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!