MA Fashion Studies End-of-Year Exhibitions
Qui Cherche Trouve?
The MA Fashion Studies final exhibition took place from the 10th – 14th of May at the premises of 3537org. This was the opportunity for our first-year students to present the collaborative projects they took part in throughout the academic year 2022/2023 and for our second-year students to present the research they conducted for their thesis work.
Presenting the series of projects: Printed Dialogues, Fashioning the Corporate Museum, Alaïa and Schiaparelli: Unmaking Fashion Heritage, and Research Folios the exhibition invited visitors to reflect on the spaces, actors, objects and politics of researching fashion, provocatively adopting the proverb “qui cherche trouve” as a title to question what it means to study fashion today.
Printed Dialogues is an ongoing project that explores the conversation between fashion media and collections of printed matter. For this semester, two different collections came into dialogue: The International Library of Fashion Research (ILFR) and the Donation Palais Galliera at Parsons Paris, with the purpose of exploring why and how we research fashion magazines and ephemera (in the form of catalogs, invitations, etc.); furthermore, to explore how the content of this material transcends the fashion system and can be used to research other subjects.
With this concept in mind, a group of first and second years students made a selection while thinking about the intersectionalities and intertextualities found on the pages of magazines, exhibition catalogs, and ephemera. The chosen content was then shared with Vesma Kontere McQuillan and Ilaria Trame from the ILFR, who, in turn, responded, thus creating a conversation between the two collections. The result was a display that invited the viewer to explore how fashion-printed matter is a medium for self-referencing and touches on points that influence and question society.
Fashioning the Corporate Museum
The exhibition Fashioning the Corporate Museum presented the Curating Fashion students’ reflections on how the multifaceted nature of the Fashion Corporate Museum feeds on multiple museological models to serve its curatorial practices. This adaptable characteristic represents a useful kaleidoscope through which we can observe this contemporary mechanism.
For this specific project, students studied four exhibitions from the Ferragamo Museum, questioned the idea of the personal/corporate museum, and discussed the contemporary museum discourse on fashion: from cultural to commercial and backwards.
The first section, “Reactivating the Retrospective: The Authorship of Salvatore Ferragamo,” explored how the authorship of Ferragamo has been built through a specific personal, evolving, material, and technical know-how and also through a series of discourses about his role as a key figure in the international fashion and shoe industry. Salvatore Ferragamo (1898-1960). Sponsored by the ‘Centro Mostre’ and organized with the Galleria del Costume of Palazzo Pitti, it was the starting point that served as a critical reading of the ways discourses about authorship are developed within and about fashion makers
‘Telling Legends, Selling Brands,’ an installation that explored Evolving Legends 1928-2008 (2008) to analyze the role of the blockbuster exhibition within a corporate museum, which sits between the idea of entertainment and culture, hence, working as both commercial and cultural vehicles for a brand. Furthermore, this group inquired about the idea of ‘legend’ and how a brand can profit from this concept as a marketing strategy. Our aim was to highlight how blockbuster exhibitions stand in between the idea of entertainment and culture.
What’s in a Loan? was the result of the analysis of Equilibrium (2014), which focused on the importance that Salvatore Ferragamo gave to the anatomy of the foot and that of balance as key elements of the design process. Taking this idea as their starting point, the group set themselves to observe the wide range of artwork gathered to set the exhibition, combining different languages of art and science, including sculptures, paintings, drawings, film, anatomy, literature, and fashion. These masterpieces were not only distinct historical works of art but also exceptional loans from prestigious international museums that both recognized the legacy of the curator and inserted the work of Ferragamo into a new spectrum of cultural sensibilities.
Lastly, ‘Across Legitimization’ explored the role of legitimization in the discourse between art and fashion after investigating Across Art and Fashion (2016) in connection to the Biennale of Florence – Art / Fashion (1996) as the former acted as an homage to the latter. In their section, the group used the two exhibitions as springboards to reflect on the changing shifts, roles, and effects of legitimacy emerging in the dialogue between fashion and art. Moreover, they suggested four entries to unveil this legitimation process: the people as an object of legitimacy, the media as an audience that confers legitimacy, and the space and the re-enactment as a curatorial methodology of legitimization.
Using the case of the Ferragamo museum, students focused on four exhibitions – Salvatore Ferragamo (1985), Evolving Legends (2008), Equilibrium (2014) and Across Art and Fashion (2016-2017) – to detect their capacity to evoke the different traits, policies, and natures of the corporate (and non) fashion museum today. Their installation not only represented diverse approaches to the corporate fashion museum, but they also enabled a discussion about the evolving significance of the fashion museum between the commercial and the cultural.
Alaïa and Schiaparelli: Unmaking Fashion Heritage
The MA in Fashion Studies continues collaborating with the Azzedine Alaïa Foundation on exploring heritage and fashion with a project on the couturier and artist Elsa Schiaparelli.
In the last two years, students had the chance to navigate this archive focusing on the work of Schiaparelli and specifically focusing on two crucial events: the auction ‘Elsa Schiaparelli: Garde-robe de 1935 à 1950’ in 2009 by Cornette de Saint Cyr that took place at Drouot; and the exhibition ‘Schiaparelli’ curated by Azzedine Alaïa his Gallery on the occasion of this auction.
These two events were the starting point for the students’ research within the course ‘Fashion, Memory and the Politics of Heritage,’ taught by Antoine Bucher, where they questioned ways in which the field of heritage studies can make us rethink the definition and meaning of fashion heritage and investigated how Elsa Schiaparelli has been historicized by designers, curators, academics, private collectors and cultural institutions. The installation shows a part of this research process, displaying some key documents from the Diktats collection – autobiography, auction catalogs, magazine articles, and other ephemera – discovered during the semester, which are coupled with quotes from literature in heritage studies.
Research Folios invited visitors to read and consult primary and secondary sources from the year two graduate students’ thesis research to learn about their processes and approaches to fashion. This year’s projects demonstrated the heterogeneity and interdisciplinary nature of fashion studies as they navigate issues of race, inclusivity, production, representation, and consumption.
Some students had particularly focused on the politics of identities in fashion museums, systems, and media; other investigations interrogate queer orientations in fashion museums; postcolonial discourses in exhibition spaces and neocolonial imaginaries of Iran in the pages of Vogue US or relations between the fashion industry and city governments in the constructions of urban identities such as Toronto. Other projects led us into the realm of fashion as a mechanism of consumption and display: rebuilding the archeology of commercial spaces in brands like Schiaparelli or the system of sustainability in fashion set design practices.
Other students turned our attention to fashion as popular culture and identity politics, looking at the role of Instagram as a space for constructing discourses about authenticity and the self, investigating garments’ rental practices as identity formation, or the role of garments in celebrity culture commodification and abuse of popular female figures such as Serena Williams. Finally, the installation showed us fashion as a tool for resistance and memory, exploring the role of making and oral history in the case of indigenous fashion and design as contemporary mnemonic practices.