Fashion Digital Memories, IUAV, Venice, May 22-23 2017

Fashion Digital Memories

X-ray imaging. Slide shown by Tim Long, @Fashion_Curator, Fashion Digital Memories, 22-23 May, Venice. Photo by @lynrobinson cc-by

I was lucky enough to be able to attend Fashion Digital Memories 2017, the Europeana Fashion Symposium 2017 organised by the Europeana Fashion International Association in collaboration with Università IUAV di Venezia and The New School – Parsons Paris. The Symposium explored the ways in which fashion archives are experimenting with, and utilising, digital technologies to enhance the record and the reader/visitor experience.

The presentations reminded us of websites which furnish the reader with rotatable, high-definition images of garments, contextual video, and text descriptions, but also showcased more innovate technologies such as those using X-ray images, which provide additional ways to explore and interpret fashion items, and which also stand as new forms of art in themselves.

The three main protagonists of the conference seemed to be (1) fashion house archives (e.g. Versace), (2) academic institutions (eg London College of Fashion, Humboldt University) and (3) significant national collections (eg MoMa, Museum of London, V&A).

Especially interesting was the keynote given by Tim Long (@Fashion_Curator), from the Museum of London. Tim outlined some of the innovative projects he was involved with, which moved beyond collecting and conservation, to explore the boundaries of fashion heritage. The role of digital recording in stimulating new ideas, innovation and creativity was paramount. The challenges inherent in capturing both material and immaterial memories was raised.

Sadly, LIS was represented only through the archive profession, although much of the material dealt with core LIS issues: how to classify items, how to use a consistent vocabulary/terminology for description, what facets are appropriate for the subject, what kind of metadata is useful, how best to use linked data, and how to make digital materials available for both experts and casual users.

There was also an emphasis on UX – in particular the idea that, for casual museum/gallery visitors entertainment must come first, and information can follow for those interested. The tendency of information professionals to want to make all their material available up front should be resisted – it should be there for those who need it, but for most people a sample of exciting/pleasing material will be enough. Experiences and encounters with archive/museum materials should be ‘delightful’. The essential need for any material to be designed for mobile technology was also emphasised, and parallels could readily be drawn with the library world; readers/visitors/audiences have high expectations borne from multimedia, snippeted and mobile informational encounters.

This is often at odds with the scholarly approach taken by traditional academics, librarians, curators and archivists. There is a contemporary need however, to make collections viable financially, and culturally available and of interest to the widest possible number of people.

Also mentioned was use of standard vocabularies – Iconclass, Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus, Getty Index of Names, OCLC’s Virtual International Authority File for names. The limitations of these vocabularies for fashion was evident. Research detailed some attempts to extend them, eg adding multilingual fashion terms to AAT, but there was also a tendency to invent local vocabularies.

Fashion clearly has a strong facet structure, though expressed slightly differently, e.g. form/shape/pattern and form/material/pattern

Video guides to collection items, on YouTube, are popular. These may be best without audio, using simple captions – so that they can be accessed anywhere when audio may not be acceptable without headphones, which helps those who first language is not English

Kate Bethune (@BethuneKate) from the Victoria and Albert Museum described the wide use of digital technologies in the recent Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty, including digital storytelling, digital ‘cabinet of curiosities’ Pepper’s Ghost and immersive sound.

Newer use of digital technologies included x-ray imaging followed by digital enhancement, deep zoom imaging,  digital garment creation from digital pattern pieces, inclusion of digital artworks (especially for preservation/reconstruction), and outreach via social media.

Overall, I thought about documents and documentation. Specifically, the similarities between attempts to document fashion with attempts to document performance. Why are we documenting, and who for? What is missing from our record?

Somewhat surprisingly, none of the presentations reference VR/AR, which seems an area which could offer much to the realms of archiving and documentation in general, and perhaps fashion, specifically.

I wondered if garmets, and their associated archives, could benefit conceptually from Buckland’s documentation theory – if we think of ‘document’ very broadly (i.e. the item of clothing as a document), we can consider firstly the physical attributes of the garment, and then subsequently, our personal interpretation or understanding of/from the garment as a document, and finally the socio-cultural meaning and impact of the garment.

There is more to fashion than looking good.

A wonderful symposium. Many thanks to organisers and sponsors.: “Europeana Fashion International Association in collaboration with Università IUAV di Venezia and The New School – Parsons Paris. The event was co-funded by the European Commission within the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) Programme.”

Further Reading:

Buckland, M. (2017). Information and Society. MIT Press.

Europeana Fashion

Long, TA. (2015) Charles James, Designer in Detail, V & A publishing.

Memories from ‘Fashion Digital Memories’ – Europeana Fashion Symposium 2017

Robinson, L (2017). Storify of Fashion Digital Memories.

Van Hooland, S and Verborgh, R (2014). Linked Data for Libraries, Archives and Museums. Facet.


On pleats and puffs: the trials of academic costume

lynxigraduation14This piece by Louise Byrne in the Times Higher Education supplement, dares to suggest that academic gowns don’t work so well for everyone. Specifically those without the broad shoulders and strategic buttons necessary to secure the hood, and even more specifically shorter people, say, those under 5’ 2”.

I am pleased, because this means I am not the only dissenter, having recently faced a barrage of criticism from lovers of pomp and tradition, when I complained to colleagues that wearing academic dress made me feel trollopsy, and that I would prefer not to wear it to present my students at graduation.

I am not against tradition, nor against ‘dressing up’ for the occasion. I just hate feeling hot, anxious about needing to prevent a variety of wardrobe malfunctions and generally looking over pleated, as I stand in front of a huge audience of parents, being videoed as I attempt to focus on getting the names right and not fluffing the lines. A costume should enhance a performance, not hinder it.

Seriously who designs these things? Well, Viviene Westwood has designed a series of robes for King’s College, where at least the hood appears to be attached to the shoulders of the gown, rather than the traditional slip over horror, which demands complex wielding of safety pins, which in turn make holes in your clothes.

But still, all the pictures on the website show tall girls in significantly high heels, with gowns which don’t meet in the middle. I recall Vivienne’s iridescent violet wedding gown for Dita Von Teese (currently on display at the V&A’s Wedding Dresses exhibition), and I am perturbed. Vivienne, this gown is spectacular. Can you not then, design a graduation gown that flatters the majority of us, without the puffery and unworkable accessories, and which fastens at the front?

At least the new King’s College gowns come without hats. Even Henry VIII looked a bit of a chump in the pancake-like headwear which is supposed to be a reward for getting a PhD. Better to stick with the mortarboard rather than suffer the indignity of the floppy beret flattening your fringe. I don’t mind anyone else wearing a hat, but I am uneasy when in the 21st century some of us face regulations which state that we have to.

Of course many of my colleagues are beautiful people, who carry the pleated shroud off with aplomb. Still others don’t care as they get paid anyway. But in case anyone with sympathy and design talent is listening, here are some hints and tips:

  • Black is a good colour. Black is the new black. Not orange and certainly not pale grey (UCL what are you thinking ?)
  • Hoods can look imposing and foster scope for customisation of the gown. They should be firmly attached by skilled seamstresses, not safety pins, so that it is unnecessary to choke, hold the ribbon down with one hand to prevent choking, or look at photos of your special day showing the hood slipping down your shoulders.
  • Pleats are expensive. They make everyone look fat. Unless you have signed with Models One, you don’t need pleats on the shoulders, or across the back, or anything puffy at all.
  • A longer line at the back of the gown makes it flow elegantly, and the drop sleeves from the elbow make the arms look graceful.
  • Gowns should aim for mid calf, no longer. There are always steps and hitching the gown up to climb them should be reserved for Gone with the Wind cosplay events.
  • Some kind of fastening at the front is comforting. This doesn’t have to be the romper suit zipper going all the way up that I have notice on some US gowns – a single toggle or button with a rope loop is easy, classy and effective. Pulling your gown around you all the time makes you look anxious on stage and deranged on camera.
  • A small pocket for the cloakroom ticket would be great, and another way to reduce anxiety.
  • Hats; awkward and unnecessary.
  • Did I mention black?

Spaces for learning

Raphael Gallery at the V&A

Room 48a: The Raphael Gallery at the V&A

Ludi (@ludiprice) and I attended the preview of Wedding Dresses 1775-2014, currently showing at the V&A. The exhibition is gorgeous, so do go if you can, but what stuck me was not so much the dresses as the feeling whilst we were gazing at them, wandering around in the darkish space, watching all the videos and learning all the time. Why isn’t going to university quite like that? Why are the spaces not so conducive to engaging with material? It could be the cost – I admired the videos playing silently in the recesses of the fabulous domed ceiling about us; Ludi agreed: “.. but we need a dome …”, although I am not sure that cost is everything. The classrooms at City are undergoing an expensive refit – with a theme that reminds me of the barbie doll furniture I used to play with as a child, reinterpreted in 21st century windowless bunkers. What is taught in these rooms and what is learnt? I hope nobody thought to consider these questions, but I have a suspicion that, depressingly, this is a considered, contemporary vision of learning space.

We left the wedding dresses and wandered into the Raphael Gallery (shown above). “The game is,” I explained, “to come here just before closing time, and wait until you are the last person in the room – then for a few moments, in this calm, cathedral like space, all the Raphael paintings here exist just for you…”.

When we ask students to pay £9,000 a year to study face-to-face, we should be confident that we can at least offer a physical space which instills a feeling of timelessness, inspiration, connection with others and above all, a desire to learn.

What spaces say to each of us is subjective, and often personal. But there are spaces which many of us, collectively feel inspired by. Spaces which encourage us to pay attention, to realise that something interesting and important is being communicated. Spaces which objectively promote not just the learning process, but the desire to learn. They are somewhat elusive in today’s educational landscape however.

.. obligatory wedding dress ..

Stunning contemporary dress from Ian Stuart Bride (