We are proud to announce the launch of a new book series – a collaboration between Bloomsbury Publishing and The Courtauld Institute of Art that brings together scholarly and innovative approaches to understanding the relationship between the visual and material in forming fashion and dress cultures. It focuses on books that foreground fashion as lived experience – the ways emotional and sensory encounters with dress, its design, manufacture, promotion, and consumption, but also, wearing clothing and the role it plays in social engagement – changes its meanings and signiﬁcance. Books included in the series explore the ways looking, seeing, wearing and being interconnect, with each other, but also with, for example, wider visual and material cultures, and technological changes in the ways dress and fashion are represented, produced, promoted and experienced.
French department stores had offered readymade garments increasingly since their appearance in the mid-nineteenth-century. Yet French fashion scholarship has omitted this industry in most history narratives. Embedded firmly within the country’s heritage and conceptions of Frenchness, French dress history prioritises haute couture and idealises the production of iconic designers. Adding readymade dress to this narrative, and positioning its consumers as players and agents, advances a more inclusive and multi-layered understanding of fashion.
In the first critical history of French readymade fashion, Alexis Romano examines an array of sources, including surviving garments, fashion magazines, film, photography and interviews, to weave together previously disparate historical narratives. The resulting volume – Prêt-à-Porter, Paris and Women – situates the readymade in wider postwar discourses of gender, art, design, urbanism, technology and the everyday.
At the end of the Second World War France faced economic and political collapse. The ready-to-wear industry reinvented itself as the French State reshaped its own image, when it was largely embroiled in colonial struggles and increasingly shed its peripheral territories. In this book, Romano traces the development of the readymade clothing industry between 1945 and 1968 – as it mutated between confection, prêt-à-porter, and stylisme – and connects it to France’s wider project of post-war modernisation and reconstruction, and to shifting conceptions of national and gender identities, and modernity. Its study exposes tensions between modernisation and tradition, and prosperity and tension, felt by the individual in an increasingly standardised, mass society and by women in their ambiguous status as French citizens, enfranchised only from 1944. Through a close reading of fashion magazines, namely Vogue and Elle, Romano reveals how French ready-to-wear and the genre of fashion photography in France developed in tandem. Analyses of representations of space, women and clothing in such publications – alongside contemporary film, documentary photography and family snapshots demonstrate that popular conceptions of fashion and the modern identities of women shifted in the period studied.
Throughout, the book addresses myriad topics, including trade fairs and the Franco-American dialogue; the work of specific designers, brands, and photographers; design movements and art genres from International Modernism, New Wave Cinema to Op Art; and the ideas of philosophers such as Henri Lefebvre, Roland Barthes and Simone de Beauvoir.
Alexis Romano is Lecturer in Fashion Studies at Parsons School of Design. She holds a PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art, and MA degrees from the Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne and the Bard Graduate Center. Her research in 20th-century fashion, design and visual culture focuses around postwar readymade culture, women’s lives, oral history, and everyday, subjective aspects of dress, with the aim of broadening fashion authorship (and access). She is co-founder of the Fashion Research Network, U.S. Editor of WeAr Global Magazine, and was the 2020-1 Gerald and Mary Ellen Ritter Memorial Fund Fellow at the Costume Institute (The Met). Her writing has appeared in Photography & Culture, Vestoj, Costume, Disegno, Fashion Studies Journal, and the volumes American Fashion: Agency, Identity and Everyday Life (forthcoming), Vogue Paris Cent Ans (Palais Galliera, 2021), Paris Refashioned, 1957-68 (MFIT, 2017) and Yohji Yamamoto (V&A, 2011).
Organised by Dr Rebecca Arnold (The Courtauld) and Kathryn Reed (The Courtauld).