There is much discussion in contemporary scholarship about the need to decolonise curricula and look beyond a Eurocentric bias. But what does it actually mean to decolonise fashion history? How can we move beyond the jargon and actively piece together a more inclusive definition of fashion, past and present? Fashion is undoubtedly a transnational phenomenon. It crosses borders and tells stories about local identities and global networks of exchange.
So what sorts of tools might academics use to unpack those stories? This paper cannot guarantee definitive answers. Instead it proposes suggestions, based upon my research into the Guarani-Kaiowá, who use fashion to articulate a sense of who they are, in relation to when and where they are. The Guarani-Kaiowá are indigenous to the central-Western state of Mato Grosso do Sul in Brasil. My analysis examines their representation within a short film produced by Paulo Siqueira and Nadia Shira Cohen for National Geographic Brasil in August 2013. The work of Brazilian sociologist Renato Ortiz (1947-) provides a useful framework to analyse how fashion has taken shape and flourished amongst the Guarani-Kaiowá, in response to an unpredictable environment. He coined the term ‘mundialization’ to point to a common culture that is shared throughout the world, which becomes localised and indigenised through dress and bodily practices. This paper supports the notion, underlined by my recent book Fashioning Brazil: Globalization and the Representation of Brazilian Dress in National Geographic, that employing theories which emerge from beyond Western Europe and North America is a useful starting point to decentre fashion history.
Elizabeth Kutesko (PhD, Courtauld Institute of Art) is a fashion historian, with a particular interest in Latin American bodily practices and the intersection between dress, cultural identity, representation and power. She is currently Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Central Saint Martins and the author of Fashioning Brazil: Globalization and the Representation of Brazilian Dress in National Geographic (Bloomsbury, 2018).
Organised by Dr Rebecca Arnold (The Courtauld)