Annamari Vänskä has an impressive curriculum vitae: she is the author of Fashionable Childhood: Children in Advertising and the co-editor of Fashion Curating: Critical Practice in the Museum and Beyond with Dr. Hazel Clark, and currently a visiting scholar at Shanghai College of Fashion (SCF) at Donghua University in Shanghai, China whilst maintaining her position as professor of Fashion Research at the Aalto University, Finland. Dr. Annamari Vänskä specialized in art history, visual culture, critical gender studies, queer theory, childhood studies, and in fashion studies, and has written and taught about these topics at various levels throughout her career.
On March 13th, 2018, Dr. Vänskä presented to first year MA Fashion Studies students the problem of how to contextualize queer theory within fashion; whether it is corporeal, material, visual, or textual, with a specific interpretation by either paranoid or reparative reading, “queering fashion” is a complex thing.
Dr. Vänskä started the seminar by introducing an integral development of “queer”, from a negative connotation to an empowering and encompassing statement, and then to a theory that “criticize[s] identity-based gay and lesbian studies and to challenge heterosexist assumptions about what passes as theory and knowledge” (Vänskä, 2018). She then brought the theory from the representations that question and challenge a heteronormative history of fashion and its corresponding dress practices that clearly distinguish men and women, and finally to a broader sense, a method, which enters from an epistemological angle, of undoing norms of genders and sexualities.
Several key scholars that substantially contributed to the development of queer theory, in an indispensable association with fashion that gender and sexuality are performed through practices of dress, were then addressed by Dr. Vänskä: Teresa de Lauretis, Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Shaun Cole. There are constant debates about different ways of interpreting fashion through queer theory. For instance, Vänskä emphasized on Judith Butler, who insists that gender and sexuality are not natural but socially and culturally constructed factors; her paranoid reading challenges the heterosexist norms, but then was problematized by Sedgwick as challenging such norms by admitting heterosexuality as norm and excavating the marginalized and stigmatized ones through the norm.
Vänskä also presented her case-study on two groundbreaking fashion exhibitions, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk at Brooklyn Museum, and A Queer History of Fashion: From Closet to the Catwalk at the Fashion Institution of Technology (FIT), which are both considered a breakthrough for the inclusion of queer identities within both the fashion world and the contemporary social structure. Though, different opinions including Vänskä’s were posted on the purposes, curatorial practices, and the influences of the exhibitions, whether they bring light to the marginalized groups, or once again reinforces the atypicality of homosexuality and the dominance of heteronormativity is constantly debated.
Vänskä, Annamari. “From Gay to Queer – Or, Wasn’t Fashion Always Already a Very Queer Thing?” Fashion Theory 18, no. 4 (2014): 447-63.
Words by Yanran Xiong
Photo via Bloomsbury Publishing