March 25, 2015 

Working In London’s East End: Centre for Sustainable Fashion

The Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) is a UAL Research Centre which explores elements of ‘Better Lives’London College of Fashion’s commitment to using fashion to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live.

csfcreativehub

CSF are working on a project called Creative Hub which a partnership with Newham College, Stratford.
The project is funded by the ERDF and addresses the need for SME’s to receive support to enable them overcome some of the barriers they might face, to create and safeguard jobs and generate new sales.

Many of these SME’s are based in the East of London including:

Here Today, Here Tomorrow
Edie Mac
Shake the Dust, currently pop-up shop on Columbia Road.
She’s Lost Control

March 24, 2015 

Koestler Lecture: ART NOT CRIME

As Head of London College of Fashion and Pro Vice-Chancellor of University of the Arts London, I am delighted to welcome everyone to the college this evening as we are so pleased to be hosting this lecture, which serves as Tim Robertson’s swan song after 9 years at the Koestler Trust.

In my mind, the burgeoning partnership between UAL and the Koestler Trust is a reflection of two really positive developments: Firstly, the way in which UAL as an institution is beginning to engage with social issues like criminal justice; And secondly, the fact that the Koestler Trust have managed to get ‘prison art’ taken seriously as an artform by one of the world’s leading arts universities.

Koestler Mentee

Education is a powerful transformative force that all are entitled to. Art and other creative disciplines present us with ways of expressing what at times can be hard to articulate. Given that we are here this evening for an insight into the role that art can play in transforming lives, it feels very appropriate that the University of the Arts London is hosting the event.

The Fashion Education in Prison projects are hugely important to LCF. Not only because of the difference we hope to make to the offenders we work with, but also due to the impact it has had on our staff and students who have been involved in the projects.

Since we ran our first pilot project at HMP Send in 2009, LCF’s work with prisons has gone from strength to strength. Our Fashion Education in Prison project, which we launched in 2010, has included our magazine project at HMP Send, a bespoke tailoring project with male offenders at HMP Brixton and in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice, the launch of a training and manufacturing unit in HMP Holloway in 2014.

As a university, we are proud to be developing stronger links with the Koestler Trust. These include:Koestler mentoring has supported several ex-offenders in becoming UAL students (including one First in Fine Art in 2013); LCF & Koestler both provide skills development for women at Holloway – LCF through its workshop, Koestler through work experience placements for women on day licence; Grayson Perry, UAL’s new Chancellor, is an active Koestler supporter, serving as a Koestler Awards judge each year and having curated an exhibition; Fiona Curran, Koestler Director of Arts, is joining our ‘Made for Change’ Advisory Board linked to our training and manufacturing unit in HMP Holloway.

There is a famous quote by Dostoyevsky –
“The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons”

Tim has done so much to further this in his work and I am sure we will all be inspired tonight to do more to make this happen.

March 18, 2015 

Working in London’s East End: Social Responsibility, RAMs Place Market

As part of the series profiling some of the work the college is doing in London’s East End; projects, initiatives and partnerships we hope to build on; I would like to continue the story about our partnership with ART AGAINST KNIVES.

RAMs Place Market was a temporary pop-up fashion and art hub, curated by The Barbican and Create London, at the heart of the Morning Lane area of Hackney.

ramsplace

In the summer of 2014, LCF welcomed back participants from the ART AGAINST KNIVES project to RAMs Place Market, following the successful ‘Design + Make’ workshop at Golden Lane. Some of the group took part in this additional workshop using the technical skills and knowledge they had learnt on their project course to assist and inspire a group of young Hackney residents who had signed up for the event.

The project coincided with the ‘street meets couture’ emphasis of the Barbican exhibition, The Fashion Worlds of Jean-Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.

The ‘Design + Make’ partnership with ART AGAINT KNIVES is now being developed to run as an annual programme from 2015.

March 16, 2015 

Does Fashion Photography Matter? By Magda Keaney

Does Fashion Photography Matter?

I’ve spent a lot of the last decade thinking about fashion image making. It’s one aspect of the history of photography and contemporary photographic practice that has been a focus of my work as a photography curator and writer. I certainly agree with Susan Sontag who said the very nature of thinking is ‘but’, BUT this particular question makes me uncomfortably self-conscious. As I read it back on the page I wonder why I am even asking. So I’m starting by telling you about an experience that I think relates to why I do.

Mode
Edward Steichen, Chéruit, as published in Vogue, May 1, 1927

A few months ago, I gave at a postgraduate seminar about a well-known photograph by Edward Steichen taken for Vogue magazine, Chéruit (1927). In my paper I primarily wanted to investigate the way Steichen had used a domestic interior space – Condé Nast’s penthouse apartment at 1040 Park Avenue – as a precursor to the photographic studios set up and run by Vogue magazine in Paris & New York around the time the picture was taken (and in London a decade or so later than that).

My talk was meant as a testing ground for some new ideas but I was shocked that in opening up a group discussion, questions from the floor didn’t get beyond positioning the image in terms of arguments John Berger made in Ways of Seeing about the functioning of the publicity image in 1973. It seemed like the audience, mostly PhD students, were not able to move beyond some very basic assumptions about how a fashion picture made for publication in a magazine could operate. I wondered if I was blinkered? Why had I sought theoretical ideas from this picture if it was, at it’s most reductive, just a smiling woman wearing a dress? Yet I felt sure the author (one of my heroes) wouId shudder that his text, as provocative and important as it was at the time he wrote it, was evoked as a relevant critical context in 2014. I mean I was born in 1973!

Steichen is useful to consider. Despite what I describe above – essentially illustrating the continued pitfalls of discussing a fashion image in an academic context – it is of course widely accepted that his photographs, including his fashion photographs do matter.

Collected by major museums, indeed the subject of a recent comprehensive retrospective which has travelled worldwide for several years (Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, The Condé Nast Years 1923-1937), we are generally comfortable with them as an important and credible photographic contribution. They have been given, what I describe in my book Fashion Photography Next, ‘institutional and historical legitimacy’. The specific photograph of Marion Morehouse I mention above is a good example of how institutional and historical legitimacy can be created. Examining the process reveals much about how a fashion photograph can come to matter.

Let us consider the following: While Steichen’s fashion output was until recently less represented in museum collections, exhibitions and publications, Chéruit was almost immediately presented as an exception. In 1929, only two years after it was taken it was selected by the photographer and his brother-in-law Carl Sandburg as a plate for his first monograph Steichen the Photographer, written by Sandburg and intended as a survey of his most important work to date. The importance of this, of such critical choices in the writing of photo history, of what is included and what is not, needs to be articulated as it is integral to the works longevity of view and ultimately it’s meaning. The photograph has been included in that typically small percentage of any major photographers life’s work which are regarded as canonical despite the fact that in pose (frontal, leg coming forward, arms akimbo), setting (Condé Nast’s lavish apartment) props (use of the diamond patterned floor tiles, floral patterned lounge), model (Marion Morehouse) and lighting (artificially lighted with dramatic shadows), Steichen took many almost identical pictures.

The image was re-printed full page in Vogue when Steichen retired from the magazine in 1938 as an illustration of his significant achievement. In this article he is described as a heroic and active creator/artist: ‘he would move around swiftly, sometimes squatting on his hands and knees to get a camera angle, sometimes appearing to forget all about taking pictures if his subject turned out to be self-conscious’. A decade after being made, the function of his photograph of Marion Morehouse is not as describing fashion but transcending it, where Steichen had ‘outwitted the ungainliness of boy-bob, clipped skirts, (sic) subnormal waist line’.

The photograph was exhibited in the career defining 1961 MoMA retrospective which contained over three hundred works and was timed to coincide with Steichen’s 82nd birthday, incorrectly attributed as having been taken for Vanity Fair in the checklist. This error is in some ways irrelevant because such specifics (who designed the garment, what magazine it was published in etc.) were less important to how the image was understood in this presentation than it’s potential as a representative type of image. Only five fashion images were shown in the entire exhibition which predominately concentrated on his early twentieth century practice as a photo secessionist then later as a portraitist. Removed from the original context of publication in Vogue, the gelatin silver photograph is experienced as a print mounted and framed in a museum or gallery. It is no longer accompanied by graphic headings, text and fashion credits. It is no longer seen as part of fashion story, or as one page in a magazine of well over one hundred pages. In this way it is made singular.

It was also given great significance when Steichen wrote his own history in the biographical picture book A Life in Photography first published in 1963. Here he stakes claim to having produced the first ever fashion photographs, establishes that his salary at Vogue was the highest paid and discusses the development of his technique and mastery of artificial light in the studio. On the one hand he staunchly stands by his work in fashion recounting his directive to Condé Nast that ‘if I made a [fashion] photograph, I would stand by it with my name; otherwise I wouldn’t make it’. On the other, while elevating the picture of Morehouse to that of ‘the greatest fashion model I every photographed’ qualifying their collaboration as something other than fashion stating ‘Miss Morehouse was no more interested in fashion as fashion than I was’. In such discussions the subject of the photograph changes from the dress to the photographer supporting what art theorist Rosalind Krauss calls the historicist model of art writing where values such as authorship, the history of the medium and the coherence of the oeuvre are maintained.

After Steichen captioned the photograph in his biography, the photograph became widely known by his title – Chéruit Gown (Marion Morehouse – Mrs. e.e. Cummings). One wonders if there would have been such an early emphasis on who the model in the photograph was (an interest models became more pronounced in the 1990s with the idea of the ‘super-model’ and the reassessment of key fashion models and the writing of their histories), if Morehouse had not become Mrs. e.e.cummings – surely bestowing added cultural and artistic legitimacy as the subject of the photograph in her own right. This is one way the photograph moves from being about a dress to being about a woman.

In 2010 the image was included as part of a multimedia component of the exhibition American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity organized by the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art exploring how ‘representations of American women established the fundamental characteristics of American Style’. Similarly in the 2013 exhibition Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Steichen’s fashion photographs were placed on display in relation to garments from the period in the NGV’s collection. In this context Chéruit also supported a discussion of the new roles of women in American society – Morehouse’s stance and what she wears symbolizing the confidence and independence of the flapper. Now Morehouse becomes more than herself, more than a portrait, she becomes an archetype.

If the NGV cleverly co-opted the image to support an argument in an exhibition about fashion design and gender politics I was amused and interested to see the effect in reverse in the recent The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier. A separate piece could be written about the use of fashion photography in exhibitions of fashion design, and in particular this exhibition. It was wonderful to see his Nude Dress presented on the mannequin directly quoting the pose and styling of the well known photograph by Paolo Roversi of Naomi Campbell in the outfit (Naomi Campbell in front of the Michou cabaret, Rue des Martyrs, Paris, 1994). The image was hung on a near by wall in the show.

It is much easier to demonstrate that historically/institutionally legitimized fashion photography matters than to do the same with contemporary images. It is more difficult again when those images are made by photographers who are new generation or emerging. This was something I thought sought to address when developing the exhibition Don’t Stop Now: Fashion Photography Next currently showing at the Fashion Space Gallery, London College of Fashion. In selecting the group of thirty five photographers for the book all of whom I characterized as new generation, I was saying that their work matters. Yet I was not saying that all contemporary fashion photography matters, or it matters just because it is new.

It seems to me there is a tendency to lump fashion photography into a simplistic conceptual framework of being commercially driven and creatively limited. It’s an easy option, rather than thinking critically and acknowledging a very simple and obvious truth – that like any photographic genre not all fashion images have the same value and that these values inevitably shift and alter. This is evident tracking the history of Steichen’s photograph. I make this point in the book using the example of an anonymous catalogue photograph of a garment on an online fashion boutique which is technically a fashion photograph, just as a passport photograph is also portrait. Generally speaking, neither of these are of great value beyond their functional purpose and if they ever are, it’s an exception rather than the rule. I’d like to take this a little further here, drawing in discussion that came out of the round table conversations that were a part of the public programs accompanying the opening of the exhibition at Foam Photomuseum in Amsterdam in July 2014. I was part of a discussion chaired by Eleanor Weber (my co-contributor to the book) which also included Tyrone Le Bon, Jamie Hawkesworth and Daniel Evans and Brendan Baker. All are making vibrant, original and meaningful fashion images that matter. Yet all also agreed that there was work they had produced at one time or another which was a compromise, be that because of the nature of a commission, a restricted brief or a client expectation at odds with a creative outcome. Not every single image, made by any single photographer, emerging or established, fashion or otherwise, needs to matter. Indeed if they did, nothing would end up mattering very much.

Don't Stop Exhibition
Installation shot from Don’t Stop Now: Fashion Photography Next, Part 1, Fashion Space Gallery London College of Fashion

Reconsidering the exhibition after it’s opening in London and with my starting question in mind, I would say it demonstrates that fashion photography matters in several structural or industry based ways. We can see it as continuing to offer a platform for experimentation and alternative voices via underground, independent and self-publishing opportunities both online and in print. Significantly we can observe that more than ever before it provides a more visible and economically sustainable trajectory for women photographers to work as equals with their male counterparts even at a global multi-national level. We can be glad that at best it still fosters creative collaboration and exchange at a community or collective level. And contrary to expectation it has not been reduced to a singularly digital genre, but indeed has flourished recently through a combination of digital and analogue techniques. This is not to gloss over ongoing issues including a prevalent and insidious false economy where young photographers, stylists, and models do not get paid (or are paid very little) for significant but costly editorial, resulting in photographers essentially financing fashion magazines in the hope of having a story published. Or the pressure for photographers and stylists to conform to a magazine’s fashion credits in the supposedly creative outlet of editorial. These are generally luxury global brands that also pay for advertising in the magazine itself.

In Part Two of the exhibition currently on display, we can trace a definite linage of photographic influences particularly in relation to documentary and diarisitc approaches to subject – what I have called ‘Authenticity’. It signals a sophisticated visual knowledge of the history of photography, including fashion precursors, informing this generation of image-makers. Their work matters not because of its ‘fashion-ness’ (i.e. grandiose, extravagant, glamorous), but because it is intimate, revelatory and brave.

In contrast the selection of images concerned with the idea of ‘Artifice’ – that probably looks more like one thinks fashion should, puts paid to the longstanding idea that fashion is frivolous if it is not concerned with the real. This was also apparent in Part One of the exhibition dealing with ‘Play’; where abstraction, relational concerns and intervention in photographic process though arrangement marked a conceptual challenge to the idea of truth or objectivity. Fashion that revels in fantasy no longer ‘sells dreams’, but invites us to contemplate narratives that can be complex, dark, absurd, obscure and humorous. Though they do, I’m yet to meet a fashion photographer who tells me they set out to sell a dress (or a dream for that matter). In Part Two of the show I would suggest we see a generation of image makers intent on telling stories – about themselves, their friends and the world around them as well as stories from their imaginations. Ultimately too it is clear they all want to make good photographs.

Chardchakaj Waikawee, from the series Youth
Chardchakaj Waikawee, from the series Youth.

More individually (image by image) we see that fashion photographs can matter because they are funny, personal, political, confronting, conceptual – and then all these things and extraordinarily beautiful. I have purposefully not discussed the pictorial style of any one photographer in this piece as this is done comprehensively in the book. To conclude, I wish to make an exception for the work of Bangkok based Chardchakaj Waikaee. He is less well known that some of his peers, yet his documentary based work embodies the qualities above in a deceptively straight forward, then ultimately surprising and subversive way. This is particularly evident in work that challenges social structures, our pre-conceptions of the urban fringe and what it is to be fashionable. That he lives and works predominately outside of the still dominant centers of New York, London and Paris makes this all the more remarkable.

So if fashion photography doesn’t matter please do tell me why ‘BUT’ don’t expect me to stop – now, next or ever.

Magdalene Keaney has written widely on photography including for Acne Paper, American Photo, Aperture, British Journal of Photography, Chinese Vogue, Exit, Portfolio, Photofile and ShowStudio. Contributions to exhibition catalogues and books include Stephen Jones & the Accent of Fashion’ (MoMu 2009), ‘Yohji Yamamoto’ (V&A 2010), ‘British Ballgowns’ (V&A 2012) and Yamamoto & Yohji (Rizzoli 2014). Keaney was Associate Curator of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, London, where she curated ‘Irving Penn Portraits’ (2010). In 2010 she was appointed as the inaugural Creative Director of the Fashion Space Gallery at London College of Fashion. Her book ‘Fashion Photography Next’ (Thames and Hudson) was published in July 2014 at the same time an associated exhibition ‘Don’t Stop Now: Fashion Photography Next’ was opened at FOAM photomuseum in Amsterdam. The exhibition was co-produced and is currently showing at the Fashion Space Gallery, London College of Fashion. Keaney is currently completing her PhD at the Centre for Art History and Art Theory, Australian National University, Canberra.

March 11, 2015 

Working in London’s East End: Social Responsibility, Art Against Knives

ART AGAINST KNIVES, an organisation based in Hackney, works with at-risk young people living in London, affected by knife crime, and facilitates creative opportunities to help them secure employment, education or training. During Easter 2014, our Social Responsibility team worked with ART AGAINST KNIVES for the first time on a ‘Design + Make’ workshop at Golden Lane.

Dai Rees with student on an Art Against Knives Workshop

Through this collaboration, eight participants from ART AGAINST KNIVES, who were either victims or perpetrators of knife crime, undertook an eight day workshop introducing them to historical craft skills and tools used to make hand-crafted leather bags.

MA Fashion Artefact Course Leader and practicing artist, Dai Rees, led the project, which demonstrated the potential of an apprenticeship-approach to the crafts as a means for employability. It also presented opportunities for the participants to recognize their own creative potential and develop a range of transferable skills.

LCF have also offered the opportunity for two of the participants to develop further skills through the provision of two places on an LCF Artscom courses.

Read more here…

March 8, 2015 

International Women’s Day 2015

I am a feminist and fashion enthusiast and for me as Head of London College of Fashion, ‘Make It Happen,’ the theme for International Women’s Day this year, couldn’t be more appropriate.

WomensDay

Raising awareness about the need for greater equality is an issue which is important to every woman on this planet; from equal pay to removing discriminatory practices that prevent and deter women from undertaking what are considered to be men’s jobs; equality is a fundamental human right. The future of the fashion industry – an industry dominated by women, excepting the upper echelons of management – hold real opportunities for greater equality and diversity.

Although many women have risen to the top of the fashion industry, and we celebrate their incredible contribution, the job is not done. We need to focus on the future and education plays an absolutely pivotal role in ‘Making it Happen’ and realising the creative and economic potential of thousands of women worldwide.

February 25, 2015 

Working in London’s East End: The Trampery Fashion Hub

Based in London Fields the Fashion Hub is a collaboration between London College of Fashion, The Trampery, and Hackney Community College.
The Trampery is a London-based social enterprise that helps to facilitate entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation. The Trampery opened the first shared workspace in Shoreditch, in 2009, at the heart of London’s “Tech City”.

The Trampery

LCF worked with Trampery, it’s Patron HRH the Duke of York, founder Charles Armstrong, the Barbican Centre and Groupe Publicisto open the Trampery London Fields, Fashion Hub.

Launched to help support the next generation of fashion design talent by providing access to flexible spaces, facilities, expertise and solutions which historically have been scarce in the industry.

“It’s so encouraging to see creative communities working together to strengthen the opportunities for emerging British talent,” said British Fashion Council CEO Caroline Rush. “By creating stimulating and supportive environments, social enterprises like The Trampery are really helping to bolster the strength and future of fashion in the UK.”

The hub is currently occupied by emerging British design talent; Holly Fulton, Lou Dalton, James Long, Ellen Kern, Charlie May and Danielle Foster.

February 23, 2015 

London Fashion Week 2015

The scene for this season’s London Fashion week was set by the memorial service for Professor Louise Wilson OBE who, as head of the MA at Central St Martin’s, had had a seminal influence on the development of fashion talent and the positioning of London as one of the major fashion capitals.

j moon
J Moon – Fashion Shout 2015

Representatives of the global fashion industry as well as her graduates attended her memorial on the first day of LFW. It was a celebration of her contribution to the fashion industry as well as that of fashion on contemporary life.

It also made me reflect on how talent emerges onto the catwalk and into the shops. Attending numerous shows and presentations over the weekend it underscored how well London grows its talent. Talent needs an ecosystem of support to survive. In London you can see recently graduated emerging talent at Fashion Scout. I went to see LCF graduates J Moon and Maryanna Jungman.

Mariana Jungmann
Mariana Jungman

Here designers are provided with a platform to develop their collections and learn how to sustain quality of ideas and production over several collections away from the safer environment that a fashion education provides. Without Fashion Scout nurturing these designers and providing them with this opportunity it would be hard for new talent to gain the necessary and hard won experience of showcasing.

Alongside the young designers are the fresh-faced fashion photographers, PRs, journalists and illustrators all cutting their teeth on supporting and promoting the designers in putting on their presentations and shows. After their time at somewhere like Fashion Scout designers can emerge onto the schedules of for example Fashion East or gain support from NewGen and then ultimately find their way onto the main LFW programme.

Whilst the London factor can be summed up visually as with Sibling’s which was spikey, punk and uncompromising its in material, colour and shape or Sophia Webster’s installation where acrobatic models and cosmic sets provided an extraordinary showcase for her equally arresting shoes. For me it’s how London nurtures it’s talent that sets it apart from other fashion cities.

February 18, 2015 

Working in London’s East End: Centre for Fashion Enterprise

Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE) is London’s pioneering Fashion Business Incubator based in Hackney on Mare Street.

CFE facilitates small and medium enterprise development through a considered development strategy.

By way of a four-level programme offering, CFE provides expert guidance in the fields of finance, legal, manufacturing and marketing, strategic advice on progressive business solutions and bespoke mentoring from industry leaders and key influencers.

CFE helps designers to understand their vision, USP and IP, unlocking business potential and supporting SMEs to gain national and international foothold for their businesses. CFE provides the tools for designers, manufacturers and buyers, to ultimately reach economic sustainability.

Successes include Erdem, Richard Nicoll, Peter Pilotto, Meadham Kirchhoff and Mary Katrantzou, all of which have presented at London Fashion Week.

Video: London Collections: Men
London College of Fashion MA 2015 at the The Welsh Chapel.

Which brings me to the LCF MA15 season, which is currently showcasing student work from the Graduate School from December 2014 – February 2015. MA15 is taking place during London Collections: Men and London Fashion Week this year. Find out more on the LCF Channel, a hub for event listings and catwalk livestreams, as well as the latest news and student profiles.

February 17, 2015 

Politics and Fashion

In September last year I spoke with Lois McNay Professor of Political Theory at University of Oxford. We spoke about the intersection of politics and fashion, and investigated what fashion means for the politics of identity, the often difficult relationship between fashion and feminism, and the apparent contradictions between fashion as a vehicle for self-expression and fashion as the commodified product of exploitative global supply chains.

Jiajie Lin
Jiajie Lin. BA (Hons) Fashion Photography 2015

The Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF), a UAL Research Centre based at the college is championing a discussion around politics and fashion.

CSF is co-secretariat to an All Party Parliamentary Group in the House of Lords, and will be hosting a panel discussion there next Tuesday. Read more here…

Read the transcript of my in-conversation with Lois McNay here…


© 2015 Frances Corner