the question of whether fashion studies is, in fact, developing from a field of interdisciplinary studies, as defined by Fashion Theory—the leading journal in the field—into a self-standing discipline, and what the potential benefits and drawbacks of such a transformation might be.

Jessamyn Hatcher

Global Liberal Studies
New York University
Human-Textile Wellness Initiative: A Report

This paper is a report on a new project I’ve begun at NYU that I’m calling a “Human-Textile Wellness Center.” The initiative is part of a larger ethnographic and philosophical study of the least examined parts of the life cycle of clothing: wear, storage, discard, and informal clothing economies. Grounded in an emerging branch of philosophy called “vibrant materialism,” the foundational premise of the project is that there are no autonomous human subjects, no “beings qua beings.” There are only people on “life support” (Peter Sloterdijk’s phrase in this context), whose habitats, sources of food, hormones, biology, atmospheres, medicine, transportation—and clothing--are as vital to human survival as the space suit is to the cosmonaut. From the perspective of vibrant materialism, part of what might constitute “green fashion” isn’t merely sourcing materials differently, or even discarding clothing in the recycling bin. It’s working on our relationships with materiality; it’s countenancing how people and things are involved in “mutual relationships of attachment, entanglement, dependence, and care.”

The Human-Textile Wellness Initiative functions both as a research laboratory and as a wellness clinic for people-clothing relationships. One of the projects of the Wellness Initiative, for instance, explores the critical issue of textile waste. Among the new geological formations of the anthropocene are the piles of used clothing blanketing the earth. 506,000 tons in California in 2008, a 53% increase since 1999. 92,000 tons of textiles abandoned in landfills in Hong Kong in 2009, 71 percent originating from domestic sources. 190,000 tons of textiles in NYC landfills in 2008. 1,836 pounds of clothing collected the same year during move out from NYU’s Mercer and D’Agostino dormitories alone. Currently, there are no good solutions to clothing disposal, whether landfill or Goodwill. In landfills, textiles use up space, contribute significantly to methane emissions, and to the toxicity of groundwater. Clothing given to charitable organizations can breed its own forms of toxicity. Most donated clothes are baled, compressed into half-ton bricks, and sold to companies for export to the global south, where the clothes have profound effects on the vitality of regional economies and the lives of new wearers. As the New York City Department of Sanitation and the NYC Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling puts it: “In contrast to electronics waste, which is extremely high profile currently in discussions over waste policy, textile waste comprises a much larger, but much less examined, portion of the waste stream.” A waste characterization study by Salvation Army in the UK echoes this sentiment, decrying the fact that almost nothing is known about “discard patterns, ie. what is discarded, when it is discarded, and how often do consumers clear their used textiles.” As the NYC and UK waste management reports observe, we know very little about the micro-practices and patterns of disposal that are contributing to the world’s giant, unmanageable closet of thrown away clothing. As part of studying the practices of discarding clothing I interview subjects as they are disposing of their clothing. I ask people to talk about each item of clothing bound for the trash or recycling bin, and the nature of their relationship and of its termination. The goal of these ethnographic interviews is to document and to analyze the micro-practices and patterns of textile disposal. I consider this a "wellness initiative" because I am interested in the question: Can humannon human relationships be worked on, can they be improved? Revived? Sustained? At a recent Human-Textile Pop-Up Wellness Center erected on NYU’s campus in Florence, Italy, I collaborated with a student-run green fashion club, master tailor and fashion historian Sara Piccolo Paci, and graduates from the local fashion design program. We invited people to come to our center with clothing they were planning on discarding. As alternative to the trash basket or the donation box, we helped each wearer to revive his or her relationship to his or her garment through repair, alteration, or complete transformation. For Fashion Studies Today conference, I will share the documentation of this project.

Part fashion theory, part home economics, and part sewing circle, the Human-Textile Wellness Initiative also has an express political and ecological agenda to “admit...the things of the earth to political reality and psychological validity,” as the philosopher Bruno Latour puts it. My goals are both to better understand the relationships between people and clothing, and to offer a resource for people to cultivate and to exercise the technical, emotional, and political tools to follow through on our attachments to our things. Participants in the Fashion Studies Today conference are welcome to bring an item of clothing they are planning to discard for revival.

Dr. Vicki Karaminas
School of Design, University of Technology Sydney.

Looking for a Queer Style. Locating Other Dressed Identities

Information concerning queer subcultural style and ideas of fashionability is extensive, but is widely dispersed. It can be retrieved from the media; fashion, design, music, social, economic and other cultural histories, and can also be accessed by literary and other social studies concepts of identity and sexuality. Whilst there has been attention paid to subcultures such as Mods, Punks and Goths, insufficient attention has been paid to Queer subcultural style within fashion studies.  Most of these texts present but do not investigate portable theories or ideas, as many focus on a set notion of iconography or typologies (the cowboy look, the leather boy/girl, etc) which tend to overlook the political and social significance in the construction of identities and sexualities. Queer texts are useful in establishing the role that dress has played in sexual orientation, identifying, reviving and reclaiming narratives that have been lost or hidden. This approach clearly has merits in unearthing this forgotten part of social history, along with texts that question whether what is now taken as queer activity and behaviour would have had the same connotation and meaning in different cultures and across time.



Various strategies have been deployed by queer people to manage their identities in a world that values and prioritises heterosexual ideals and norms. These strategies include attitude and behaviour, but most importantly, the focus of this paper, dress. The act of dressing, to choose what to wear, when and for whom, is a social process through which actors execute different performances in front of different audiences (Erving Goffman, 1959). identifying as queer and experiencing ‘difference’ means a constant questioning of identity politics and results in the need to define and belong to a group. Dress and appearance is a way of both displaying and accepting ‘difference’, or as a way of ‘passing’ and becoming invisible under the guise of heterosexuality.  Dress is therefore a visible and conscious marker of a constructed or performed gender.



The focus of this paper is to offer an insight into Queer fashionability and will address the role that dress has played in contemporary queer lifestyles.

Yuniya Kawamura, PhD

Associate Professor of Sociology

Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT)/State University of NY
Fashion and Youth Subcultures: Tokyo and New York as Case Studies
The emergence of youth subcultures can be treated and analyzed sociologically as an ideological phenomenon with new sets of values, beliefs, norms and symbols. The way members dress plays a significant role in informing their group affiliation and projecting a specific subcultural image. Depending on how items of clothing, jewelry and accessories are coordinated and put together, certain styles can be a form of defiance, and some of them may be perceived as an ideological assault on the aesthetic values of dominant classes. Aesthetic tastes are socially constructed, and thus, any style or any item can become a good/legitimate taste. Different meanings can be ascribed to the same material object, and therefore, meanings can be the site and the result of social as well as taste struggle. What is central to understanding subcultures is the range and variety of symbols and symbolic meanings shared and communicated among the members in shared situations.

I look at various youth subcultures in Tokyo and New York as case studies and compare/contrast the ones in Tokyo, such as Lolita and Gyaru, and the ones in New York, such as sneaker collectors and hip-hop enthusiasts. They use various fashion items to silently or vocally challenge the dominant ideology and to contest the distribution of power in the social order. My research is based on ethnographical fieldwork conducted in the two cities. I also discuss some of the methodological strategies in recent subcultural studies and explore what has been neglected in the subcultural studies literature.

Bella Mirabella
Director, Gallatin Humanities Seminar in Florence
Gallatin School
New York University
Xenophobia, Fashionability and Male Clothing in Early Modern England
The focus of this paper is a consideration of male fashion and the construction of English masculinity at the end of the 16th and 17th centuries, which, I suggest, can, in part, be understood through an examination of the conflict between the desire and necessity of being fashionable and the fear of the influence of foreign clothing. In order to explore this idea, the paper concentrates on Moors and Moorish fashion and a comparison of their dress with that of English men. I initiate the study with the visit of the Moorish ambassador and his entourage who arrived at the court of Queen Elizabeth in August 1600.  In exploring the tension between the quest for fashionability, xenophobia, and the presence of Moors in England, I will briefly consider how these factors might have influenced Shakespeare in his crafting of the Moorish warrior, Othello.

Eugenia Paulicelli
Professor, Department of European Languages and Literatures

Queens College - City University of New York

PhD Program in Comparative Literature and Women's Studies Certificate Program

The Graduate Center- City University of New York

Co-Director of the Concentration in Fashion Studies at the Graduate Center
Michelangelo Antonioni and Ugo Mulas: Fashion, Photography, Film
In this paper I will attempt a cross-reading of Mulas and Antonioni. In particular, I will examine a number of fashion photographs that Mulas took in the 1950s and in 1960s during the years of Italy’s economic boom, while he was working for the magazine Novita’, which later became Vogue Italia. The paper will reflect upon a number of aesthetic connections that I see between Antonioni’s visual language and Mulas’ photography. In addition, the paper will examine both Antonioni’s and Mulas’ complex use of landscape, which has both geopolitical and aesthetic implications.

Dr. Agnès Rocamora

Senior Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer

Cultural and Historical Studies
London College of Fashion/University of the Arts London
Immediacy and Acceleration in the field of fashion: the role of new media
Since their appearance at the beginning of the twenty-first century, fashion blogs have established themselves as a central platform for the circulation of fashion related news and information. Often the creation of fashion outsiders, they have entered the mainstream fashion media, bringing to light the shifting nature of fashion journalism. The paper focuses on the fashion blogosphere. Particular attention is paid to the idea of time. Where fashion time was once neatly paced by the twice yearly collections and the monthly publications of glossies, now fashion time has accelerated, fragmented into a series of moments that have shattered its orderly pace. Pre-collection, pre-fall, cruise, resort, high summer, and Christmas collections are all new moments in this restructured fashion time, a time ruled by the imperative of immediacy Tomlinson (2007) has identified as constitutive of today’s ‘culture of speed’. The recent creation and rapid proliferation of new media such as fashion blogs has supported, as it has been supported by, this culture of ‘immediacy’ (Manovich 2001). Based on an analysis of a series of fashion blogs, the paper looks at the way time is represented and embedded in the flow of images and words. Theories of acceleration are appropriated to unpack the social construction of time in new fashion media, thereby shedding light on their role in contemporary processes of acceleration.

Sarah Scaturro
Materiality: Locating the Object in Fashion Studies


Paul Julian Smith, FBA

Distinguished Professor, PhD Program in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Languages and Literatures
Graduate Center, CUNY
Costume and fashion in the cinema of Pedro Almodóvar
Pedro Almodóvar is clearly one of the cinema auteurs to have engaged most closely with fashion as both an element within his distinctive mise en scene and an industry separate from, but allied to, the business of cinema. While the showcasing of pieces by Jean Paul Gaultier is perhaps best known in his work, most recent is his collaboration with Missoni on their current Spring-Summer campaign video. This paper will address the twin questions of costume as everyday garments and fashion as distinctive dress in the works of Almodóvar. Beginning with a brief account of some issues within academic fashion studies, it goes on to examine the varying role and function of clothing within the eighteen features of Almodóvar. It will call attention also to the role of graphic designer Juan Gatti in creating the public image of the films, through posters and credit sequences that are in dialogue once more with the fashion industry.

Dr. Valerie Steele
Director and Chief Curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT)
Fashion & Film

Fashion & Film will explore the complex and often ambiguous relationship between fashion and film. Based on an essay for the catalogue accompanying the forthcoming exhibition on Hollywood costume design at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the lecture will also touch on the new genre of short fashion films created by designers and luxury brands, which are increasingly shown on the internet.

Thuy Linh Tu

Associate Professor; Academic Director
Social and Cultural Analysis, Faculty of Arts & Science
New York University
Fashion's Intimacies: Race, Design, and the Problem of Creative Labor

Vicki Vasilopoulos
Producer/Director, MEN OF THE CLOTH
MEN OF THE CLOTH
is a portrait of three Italian master tailors who share a passionate devotion to their Old World craft that’s akin to a religion. The film unravels the mystery of their artistry and explores their challenging role in the twilight of their career as they confront the decline of the apprentice system. 

MEN OF THE CLOTH is a meditation on the value of craftsmanship and handmade clothing. It gives us a window into the past, present and future of custom tailoring, a craft whose roots are in the Italian Renaissance but whose branches extend from small towns in the Apennine Mountains of Italy and the outskirts of Palermo, Sicily, all the way to New York’s Madison Avenue and the suburbs of Philadelphia.

Dr. Louise Wallenberg

Director and Associate Professor
Centre for Fashion Studies
Stockholm University
and
Professor Torkild Thanem
Stockholm University School of Business
Just doing gender?
Re-thinking queer through transvestite embodiment in everyday life and work
Whilst issues of transgender have attracted relatively little attention in 1) studies of gender, work and organization and in 2) fashion studies, transgender has been utilized as a leading but disembodied metaphor in queer theorizing. Most notably, Butler’s (1990) study of the drag queens in the film Paris Is Burning led her to argue that all gender is drag, even though gender is undone through acts of overdoing gender. At the same time, the embodied and everyday lives and work experiences of people who actually identify as transgendered have been marginalized in queer theory for fear that they might essentialize and reinforce rather than challenge sexual difference. Despite the political currency gained by queer theory and its recent role in incorporating transgender into the lesbian and gay field, its predominantly disembodied flavour means that it risks marginalizing the people it brings into its analysis and simplifying their gender practices, turning this into an issue of either overdoing or undoing gender.

Utilizing a qualitative multi-method approach and more clearly embodied notions of gender, this paper therefore seeks to investigate how male-to-female (middle-aged) transvestites express and experience transgender embodiment in social and organizational life, and what meanings dress, style and fashion have for their self-expression and identity. More specifically, we investigate how transvestites experience and express their transgender embodiment in relation to their work and career, and to their family and friends.

In contrast to previous research, we argue that a number of transvestites undo gender stereotypes and heteronormativity by underdoing rather than overdoing gender – using dress and make-up not to pass as the other gender, but to pass as transgendered. In the conclusion, we discuss what implications this has for queer theory and politics in general and for queer studies of gender, fashion, work and organization.

Suzanne Wasserman, Ph.D.
Director
Gotham Center for NYC History/CUNY Graduate Center
The Garment Industry History Initiative at the Gotham Center for NYC History/CUNY
The garment industry, like Wall Street and the media business, has been central to the growth and development of New York City’s economy and identity. At one time, nearly a third of the adult workforce toiled in the garment trade, making the city’s largest business. From roots on the Lower East Side, manufacturers spread north and then west, eventually concentrating in “New York City’s Garment District,” which extends from 34th Street to 40th Street and from Sixth to Ninth Avenue.
Yet for many decades, when historians delved into the history of the garment industry, most focused their scholarship on the garment workers or on the fashion elements of the trade. The manufacturers, who played a critical role in American entrepreneurial and business history, have been largely ignored. Garment manufacturers also greatly influenced the development of the New York urban landscape, immigrant and women’s history, consumer history and design history – but they have rarely been recognized for their positive contributions.
The Garment Industry History Initiative, which the Leon Levy Foundation started in 2006 after consulting with scholars, is an attempt to redress this imbalance. In 2007, the Foundation began a partnership with the Graduate Center, CUNY, to conduct academic symposiums and public history programs that would examine the history of garment manufacturers in New York City. This website continues and expands that effort and invites the public to participate.

Elizabeth Wissinger
Associate Professor of Sociology
CUNY/BMCC
Fashionable Bodies

My paper considers the fashionable body in terms of the  ‘model’ body, to question accepted notions of culturally idealized bodies, looking beyond patriarchy and consumerism to consider how the current state of productive and scientific technologies influence the bodily ideal. Considering recent changes in the nature of fashion modeling work within the rise of digital technologies that facilitate bodily manipulation, I look at two emblematic figures of the digital era, the supermodel and the waif, to explore how models idealize a body made porous to technology, and in so doing, perform affective labor that habituates publics to interacting with fashion. Glamorizing engagement with technologies of bodily intervention, modeling work regulates publics according to a biopolitics of beauty, pulling them into a continuous bodily modulation that profits capital.  Using data describing the actual body types and measurements of models, my analysis stimulates important questions about the origins of bodily ideals, which could fruitfully trouble accounts whose explanatory power rests on a notion of reproductive ‘fitness.’  My work advances thought in the fields of sociology, feminism, science studies, and fashion studies, by interrogating how technoscientific developments have informed fashions in bodies over time.

Amanda Wunder

Assistant Professor
Department of History, Lehman College

Ph.D. Program in Art History, CUNY Graduate Center
The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Farthingale: The Guardainfante and the Politics of Feminine Fashion in Baroque Spain
Women’s clothes were at the center of political life in the Spanish capital during the reign of Philip IV (1621-65), and no garment inspired more controversy than the enormous farthingale known as the guardainfante. The style first appeared at the Spanish court in the 1630s and was banned by law for all but prostitutes in 1639. Despite the illegality and obvious inconveniences of these hoopskirts, women continued to wear this seemingly impractical and much maligned fashion in the streets of Madrid and beyond, from Milan and Genoa to Mexico City and Santiago de Chile. The Spanish farthingale acquired iconic status and became an enduring symbol of Spain and Spanishness in the 1650s, when Diego de Velázquez was painting court portraits of the queens and princesses who wore the fashion as a tool of international diplomacy. From the seventeenth century to the present, critics and scholars have represented the guardainfante as a garment that was imposed upon and repressed women. But by exploring a variety of non-canonical visual and textual sources—including women’s writings, Inquisition records, anonymous portraits and city views—we can better understand women’s actual experiences and uncover the ways that they contributed to the political culture of their times by making, wearing, denouncing, and defending this controversial garment.

Tara Zanardi
Professor of Art History
Hunter College
Majos, Bullfighters, and Machismo: Fashioning Spanish Swagger in the Late Eighteenth Century
I address the Spanish masculine ideal, the majo, who represented the model for national, male conduct in his passionate patriotism, swaggering bravado, and macho regality. When performing as a bullfighter, the majo donned the traje de luces, an outfit suited to the spectacle of the fight and the flaunting of such machismo. Artists played up the majo’s exaggerated nationalism and chic, urban associations to portray specific expressions of gendered Spanishness, particularly embodied in his corporeal display and dress. While the majo participated in Spanish customs, like the bullfight, and sported typical national garments, like the cape, he was also viewed as a modern figure. This dualism, between tradition and modernity, makes the majo an ideal subject for artists interested in contemporary themes and in the historical development of the Spanish character. While images of majos and bullfighters often serve to recapture Spain’s former glory by looking to traditions in the context of increasing foreign influence and the country’s diminishing imperial power, they also represent an unquestionable modernity.