Unravelling Threads: Tracing and Transforming Violence and Trauma through Fashion

Fashion sits intimately upon the skin, functioning as a barrier between the self and the outside world, with the ability to offer notions of both physical and psychological protection. Yet it is also inherently revelatory, and can express our feelings and experiences – or mould them, and communicate how we would like to be perceived.  

Fashion also has an unrelenting relationship with the contexts in which it occurs. It reflects, responds to, and contributes towards wider events, from cultural to political and beyond. In this way, fashion operates as a phenomenon that is deeply personal yet simultaneously inseparable from wider society.  

This places fashion as uniquely able to express trauma and violence, whether on an individual or collective scale, and it can function as a site upon which they can manifest. Yet, at the same time, fashion also offers a powerful vehicle for deflection, protection, and healing from those very same notions. 

This two-day conference, hosted by London College of Fashion and The Courtauld Institute of Art, seeks to explore the wide-ranging and nuanced relationships between fashion, violence, and trauma. It aims to understand how violence and trauma manifest upon the body, as well as how fashion offers the prospect of processing, resolving, and overcoming violent and traumatic experiences.  

From 1940s Germany to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in 2022, the conference will take an international, interdisciplinary, and cross-temporal approach. We will hear how these themes impact and inspire subjects such as fashion design, fashion education, personal narratives, and more. The conference will present a varied range of formats, including academic papers, industry panels, an interview with practicing psychologists, and film. 

This conference is organised by Dr Rebecca Arnold (The Courtauld) and Dr Lucy Moyse Ferreira (London College of Fashion) as a collaboration between London College of Fashion and The Courtauld Institute. The first day will be hosted by LCF as part of the School of Media and Communication Hub, and the second by The Courtauld as part of the Documenting Fashion group.  

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11:30am, 6 May 2022

Friday 6th May 2022, 11.30am - 5.30pm BST and Saturday 7th May 2022, 10.30am - 5.30pm BST

£10.00

Online 

Registration closes 60 minutes before the event start time. If you do not receive log in details on the day of the event, please contact researchforum@courtauld.ac.uk  

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Research

Programme

Day 1 – Friday 6th May: Experiencing/Expressing

11:30 Welcome

11:40 Session 1

Dr Lucy Moyse Ferreira 

Keynote paper: Shadows, Skeletons, and Spectres: Deathliness within Interwar Fashion

During the interwar period, notions of absence and deathliness crept into the fashion world. Why would a fashion magazine include an image of the grim reaper nestling amongst its fashion plates? How does the concept of the little black dress relate to mourning wear? Why did a new trend of shadowy silhouettes appear within fashion photography? And why did a couture evening dress transform its wearer into a skeleton? This paper will address such questions by considering the unfolding relationship between fashion and death within Britain, France, and the United States during the 1920s and 1930s. The First World War and 1918 flu pandemic caused monumental losses of life, and their deep repercussions were widely documented. This paper will demonstrate how fashion responded to and processed this suffering, and further traumatic events, leading to the potential resolution of violence-induced trauma, as well as the development of new aesthetics and practices.

12:20 Session 2

Rachel Corker-Brown (fashion designer) and Jonathan DeMelkon (fashion film director) 

Love is a Choice in the Midst of Trauma: Collision Collection, Fashion Film, and Behind the Scenes Footage 

Your car has been deemed a total loss and every palpitation from here on will bring you back to near death. You always were, and still are, in control. This is our world now. This is Collision.

Corker-Brown’s Collision collection started with not one, but two car crashes in a three month timespan. These events shaped the designer and inspired her to funnel the post-traumatic stress into beautiful garments that reflect the emotion that followed.

Through movement, lighting, and set design, the Collision fashion film (dir. DeMelkon) tells the complex story of the garments as well as how they pertain to mental health disorder.

13:00 Lunch break

14:00 Session 3

Lindsay McGlone

How do Fat Bodies Dress for Protection against Discrimination?

14.30 Session 4

Meena Bhella in conversation with Diana Donaldson and Paula Goodwin

15:20 Break

15:50 Session 5

Dr Florentina Andreescu

War in a Society of Spectators 

As the contemporary attention economy is increasingly directed towards representations, at the expense of the complexity of our lifeworld, the representation becomes privileged as most valuable and most real. This in turn alters the public sphere and the nature of politics. Namely, we notice a wide-spread replacement of the role of citizen with that of spectator. Subjects in this post-truth spectacular society display a profound sense of cynicism and vehemently reject fundamental aspects of human shared existence, as they eagerly embrace conspiracy theories. For instance, this dynamic manifests in the refusal to accept that covid-19 pandemic is a real event, that Joe Biden won the US presidential election; and, most recently, that a devastating war in Ukraine is actually taking place. In addition, the Russian government’s reasons for engaging in the most devastating European war since WWII, are based on staggeringly deceptive arguments, that include: de-Nazify the country; stop the genocide in the Donbass region; and disable biological weapons laboratories funded by the US. Informed by the work of Iain McGilchrist (2021) and Louis Sass (2017) on social schizophrenia, this paper meditates on the contemporary cynic’s engagement with the Ukrainian war. Namely, it focuses on the cynic’s ability to occupy extremes simultaneously: both sceptical about basic aspects of the war’s shared reality, and yet gullible enough to espouse enormously improbable beliefs that are clearly delusional.


Dr Irene Guenther

Fashion in the Rubble of War: Germany 1945-1949   

 

The topic of fashion might seem appallingly superficial in light of the vast destruction and genocide committed by the Nazi State during World War Two, as well as the overwhelming challenges of survival in decimated towns and cities throughout postwar Germany.  Yet, clothing human beings was a serious health concern, given the drastic material scarcities and the countless numbers of bombed-out civilians, refugees, concentration camp survivors, and displaced persons who had absolutely nothing when the war ended.  Intertwined with this practical matter is the refashioning that German women, in particular, undertook, both during and especially after the war.  As this paper will explore, their motivations were wide-ranging; their aims, however, were two-fold.  Understanding the power of appearance, the self-fashioning women undertook wrapped their defeated and demoralized bodies in a more acceptable external image.  Equally important, their self-fashioning helped to heal their shattered psyches and to nourish hope when there was little to be had.

16:45 Session 6

Dr Lisa Cohen

Keynote paper: “What Was Going On In That Closet After They Died”: Essays, Conversations, Archives

A reading from a project exploring intimacies among the living, the dead, and their shared clothes. Based on encounters with people who have shown and spoken with me about charged, cherished, or neglected artefacts, this work is part of my ongoing documentation of ephemeral archives, experiments with biographical writing, and need to do justice both to larger historical relations and to singular sensory experiences. I am asking: How do such articles of clothing and accessories hold and activate different bodies, histories, memories? How do they make loss and transformation—as well as various relations of power, pleasure, and care—material? What is it possible to learn about preservation and decay, and about undervalued lives and archival afterlives, from these remnants?

17:30 End

 

Day 2 -7th May: Healing/Overcoming

10:30 Welcome

10:40 Session 1

Dr Rebecca Arnold

Black & Tan Fantasy (1929) Screening & Discussion

Although less than twenty minutes in length, Black & Tan Fantasy portrays a powerful message of Black virtuosity encapsulated in Duke Ellington’s musical performance, which provides the emotional register, shifting from uplift to expressions of trauma and unity in the final scene.

Starring Ellington and Fredi Washington, Black & Tan Fantasy allows us to experience the ways costume, body, movement and gesture combined within 1920s jazz, and the role these elements played within Black art and performance. The deep emotions that the film conveys are heightened by the visual techniques deployed by director Dudley Murphy, who had previously directed Ballet mécanique (1924) with Fernand Léger. The film’s impact depends upon Ellington and Washington’s elegant, intelligent expressed through dance and music as conduits of pain, trauma, and importantly, the potential for healing.

11.30 Break

12.00 Session 2

Omer Osim and Maya Antoun: Industry Presentation

Omer Asim and Maya Antoun have worked together since (2010).

Asim has a background in Architecture and Psychoanalytic Psychology, later moving into Fashion. Antoun trained as a Jewellery Designer and maker; she has worked extensively on craft-based capacity building projects in Africa.

Asim and Antoun’s work straddles craft, fashion and other cultural pursuits. Their collaborative interests lie strongly in the process of making, and in the space before an object is completed.

They explore elements of traditional making techniques and have conversations around processes,  and the significance of discarded and hidden elements during the development of object/garment making.

Their creative dialogue explores what occurs before an object/garment is conventionally ‘finished’. Asim and Antoun both grew up in Sudan and share an interest in the spaces in which objects are contextualised and made sense of. Though they work within the area of Fashion, essentially they consider it an exploration of a space.

12.45 Session 3

An interview with Hilda Burke and Dr Dion Terrelonge 

Practising psychologists Hilda Burke and Dr Dion Terrelonge will join us for a discussion on the relationships between fashion, psychology, violence, and trauma

13:30 Lunch break 

14.30 Session 4

Caroline Elenowitz-Hess

Reckoning with Highland Rape: Sexuality, Violence, and Power on the Runway

Alexander McQueen’s Fall 1995 show Highland Rape was a turning point in his career. The title of the show, in conjunction with the models’ appearance on the runway in ripped, revealing clothes, was undeniably provocative, and the controversy raised his profile considerably. Several reviewers criticized the show, labeling it “misogynistic.” McQueen consistently objected to this characterization, saying that the phrase “Highland Rape” referred to England’s historical “assaults” upon his ancestral homeland of Scotland and drew from witnessing the abuse that his sister suffered at the hands of her ex-husband. Because of this, some fashion scholars have dismissed the idea of McQueen’s misogyny as merely a failure to fully understand his oeuvre and his biography. While critiquing McQueen’s use of sexual violence, it is necessary to find a middle ground between the idea that either McQueen’s work is too complex and authentic to be criticized or that his sometimes-troubling approach to race and gender politics should condemn him to wholesale dismissal. However, examining Highland Rape through its authorial intent and a close reading of the garments themselves, while considering the power dynamics between model and designer, reveals a performance that reinforces the glamorization of rape and the manipulation of women’s bodies.

Dr Otto von Busch

Fashion between virtue and violence

In its everyday form, fashion can be seen as a conflict. It thrives in the tension between the haves and have-nots, the ins and outs, the counted and uncounted, leaders and followers, winners and losers, friends and enemies. Do the right thing, and a wearer can enjoy the pleasures of attention, status, and popularity. Failure, on the other hand, can lead to rejection, exclusion, and bullying. However, as much as fashion manifests these boundaries, it can also help people transgress them. In this talk, I will suggest some ways to unpack some of these tensions, putting the spotlight on processes of micro-regulation and exclusion, while also mapping out how fashion could be a tool for healing.

15.45 Session 5

Dr Manrutt Wongkaew

Last Night Fashion Saved My Life 

Growing up was painful. Sexually abused by Dad. Emotionally abused by Mom. What kept me and Little Manny alive was fashion, art and hope, hope for a better tomorrow.

Having survived such long history of pain and trauma, I will be sharing my recovery – how fashion has become my personal therapy. I will also share how this body of therapeutic knowledge has informed my visual artwork, community projects, and teaching practices, extending the language of fashion, across disciplines and borders, to connect with light and shade of human emotions, community, and well-being.

Through auto-ethnographic approach, affective knowledge, and my ongoing research on therapy-informed teaching, I will highlight the importance of creativity, compassion, and kindness in time of trauma and crises. Join me to light up the path of courage, vulnerability, and authenticity, through fashion, as I strongly believe that it has an intrinsic power to help us heal.

Dr Eric Darnell Pritchard

Grandma’s Love: On Black Sartorial Resilience

Examining the life and practices of three Black women – Bennie Frances Davis, Gladys Bush, and Ethel Bernard Rainey, and their grandsons – iconic fashion editor Andre Leon Talley, and fashion designers Willi Smith and Patrick Kelly, this presentation focuses on the ways Black grandmothers passed on technologies of what I call Black sartorial resilience; techniques their grandsons employed to create a life in fashion and forge paths for themselves and generations that followed. By applying Black sartorial resistance to three moments in fashion history, we have a lens that makes legible the contributions these Black women and others have contributed to the ways Black people have overcome and healed through fashion and other dimensions of their lives.

16:45 Session 6

Documenting Fashion: Plenary

17:30 End

Speakers

Dr Rebecca Arnold (The Courtauld) is Senior Lecturer in History of Dress at The Courtauld Institute of Art. She has lectured internationally and published extensively on 20th and 21st century fashion. She is currently working on a new book: Documenting Fashion: Dress & Visual Culture in the 1920s and 1930s (Bloomsbury, 2023). 

Dr Lucy Moyse Ferreira (LCF) is Lecturer in Fashion Media at London College of Fashion. Her research focuses on fashion and beauty and their relationship with media, psychology, and art. Recent publications include her book, Danger in the Path of Chic: Violence in Fashion between the Wars (Bloomsbury, 2021), and ‘“A Seductive Weapon … a Necessary Luxury”: Shopping for ‘Designer Perfume’ During the Interwar Period’ in Shopping and the Senses (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022). 

Rachel Corker-Brown (fashion designer: Corker-Brown) is a British fashion designer based in London, who has been working on their capsule collection for the last year. They have also worked on multiple independent films over the past couple of years, venturing into costumes design, collaborating with Art Directors on their visions. ​ Taking inspiration from broken and damaged objects and emotion, Corker-Brown sees beauty in things that others might overlook, creating garments with elements of unconventional tailoring, sculptural shapes and unique fashion. Steering more towards sustainable fashion, their graduate collection used upcycled airbags, seat belts and other car parts. https://www.corkerbrown.com

Jonathan DeMelkon is a freelance writer-director who weaves story through one common belief: The Light is in You. DeMelkon’s work, including music videos and the Collision fashion film, is showcased on his company’s website (http://tsilindr.com/) as well as @jmdemelkon on socials.

Lindsay McGlone aka ‘The Fierce Fat Feminist’, is a ‘force to be reckoned with’. An activist, public speaker, producer, burlesque stage manager, Instagram coach and teacher, she dismantles fatphobia and society’s perceptions of fat bodies. She’s worked with a wide range of plus size fashion brands and is frequently featured in the press. lindsaymcglone.com

Diana Donaldson has maintained a role in education as Course Leader and Senior Lecturer alongside her professional industry practice for over 20 years. Diana’s all-inclusive and tenacious approach is exemplified though her work and experience in providing specialist style services to a diverse, esoteric client base and her extensive work as creative producer with high profile clients, global brands working in allied disciplines for the creative industries in UK, Europe, United States and Asia.

Diana is an ardent supporter and active in producing projects for the charitable, medical and HE sector. Her specialist areas of interest in academia are social justice, inclusive pedagogy, diverse innovative curriculum development and defining complex student cohort dynamics.

She possesses the kind of experiential knowledge that is gained only from a long and eventful carer. Diana is a committed, prolific mentor and has managed and trained many in the creative industries and in academia exhaustively over the last 15 years.

“My work and identity reflect a passion for curious and courageous creativity.”

Research: A Different Hue of Blue Embedding Diversity and Inclusivity Within the Higher Education Curriculum (2021)

Research (UAL Knowledge Exchange): The Myth Of Beauty Intervention at Walthamstow School for girls. (2022)

Dr Florentina Andreescu (University of North Carolina Wilmington) combines insights from the study of politics, global economy and psychoanalysis to investigate issues of radical social change, embodiment, social trauma, and identity. She has published widely in scholarly journals, and is the author of From Communism to Capitalism: Nation and State in Romanian Cultural Production (Palgrave Macmillan 2013) and the co-editor of Genre and the (Post-)Communist Woman: Analyzing Transformations of the Central and Eastern European Female Ideal (Routledge 2014). She is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Embodiment & Global Capitalism 

Dr Irene Guenther (University of Houston) has published on the Nazi takeover of the German-Jewish fashion industry; the contested politics of women’s clothing in the four occupied zones of Germany after World War II; magical realism from 1920s Germany to 1940s Latin America; and the anti-war artists of the First World War. Her first book, “Nazi ‘Chic’? Fashioning Women in the Third Reich,” won the Costume Society of America’s Millia Davenport Publication Award for best fashion history book of the year and the Sierra Prize, given by the Western Association of Women Historians. Her second book, “Postcards from the Trenches: A German Soldier’s Testimony of the Great War,” was published in late 2018 and was accompanied by a centennial exhibition of WWI soldiers’ art. She has also received numerous teaching and faculty awards.  

Lisa Cohen (Wesleyan University) is the author of All We Know: Three Lives, which features her biography of the fashion writer and editor Madge Garland. Her essays on clothes, books, and art have appeared in The London Review of BooksThe Paris ReviewFashion Theory, the New York Times’ T Magazine, and many other publications.

Omer Asim is a Sudanese clothier working between Khartoum and London. His design process explores tangible and intangible cultural pursuits relating to dress, mind and body. Modern shapes, cuts and textures mix with primitive elements to create a sense of regressive future. 

Maya Antoun is a creative design strategist. Her practice straddles the areas of Fashion, craft and capacity building. Antoun also has a background in Jewellery design with an MA from Central Saint Martins. She has worked as the lead creative for Omer Asim womenswear since 2010.    

Hilda Burke is a West-London based integrative psychotherapist and writer, working with clients on a broad range of subjects, including anxiety, bereavement, infertility, addiction, abuse and depression. She is author of The Phone Addiction Workbook. She studied at CCPE and holds diplomas in psychotherapy and Couples Counselling as well as a post-graduate certificate in Dreamwork, validated by the University of Northampton. She is also a frequent speaker and press contributor. 

Dr Dion Terrelonge is a chartered and practicing psychologist, working in the areas of educational psychology and fashion psychology. The latter in which she lectures, provides media comment and conducts research, as well as running the style and wellbeing consultancy, which supports people in their style identity during periods of change. She is currently researching the link between clothing and mood. 

Caroline Elenowitz-Hess (Bard Graduate Center, USA) is a fashion historian based in New York City. She is currently a PhD student at Bard Graduate Center and hosts webinars on fashion history with the New York Adventure Club.  Caroline spent several years working as a fashion designer before pursuing her MA in Fashion Studies from Parsons. She previously received a BA in English Literature from Yale University and an AAS in Fashion Design from FIT. Her writing has been published in Fashion Theory, The Journal of Design History, Atlas Obscura, Jezebel, and the Bloomsbury Fashion Video Archive. She has also curated an online exhibition for the Underpinnings Museum and has been quoted in articles in Harper’s Bazaar, i-D, and W magazine. Her research is focused on definitions of femininity in the twentieth century in France and the United States. 

Dr Otto von Busch (Parsons School of Design) is Associate Professor of Integrated Design at Parsons School of Design. He has for over fifteen years examined fashion beyond consumerism, aesthetic decrees, and arbitrary authority, and worked towards establishing fashion practice as a shared capability, or fashion-ability. His latest publications include The Psychopolitics of Fashion: Conflict and Courage Under the Current State of Fashion, (Bloomsbury 2020).

Dr Manrutt Wongkaew (LCF) is a lecturer in Fashion Styling and Production at London College of Fashion, UAL. He is also an experienced stylist and creative director working across the fields of fashion, dance, and art therapy. His practice reaches a wide range of audiences from children in foster care to adults with learning disabilities and male inmates.

Dr Eric Darnell Pritchard (University of Arkansas, USA) is a scholar, fashion historian, cultural critic, and author of the award-winning Fashioning Lives: Black Queers and the Politics of Literacy. Their biography Abundant Black Joy: The Life and Work of Patrick Kelly, is forthcoming from Amistad/HarperCollins in 2023. They are Brown Chair in English Literacy and Associate Professor of English at the University of Arkansas.    

Meena Bhella is a Makeup pro and has been in the industry for 10 years and teaches Makeup at London College of Fashion.

Meena is passionate about race inclusion In her professional and teaching practice. She completed a PgCert which allowed her to pilot a project to steer changes that are needed embed race inclusion within the Hair and makeup course. Her interest in social justice and race inclusion inspired her to launch Four Thousand Miles which documents British Asian girls in creative spaces.

Meena engages in futurist approaches and piloted The Beauty Down Low, a platform that initiates support structures for Makeup artists transitioning from HE into the world of freelance.

Tags: IG @Bhellamakeup, Four Thousand Miles @4000mileslater and The Beauty Down Low @thebeautydownlow

Paula Goodwin is a highly motivated and seasoned practitioner with over 30 years’ experience in providing expert cutting and styling of men’s and women’s hair.  From an early age, and realising the industry is very creative, her idea was to strive, develop innovations and watch the fashions change seasonally and then return later at some point.  Her unique and extensive knowledge of hair ‘artistry’ saw these designs as evolving trends and changes within the industry, both nationally and internationally winning a few awards along the way.   Demonstrating classic and modern cuts and shaves, hair tattooing and various pictorial designs in hair using the Andis and Whal clippers as well as other tools and brands, increasing the ability to be an integral part of major media events i.e. fashion, TV, photo shoots and film shows working solo or teamed with a pre- production team.

Paula worked at Salon International and Afro Hair and Beauty exhibitions stands, alongside master Barber MK for two decades here, in London and Japan, be it style, colour, shape, logo or scene.  Within adult education the awarding body City and Guilds have benefitted through further developing their diverse and detailed curriculum.  The role of curriculum specification consultant enabled the delivery of Hairdressing and Barbering units for levels 1, 2 and 3.  Re-writing the exam questions and editing texts books used by colleges nationally and internationally.

Paula has established a highly successful Barbering course in a category B prison, rehabilitating men aged 18 – 60, through the delivery of City & Guilds levels 2 and 3 Barbering. Built excellent relationships with a wide range of inmates from various, colourful and very challenging backgrounds. Through supportive constructive conversations and was able to build a cohesive classroom environment with current gang members. Using Barbering as a way of channeling their minds and embracing a different and progressive way of positive change. Engaged the learners with dynamic practical sessions, while providing a safe space and supportive environment for the men to decompress and upskill to prepare for release. Currently 25 men have gone onto work in salons upon release, 4 enrolled into a college to study hairdressing further and 5 have established their own Barber shops.

Illustration of a fashion mannequin changing her head
Illustration, Pinpoints, 1939 (The Courtauld History of Dress Journal Archive, photographed by Lucy Moyse Ferreira)

Citations