INTERVIEW: SACHA JENKINS DIRECTOR OF HIP HOP FASHION DOCUMENTARY "FRESH DRESSED"

Katie Jones - WWD

Katie Jones - WWD

Hip hop style is hugely familiar to the masses but the origins of this unique fashion are a bit mysterious. We generally connect the look and its influence to celebrity hip hop culture but a new documentary titled Fresh Dressed directed by Sacha Jenkins explains the foundation of this identifiable fashion with the help of industry icons such as Ricardo Tissci, Andre Leon Talley and Dapper Dan.  Inside The Archive caught up with Director Sacha Jenkins to learn more about the inspiration behind his debut film. 

 

There are so many fashion documentaries (primarily focused on luxury designers) circulating lately but Fresh Dressed really stands on its own because of the subject matter. What inspired you to explore and share the story of this fashion phenomenon with the masses

 Growing up in Queens, New York really inspired me to make Fresh Dressed. When I was a kid, hip hop was brand new. So brand new, as a matter of fact, that we didn’t necessarily think about it. We were doing it. Living it. Fashion was just a part of our “lifestyle”, but more importantly, fashion was language to us. It was the way inner city kids communicated to each other back then. We didn’t have distractions like the internet. We had a football, the park, two turntables and a microphone.

You’ve rallied dozens of hip hop icons and celebrities to speak to the significance of fashion in hip hop and one common theme shared throughout the film was freedom and how style represented freedom within the hip hop community- Can you share more about your point of view on this

When people are disenfranchised, there is this massive sense of…lack of control. And when you feel like you have no power in the world that you’re living in, you turn to the small things that you can control. How we dress is one of those things. Because it is an extension of who we are—how we identify ourselves. Pride is also important. Pride is sometimes all that people have. Pride is powerful. It’s a powerful survival tool. Fashion in the inner city is about survival. Often A reflection of how people adapt the environment they’re in. It’s a weapon: some people want to feel rich, even though they’re dirt poor. For some, that Louis Vutton bag is like a shield that repels the stench of financial frailty.

Fashion is constantly changing but there are elements of hip hop style that have remained and seem to define the hip hop aesthetic since its inception.  Why do you think certain clothing brands, sneakers, jewelry styles and silhouettes have endured decades of ever-changing fashion within hip hop culture

Certain styles and particular brands are closely associated with periods wherein the music is extraordinary. Run DMC, for instance. What they did for Adidas will probably never be matched. Their song “My Adidas” is burned into the minds of millions. If the music was weak, the clothing probably wouldn’t have had the same impact. I think the same can be said for the music/fashions that came to be in the 1960s.

We know Dapper Dan was hugely responsible for making high-end fashion accessible and relatable through his custom Gucci and Louis Vuitton creations but how and why do you think mainstream designers like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger were so coveted by this community

Brands like Hilfiger and Lauren represent a so called aspirational lifestyle, and folks with not-so-much money want to go to the places that rich people go to. Ralph is big on horses…who doesn’t like horses?! In Queens, the only horse I had access to was the RR train—the iron horse.

What are you hoping the fashion community takes away from watching Fresh Dressed 

I hope people have a better understanding of the climate that created hip hop—where the culture has come from, and where it’s headed, and where it would ultimately like to be

What key traits, according to you, define someone as being “Fresh Dressed”

To me, being fresh is just feeling good about who you are—fashion is just the amplification of that good feeling.

What are the most significant differences in what hip hop style represented then (1980s and 90s) and now

 I think hip hop fashion—at least to inner city kids—represents the same things: hope, pride, identity, aspirations and the various bi-products and reactions to white supremacy.

Do you have a favorite moment or interview from the film that you’d like to share

 Kanye was great. We flew to Mexico to interview him. Fashion talk makes him light up. He showed our crew early renderings of his new Adidas shoe. He was just so excited to get those babies out there…he was also interested in our feedback on the design. He was both excited and humble, which to me is probably the truest reflection of who he is. You strip away the lights and the mics and he’s still that kid from Chicago who wants to stay fresh by any means necessary.

INTERVIEW: FOUNDER OF @VINTAGE_VOGUE FIONA MACKAY

If you have an Instagram account and the slightest interest in fashion then you’re probably following @vintage_vogue. The popular Instagram account features images from past issues of Vogue magazine with details about the photographer, designer and model featured in the photo. The clever concept was dreamed up by fashion documentarian Fiona Mackay.

Fiona is an Australian born photographer currently living between Paris and Melbourne. Since graduating from with an honours degree in Photography in 2009, Fiona became more involved with the history of fashion photography. In 2013 she created @vintage_vogue, which has since amassed over 200,000 followers and counting. 

Fiona is one of a handful of fashion historians that has successfully established a major social media following while simultaneously bridging the gap between the mass appeal of fashion and the niche field of historical dress. We are fascinated by her success in this area so we reached out to her to learn more about her personal success and future endeavours.


When did you become interested in the history of fashion

I think it started when I was a young girl watching films with my mother. She introduced me to the Golden Age of Hollywood where I would idolize stars Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Katherine Hepburn and Julie Christie. At first I wanted to wear their image, a Marilyn tote, a Breakfast At Tiffany’s t-shirt. Gradually I began to shift my interested towards how these actresses dressed – who were the costume designers and people working behind the scenes. From Givenchy dressing Hepburn for the role of Sabrina to Edith Head’s work with Alfred Hitchcock were early influences. I can’t forget to mention David Bowie’s outfits in Jim Henson’s 1986 film The Labyrinth!

Would you describe yourself as a fashion historian, journalist, blogger or…

Good question. Most of the things I do tend to blur and intertwine. Right now I would say I am an assortment of a fashion researcher, digital archivist and photo documentarian.

 Why do you think the vintage_vogue instagram has been so successful

I wonder that myself sometimes! When I originally started vintage_vogue it was mainly because I saw no one else at the time was quite doing what I was seeking and so I thought why not take it upon myself. I chose Vogue because it is such an iconic magazine that has a worldwide audience and vast array of a back catalogue I admired. I decided to set myself certain guidelines in order to stay true to the site and my followers, or potential followers. For example, only post one photo a day, only Vogue, only vintage (considered 20 years old or more) and high quality images. Gradually as my research skills improved I wanted to credit as much information as possible – from the model, editor, photographer, location, date, to the makeup artist, stylist, and hair stylist. I like to change up the style of the pictures to keep interest so I would say variety is one of the keys to its success. One day it might be a 1920’s black and white studio shot by Edward Steichen, the next a colour 1962 shot of Jean Shrimpton in the streets of New York City. It has definitely helped greatly having the support from highly respected people in the industry. It has been overwhelming and humbling to see how it has grown and continues to receive attention.      

What advice do you have for fashion historians looking to increase their social media following as you have

I would say first and foremost, find something that interests you and stick to it. First and foremost please yourself. There’s no point posting something you don’t like but think it will please the masses. If you’re investing quality time than you might as well be passionate about it. Find a niche and focus on that. I chose Vogue simply because it interested me the most of all magazines, and it has a strong history as I didn’t want to worry about running out of images one day! And finally I would say just to be patient but persistent. Everyone starts from zero.

How do plan to grow the vintage-vogue micro-brand you’ve started via-instagram

I recently teamed up with Shrimpton Couture for a Hermes scarf giveaway that was really fun and successful. More collaboration with brands is currently in the works. Continuing to write and find new ways to research and document archives is a great passion. I’m excited to contribute to Inside The Archive, who I think are doing a fantastic job at exposing and reviewing history of fashion that’s relevant to today. And ideally the dream is to of course one-day work for Vogue!

 Are you working on any projects in addition to @vintage_vogue

At the moment I’m attending a couple of courses on curating with the idea of pursuing exhibition through archives. Additionally I am collecting interviews and meeting former models and people who worked on photo editorials for a exclusive look for my ‘behind the shoot’ series. I also have an upcoming exhibition in Paris of my photography that I’m preparing for.

You contribute to various websites like Shrimpton Couture and Dazed -How did you break in to fashion journalism

It all happened thanks to vintage_vogue. When Cherie from Shrimpton Couture and I found each other on Instagram we bonded over a mutual love for vintage fashion. I admired what she was doing and as a result was asked to contribute to their blog. It felt a natural progression to then become interested in writing to accompany the research I had been doing, gather and put it in my own words.

What era in fashion do you find most interesting

Difficult question!! It varies depending on the current mood I’m in. Certainly the 1920’s Flapper Era, not just for its visual splendour but also for the cultural liberation from the Victorian Era. The Swinging 60’s for similar reasons. They were both such fascinating times and I probably have spent the most exploring them. The entire history of fashion is just a beautiful feast to admire.

 What are some of you favorite websites, books or museums you explore for inspiration

I like to explore my former University library in the city of Melbourne, Australia. They have an amazing collection of fashion and photography books, magazine catalogues and DVDs. Second-hand bookshops for picking up out-dated fashion and photography books are a favourite pastime. My favourite museum to get lost in would be the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin has a wonderful gallery and bookstore.

Who are some of your favorite instagram accounts to follow
@ShrimptonCouture, @ArtsXDesign,

INTERVIEW: FASHION EXECUTIVE & FORMER HALSTONETTE CHRIS ROYER

If you've ever seen a Halston ad then you've probably seen Chris Royer, the statuesque blonde that regularly appeared in Halston's fashion adverts, editorials and runway shows. Royer was a top FORD model in the 1970s and has since served as a fashion executive for Revlon, Halston Enterprises, and now the President of CRC, a consulting firm specializing in strategic marketing for fashion and beauty related brands such as Remington, M.A.C. and Betsey Johnson.  Royer also serves as a  consultant, contributor, writer, collector and archivist to major exhibitions of Halston, ranging from the Fashion Institute Museum to the Costume Institute at the MET to the EMP Museum and more.

Chris graciously agreed to speak with us about  her fabulous life as a Halstonette, her museum worthy fashion collection and current role as fashion executive. Learn about her favorite memory of Halston below...

(Image sources)

How did you become a Halstonette

I was one of the Halstonette models and muses from 1972-80s. When I first met Halston in September of 1972, after a very amusing interview, I was hired as a model.

What did it mean to be a Halstonette

It meant that you were brought into his elite inner circle of fashion and glamour. As part of the his creative group, I found the inspiration and design process fascinating as to how Halston thought and rose to stardom.

Can you tell us about your personal Halston vintage collection and what inspired you to collect and archive

For me, the best way I have found to honor Halston is by supporting exhibitions, books and documentaries, that tell his  unique story. So when’s there is an exhibition I contribute, if there’s a book, I’ll write write an essay and/or contribute photos.

You might consider me a "Fashion Nerd", because during my time modeling, I was constantly documenting everywhere we went, whom we met, Halston’s inspirations and more. In my personal collection of vintage Halston in New York, I have 200 pieces of clothing, accessories, shoes, photos and sketches. Many pieces are one of a kind, made to order, samples, etc.

Several years ago, I was the Archivist for the Halston Heritage vintage collection, working with their team to assemble 300 Halston pieces, designs and accessories. It’s currently housed with the Halston Heritage company.

Halston and the Halstonettes were synonymous with Studio 54.  I can’t think of anything that exists today that’s even remotely comparable to its popularity. What made Studio 54 so appealing and iconic

It was a special moment when fashion, music, entertainment all came together and where everything was over the top and glamorous.

How did you transition from model to Design Director of Halston Enterprises and now President of your own consulting firm

I graduated from the Pratt Institute  in New York, with a BA in Design degree before I started modeling. It was my dream to be in the business of the fashion industry and working alongside Halston was like getting your MBA in fashion. Because of my background in design, Halston gave me the opportunity to work along side him and was an amazing mentor. When new opportunities in business arose, Halston was my biggest advocate and because of that, I was lucky enough to have an amazing career.

Why do you think today’s fashion industry is so obsessed with or nostalgic for the “Halston hay day?”  Many collections and editorial spreads seem to be influenced by that era…

It was a time when everyone had fabulous style, that was all their own. Whether they were an artist, designer, musician, they all had this distinctive look,  that made them unique.

You regularly contribute to exhibitions, books, events and brands.  Is there a favorite project you’ve worked on or something your particularly proud of

One of my proudest projects is contributing essays and photos to the book and exhibition: Halston & Warhol: Silver & Suede, this year. The book has a great chronology, showing Andy’s artwork  & Halston’s design, it features selected pieces from my personal collection.

Do you have any projects in the works that you’d like to share

Lots of exciting things coming in 2015 – stay tuned!

Do you have a favorite memory of Halston

We were all travelling on an international trip with Halston and everyone had been so busy, I literally forgot about my own birthday.  We were in Paris and I decided that I would go exploring. I spent the entire day walking, shopping and eating. That evening, I walk through the doors of our hotel only to run into Halston’s assistant, who had apparently spent the day trying to find me – this was well before there were cell phones!

She tells me, that there is an important dinner that everyone has to attend and that I was extremely late. So I quickly run upstairs, change and go to the restaurant. I walk in and there’s the entire Halston crew for yelling “SURPRISE” and then out comes Halston carrying the biggest chocolate cake, that I have ever seen, singing “Happy Birthday”! – It was such a great party, we all danced until the sun came up. Best birthday party ever!

INTERVIEW: FASHION CURATOR FIONA MCKAY

Photo by Daniel Caulfield-Sriklad

Photo by Daniel Caulfield-Sriklad

Fiona McKay is a London­ based independent curator. Since graduating in 2012 from the MA in Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion, Fiona has been involved in a number of projects both in London and internationally. These include collaborations with Central Saint Martins, The National Gallery, The British Council and P1.CN in China as part of the curating collective White Line Projects. With a focus on interpreting the ideas around fashion into both physical and digital spaces, Fiona’s curatorial practice demonstrates a convergence of interests in fashion artefacts, social history and online technology.  ITA spoke with Fiona about the field of fashion curation and more. Read the full Q&A below.

 

Describe your role as a fashion curator

My role really varies from project to project so it could be anything from research and writing, conceptualising exhibitions and creative narratives, art direction of visuals, production andproject management, collaboration and commissioning work or installing exhibitions. I’m mostly an exhibitions curator but my work is now getting more involved with archives and collections and communicating these to the public. Another big part of what I do is collaborating with designers and technicians to translate and realise a concept successfully.

What inspired you to pursue a career in fashion scholarship

I've always had an equal love for both history and fashion. I have quite a diverse background within the design industries and I found that going into this field quite nicely converged my past experience with my interests and future aspirations. So when I came across the MA in Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion a few years ago, it all made sense!

Your involved in a creative collective called White Line Projects. Can you tell us a little bit about the group and your involvement

There's three of us that make up White Line Projects, which we established at the start of this year. We all met doing the MA in Fashion Curation at LCF but only started working together onour graduate show installation. We came together through mutual interests in technology and moving image within fashion curation and exhibition making. Luckily, we found that, after working professionally together 12 months, we generally work really well together. So much so that at the start of this year, we decided to form the collective White Line Projects which has a focus on curating fashion and narratives within both physical and digital environments. We each have our specialist interests, but I’m particularly interested in curating online experiences.

What genre, era or mode of fashion do you find most interesting

Wow, that's a huge question! Erm, all of them! That's why I'm in this field. I'm a bit of a geek for both historic and contemporary fashion. I get just as excited looking at the shows every season as I do going into archives. A strong part of our work at White Line Projects is to show how the historic can inform the contemporary. I'm also interested in how national or local identity can be expressed through fashion, not just eras.

Why do you think fashion exhibitions and scholarship have increased in popularity over the last few years

I think that overall, fashion is being recognised as an integral part of visual and material culture. And certainly the Alexander McQueen retrospective at The Met changed the perception of what a fashion exhibition is and it's potential. Plus, in an increasingly digital era, there’s a growing appreciation for craftsmanship and the hand­made. And lastly, from a purely emotional level, clothing can be that simple connection to lives once lived.

What inspires you

The relationship between the past and present. London as a place to live and work is very stimulating, plus there is a real appreciation here for fashion history and design heritage. I have curiosity for anything historic but an excitement for how new technologies can communicate this and make it relevant for today’s audience. Also, one of my favorite parts of the job is the discovering of hidden material and archives little known to the general public. It’s also good to look at other disciplines such as contemporary art, film and science to gain some new perspective on your own.

Tell us about a current or upcoming project you're excited to work on

There are a couple projects in the pipeline but at the moment, we are researching and developing ideas surrounding coal mining women in 19th Century England and their relationship to contemporary workwear. It's a subject matter I came across when writing an article for The Vintage Showroom last year.

Are there any exhibits, conferences or fashion related events that you're looking forward to attending

I’ve just been to see Jean Paul Gaultier at The Barbican, which is a great example of how fashion exhibitions are drawing influences from theatre and moving image. The ever­enigmatic Marina Abramović at The Serpentine is apparently quite the immersive experience. Digital Revolution at The Barbican is another exhibition I’m looking forward to. I’m also a big photography fan so I’ll be popping in the V&A to see the Horst exhibition this September and also the Martin Parr exhibition at Beetles & Huxley in London.

We're always looking for new sources of inspiration, what are some of the fashion websites, books and magazines you read regularly

My job dips between the fields of fashion, museology, design and tech so there is a lot of resources for inspiration! First thing that comes to mind is SHOWstudio, I love watching their panel discussions and they're pretty experimental in the crossover between fashion, moving image and online interactivity. The Archivist magazine illustrates a narrative of archives from contemporary designers. And I'll definitely be looking at Inside the Archive on a regular basis!I'm also Feedly addict! On the hit list currently is the Business of Fashion for the nuts and bolts of the industry, Dezeen for retail design and interiors, Wired magazine for the latest tech news. I also love delving into old copies of The National Geographic which I’ve recently started collecting.

How do you see the field of fashion scholarship evolving over the next 5 years

Fashion as an academic discipline is still relatively new and is finding it’s feet a little. As such, it is drawing influences from anthropological studies and material culture. This really shows how the study of fashion is also an observation of its context. Just recently, we’ve seen the term ‘curation’ evolve from its origins in museums and the art world to being used in several industries to convey an edited selection which tells a story or gives a sense of the "curator's" taste. On the positive side, I’m all for pushing things forward and innovating the field but on the flipside, it opens up the practice to anyone who may not have had the experience and training. For instance, saying that you’ve curated your food larder is taking it a little far!

What advice do you have for prospective students interested in pursuing a career as a fashion curator

I would say find a particular area or approach to curating that interests you and go down that route; find out what is needed to succeed in this area. Even though it's quite niche field, there is still a diverse range of directions you could go in. There is of course the museum path, but there’s also freelancing as an exhibition maker or working in archives amongst others. Don't be afraid to take risks and bend the rules a little. It's not necessarily what you choose to exhibit but what approach you take that will make you stand out from the crowd. I’d also say do as many projects as you can to build up a good portfolio of work. Go to as many conferences and fashion curation events as possible. It's the best place to meet key people and you never know, you might end up working with them!

INTERVIEW: SUZANNE SHAPIRO EXPLAINS THE HISTORY OF THE MANICURE

Archivist and author, Suzanne Shapiro has recently penned a book titled Nails: The Story of the Modern Manicure that traces the origins and evolution of the painted nail.  Shapiro’s beautiful 176 page book features 220 illustrations and every detail you’d ever want to know about when and why women started obsessing over perfectly polished nails.  All of us at ITA are manicure addicts so naturally we jumped at the chance to speak with Suzanne about her book in greater detail.  Read our in-depth Q&A with the author below and click through a few of the images featured in her book. 

What sparked your interest in exploring the history of manicures and nail art

When I moved to New York City ten years ago, I was struck by the sheer number of nail salons; they’re on practically every block. I wondered when women began to care so deeply about nails as an aspect of beauty and found that no one had really explored the cultural significance of the manicure in great depth. When I began my own research, I quickly realized what a surprisingly rich topic it was—worthy of a graduate thesis and then eventually, a whole book.

Were you able to identify when and where the manicure made its debut

It depends what you mean by “manicure” as such. Men and women have always taken measures to trim and clean their nails as basic element of good grooming, and certain cultures have used stains, dyes, and other preparations for added adornment. But as it relates to Western fashion, I’d identify two main turning points in the history of the manicure, when conspicuous new styles came into being. In the 1890s, there was something of a fad for highly buffed and polished nails, so much so that ladies’ magazines felt the need to call out their purported vulgarity. And for our purposes, 1929 might be considered the big bang of modern manicuring. Women had been experimenting with nail color through the ‘20s, but in the summer of 1929, the fashion press took notice when European socialites began to polish their nails with deep red enamel. Hollywood and bolder personalities soon took up this risqué look, which really took off in the 1930s.

What is the most surprising fact you learned about the origination of manicures

Although shades of rose and red were most popular by far, nail polish was actually available in a whole range of unusual shades in the early 1930s: onyx, jade green, violet, and pearl white among them. The object was to match or complement one’s ensemble, much like our taste for nail color today.

How did you approach researching this topic

As historians, we’re lucky to be present in this golden age of digitization, and digital collections like the Vogue Archive, the TIME Archive, and the American Periodicals and New York Times databases figured highly into my research. I found marvelous documents and images in library special collections across the country, in person at the Condé Nast archives, and sometimes quite serendipitously, flipping through popular magazines found at stoop sales and the like. I’m quite indebted to scholars like Kathy Peiss and Aileen Ribeiro for their compelling examinations of women’s beauty rituals through time.

Do you feel pressured to always have perfectly manicured nails since the book released

Ha, yes! I do it to myself, though. I’ve met many wonderful, talented nail artists during this project, and I enjoy sporting their artistry whenever possible. And fortunately, I’ve finally been able to grow my nails long, giving them a better canvas to work on. I just feel bad when I’m conversing with someone about my book and she tells me not to look at her undone, chipped, or bitten nails. I swear I don’t judge!

Why do you think nail design and manicures have evolved into such a major trend as of recent

There are a variety of factors, but I’d say that the two most significant have been the economic downturn and the internet. Especially when more extravagant personal spending is impossible, a new, buzzworthy nail color or treatment is a mercifully cheap way to keep up with fashion and have a bit of indulgent fun. Based on striking data for salon services and DIY products, it’s true that the so-called “lipstick index”—which observes healthy sales during hard times—has been replaced by the “nail polish index.”

Also, the fact that many of us live out much of our lives online has been hugely influential. There’s a reason why social media outlets, Pinterest pinboards and Instagram accounts are full of manicure selfies. Women have been broadcasting and trading nail art ideas and color tests en masse, and I think they take great pleasure knowing that their fabulous manicures will be seen by friends and frenemies alike. It almost gives their manis a second life, far beyond the usual two weeks or so.

What are some projects that you have in the works

Professionally, I recently left my job at the Met Museum’s Costume Institute for an exciting new position as Archive Manager at PVH Corp., which owns Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and other major brands. And I’m thrilled to be lining up regular speaking engagements on behalf of Nails, including the Phoenix Art Museum and a fundraiser for the historical society where I got my start in Middletown, Connecticut. Lectures at other arts institutions and select salons are also in the works; it’s great that my book is managing to straddle the fine art and beauty industry worlds. And as far as my next book goes, it will not be about pedicures, as I’m often asked!

Where can manicure enthusiasts buy your book

Many wonderful independent bookstores across the U.S. and Canada are stocking it, and a friend visiting Karl Lagerfeld’s Librairie 7L in Paris reported seeing it too. In New York, look for it at the Strand, the MoMA Book Store, Kinokuniya, and McNally Jackson, among others; my friend Rita Pinto is also selling it at her fantastic nail art atelier, Vanity Projects. In the greater LA area, it’s at Arcana and Hennessey + Ingalls. Check in with your favorite local bookseller, and there’s always Amazon and Barnes & Noble too.



INTERVIEW: MOMU EXHIBITION CURATOR KAREN VAN GODTSENHOVEN

Karen van Godtsenhoven is the exhibition curator of Antwerp’s Modemuseum. Karen is responsible for the conception and curation of some of the most visually stimulating fashion exhibitions in world including: Birds of Paradise: Plumes & Feathers in Fashion and the 50th anniversary of the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts exhibition, Happy Birthday dear acadamie which, highlighted The Antwerp Six.

We’re thrilled to share Karen's thoughtful opinions and perspective on the  field of fashion history. She offers unique insight into a very specialized field. Click through her most recent exhibits then read the Q&A below.

Portrait photo of Karen by Frederik Heyman/ exhibition photography by Boy Kortekaas 

Tell us about your role at MoMUu

I am the exhibitions curator (so not the collection curator that’s my colleague Wim Mertens), I do the research for the exhibitions (theme or designer exhibitions, we switch between both), write texts and look for authors in the catalogue, do image and loan research, direct photo shoots, write the visitors’ brochure and work closely with nearly everyone in the museum: I work closely with the architect and production manager who build the exhibition, it’s important that they translate the ideas of the exhibition into a spatial setting. I work close with collections because that’s at the heart of the exhibitions, and our librarian is a golden girl who helps me finding the best research materials and helps with images.  Apart from these official tasks I do many more small projects and extras, as I suppose everyone does these days.

When did you realize that you wanted to become a fashion scholar

Since I was a kid I was intrigued by fashion in various forms, but I was also quite bookish. Both passions stayed present in my life so I was very happy to find this kind of job, combining fashion and research, because I’m not really a good drawer (to become fashion designer) or commercial talent, so this is a perfect fit for me and I really enjoy my job.

How is the MoMu different from other fashion collections and museums

We are quite a young (12 years old), specific fashion museum (so we’re not like a textiles or fashion department in a greater museum)  with a strong focus on Belgian and avant-garde fashion design.  We blend our historical collection with very recent designer silhouettes, this is now more common in thematic exhibitions, but we have done this since the beginning. We don’t do chronological exhibitions. Our open display scenography also makes the silhouettes more lively and makes for interesting set designs, as the architect has to take into account that he has to create ‘natural’ borders so the people cannot touch the garments. This has been done with, a.o. matrushka dolls, larger than life knitwear pieces and many other ways. The sole exhibition where people could wear the garments on display was ‘Dreamshop’ by Yohji Yamamoto, a unique exhibition presented as a store where people could fit into the silhouettes. Our visual language is very recognizable and we have a network of very good collaborators who contribute to our vision. We also hope to extend the museum with a permanent collection display as this is now really lacking. At the moment we rotate 2 exhibitions per year.

What are some of the goals you have in mind when you're organizing a fashion exhibit

We try to make the exhibition an experience at different levels: at the very basic visual level, it should be clear to comprehend for every entry-level visitor. Then there’s also a conceptual level that has more links with the designer or the theme in a certain context that you can see when you’re focused, and then there’s more to discover for researchers and fashion lovers who really want to know much more about the subjects. Our current exhibition ‘Birds of paradise’ on feathers in fashion is a good example of an exhibition that could be appreciated at different levels, I think.

How do you think the field of fashion history/scholarship has changed in the last five years

It has grown increasingly diverse and there’s more and more attention for fashion archives and museums, as well as for fashion exhibitions. I welcome the growth of this relatively young discipline, it’s nice to see there’s so many of us, all doing different things.

What are the most challenging aspects in creating an exhibition

There are so many: in our case it’s especially the set design and open display that has to be well thought out, but also to come up with a concept that is challenging yet accessible to the public. To try and be at the forefront of avant-garde fashion exhibitions without alienating people. To integrate digital content that engages with visitors without being surpassed by new technology within the year. And the biggest challenge of all: staying within the budget. Oh my God.

 What are you working on currently

The upcoming ‘MoMu Now’ exhibition for September 2014, the exhibitions of 2015 and 2016 (still secret) and a collaboration with the Musée Galliera about Belgian fashion, this fall in the Museum of Immigration Paris.

What inspires you 

Travels and the people I meet whilst traveling. Especially the well-dressed, unassuming strangers (not fashion capitals).

 What advice do you have for those who are interested in pursuing a career in fashion scholarship

I think it’s important to clearly define what you want to specialize in (because the field is growing fast but still needs a lot of experts), and always be very open to other disciplines like art, dance, cinema and any socio-historic and cultural movements, because fashion is at the intersection of all these, so your knowledge should be ‘the broader the better’, but your real area of expertise should be well defined so you have a clear academic profile.

And also: write articles, try to publish a lot, both off- and online.

Are there any fashion exhibitions, events or conferences that you are looking forward to seeing or attending in the near future

At the end of august I will give a lecture in Brazil, it’s a 3 day conference, the largest academic fashion conference of South America, so really looking forward. Also, at MoMu in February 2015 we will host the closing conference of the Europeana Fashion project, which will bring together so many fashion scholars here at home, very nice too.

INTERVIEW: JOANNA ABIJAOUDE, FASHION HISTORIAN

Joanna Abijaoude is an M.A. candidate in the Visual Culture: Costume Studies program at New York University. She has held curatorial, collections, and research internships at the Ralph Lauren Library, the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, FIDM Museum & Galleries, the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. This summer, she will join FIDM Museum & Galleries as a Museum Assistant. Read what Joanna has to say about landing her first job in a fashion collection, attending the costume studies program at NYU, and her advice on pursuing a career in fashion history. 

Why did you pursue a career in fashion history

I have my mom to thank for my introduction to this field; she is an excellent seamstress, and has a wonderful appreciation for well-constructed, beautifully designed clothes. My sisters and I grew up watching classic films with leading ladies in extravagant wardrobes, and I think old Hollywood glamour was my gateway into fashion history – in fact, I wrote my thesis about a costume designer! I was probably the only kid singing Gigi on the playground, but I am so grateful for that early exposure. As an Arizona native, I was also very fortunate to have access to the Phoenix Art Museum and its fantastic costume collection. Our frequent visits to those fashion exhibitions showed me that an interest in costume history could actually become a career.

What were a few of the necessary steps you took to help ensure that you would land a job in this very competitive field

We all know internships are important, and I think it’s especially true in this field. Fashion history, particularly in the museum context, is a very hands-on, physical profession, and the opportunity to watch and learn techniques from experts is incredibly valuable. Having the experience and connections that come from internships will make you a better candidate when a job opens up. I also chose to get an M.A. in Costume Studies; taking on a secondary degree is a big commitment, but for me it felt like a necessary step. Besides building your knowledge base, fashion history programs are a great way to network and discover new possibilities in the industry. It’s inspiring to see how the degree can be applied outside of the museum world – graduates have gone on to work in publishing, conservation, design, archives, and academia, to name a few.

What genre, era or mode of fashion do you find most interesting

I’ve always loved the early twentieth-century, from 1900 to the early teens –possibly because my sisters and I had a set of Poiret paper dolls! There was an electric energy of change during these years that translated into fashion with exotic silhouettes and vivid colors. The Ballet Russes was a major influence on the visual arts, and that intersection between dance and fashion produced fascinating designs. Exquisite pochoir fashion illustrations from the period capture the pervading elegance and progressive spirit.

Tell us about an exciting project you’ve had the opportunity to work on

I think it’s really meaningful when you can connect historic garments to the people who wore and collected them. Two projects that come to mind focus on strong women who made significant contributions to the fashion world. I was thrilled to be a part of the Fashion Independent installation with Dennita Sewell when it travelled to the Georgia Art Museum. Institutions rarely have the opportunity to inherit one woman’s entire wardrobe, especially one filled with the top designers of the twentieth century. Ann Bonfoey Taylor was a fashion connoisseur, athlete, sportswear designer, and tastemaker; her collection is an important resource for the Phoenix Art Museum and fashion history students. I’m also proud to have worked with the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection at FIDM Museum & Galleries. The museum is currently fundraising to acquire the collection of over 1,100 pieces, representing four hundred years of fashion history. I digitized the ephemera from the collection, and I loved reading the correspondence between Larson and Doris Langley Moore, a woman who helped establish the academic study of dress and founded the Fashion Museum in Bath, England. These supporting documents give the provenance and backstory of the garments, and make the collection all the more valuable to the institution.

Why do you think fashion exhibits have increased in popularity over the last few years

Fashion has always drawn crowds to museums, but Savage Beauty, the 2011 retrospective on Alexander McQueen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute, had record-breaking audience attendance, and is widely credited with renewing the vogue for large-scale fashion exhibitions across the globe. These extensive shows are not feasible for all institutions, but I think the enthusiasm and publicity surrounding blockbuster exhibitions introduce new audiences to fashion history, and hopefully encourage more visits to smaller museums. Period costumes in television and movies, such as Mad Men, Marie Antoinette, and The Great Gatsby, can also strike a chord with the public and spark an interest in fashion history. I think the popularity of fashion exhibitions can be further explained by our personal relationship to clothing. We have a physical and emotional connection to garments; when we see them in a museum setting, no matter what period the clothes are from, it is as if we are viewing an extension of ourselves. If you listen to comments made while walking through a fashion exhibition, they are usually about how it would feel to wear the objects – how difficult it would be to sit, walk, or even breathe. We automatically associate ourselves with the garments on display because they are so much a part of our identities. We make two essential decisions everyday: what to eat, and what to wear. It makes sense that something so vital to our quotidian existence is fascinating for us to view in the context of a museum.

 Is there a fashion collection or exhibition you’ve been wanting to see

I have an itinerary on standby for when that lottery ticket comes through – right now the top three on my wish list are the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa in Getaria, Spain; the Musée Christian Dior in Grainville, France; and the Mode Museum in Antwerp, Belgium. There are so many exhibitions I wish I could see, I just have to keep my fingers crossed that shows continue to travel internationally!

How do you see this industry evolving in the future

Most museums now have blogs and social media accounts to share the behind- the-scenes of an exhibition, and I think this presence will continue to grow. I also love the idea of online exhibitions, because they offer a wonderful opportunity for people to view a collection without traveling (see above!) and even allow for a detailed look at garment construction that wouldn’t be possible in a physical display. This Worth & Mainbocher online exhibition from the Museum of the City of New York is a beautiful example. Digital technology is increasingly incorporated into exhibitions, sometimes with truly stunning results – the talking mannequins at the Jean Paul Gaultier retrospective come to mind. However, I think a balance of media is essential, because it is easy for technology to turn gimmicky and distract viewers from the objects on display. There is also a definite push for museums to make photographs of their collections available online, which is an incredible resource for the public but brings up complicated issues of copyright and quality control for institutions. Anyone entering the industry at this time will have consider all the digital elements of exhibiting fashion going forward.

Any advice you'd like to share with young people looking to get into the field

Get involved! Conferences, lectures, and museum events are a great way to network and stay informed about the latest developments in this field. In addition to internships, these experiences will give you the chance to meet mentors who can advise you, and colleagues who you will remain connected to throughout your career. The fashion history community is a very small world, and you never know where a volunteer opportunity or new acquaintance will lead. On that note, be open and innovative when it comes to applying your interests to a job; this is a relatively young discipline and there is plenty of scholarship to be done. Don’tunderestimate what you can contribute to this growing field!