March Study Day - Fabrics in Fashion

March Study Day - Fabrics in Fashion

Saturday 19 March 2016

There is often some confusion between fabrics and fibres. Cotton, wool, silk and linen are classified as natural fibres and come from an animal or vegetable source, whilst nylon, polyester, acrylic, elastomeric and many others are artificially created starting from a chemical reaction of petroleum sourced chemicals, and are called synthetic fibres. Other synthetic fibres, artificially made from naturally occurring substances like cellulose and protein are called regenerated fibres and these include acetate, triacetate and casein.

So what are fabrics? Fabrics are made from fibres and it is weight, weave, texture and pattern which give them distinct characteristics. Today’s fabrics are even further complicated by the fact that a number of fibres can be mixed together making the recycling process almost impossible.

The designer will often start with the fabric as the drape, texture and weight will directly affect the style to be created but durability, warmth and comfort may also play a part. And then of course there is FASHION!

Who would have thought that a flimsy almost transparent fabric like muslin could have dominated fashionable dress in Regency England when there was no central heating?

Sonia Ashmore: Muslin: ‘thirty shillings a yard … and only the shadow of a commodity’

Muslin is a cotton textile of fabulous reputation, sometimes so fine as to be almost invisible. In India it was worn by both men and women and was prized by the Mughal Courts. It became a key commodity and vehicle of social and economic control for the British East India Company in Bengal where the finest muslin was produced by hand. Muslin became highly fashionable as a dress material in the west, suiting the neoclassical dress styles of the Napoleonic and Regency periods – very popular in Bath. Although muslin continued to be worn throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, once it was imitated in British and French factories, Indian muslin production declined. Besides discussing the history of this wonderful fabric, this talk will try to convey its beauty and variety.

Dr Sonia Ashmore has spent several years researching and helping to catalogue the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Indian textile collections. She has published widely and contributed to a number of books, including British Asian Style (V&A 2010) and The Fabric of India (V&A 2015). Her book, Muslin was published by the V&A in 2012.

And then there is the fabric which carries with it multiple meanings!

Jonathan Faiers - Branding the Global Body: Tartan and Beyond

Taking the initial history of the globalisation of tartan, and how it was either introduced as the textile ‘messenger’ of the invader, occupier, and in some cases owner of the colonised body, the talk will then investigate how the legacy of colonisation is then transformed into new vestimentary signs of cultural commodification.

Using tartan and its various adaptations in approximations of “Highland” dress, the ability of textiles and dress to mark the body of the wearer, to attest to its allegiances and loyalties and ultimately to brand the body will be explored.

Tartan’s contemporary global dissemination via new colonising forms such as the fashion and “heritage” industries, have meant that according to which aspect of its complicated history is emphasised, tartan is now understood as the cloth of both tradition and conformity as well as expressing subversion and revolution.

The talk will be illustrated with examples taken from tartan’s complex history and related popular, contemporary representations that demonstrate the emergence of tartan as a global super brand.

Dr Jonathan Faiers is Reader in Fashion Theory, Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton and his research examines the interface between popular culture, textiles and dress. His publications include Tartan (Berg, 2008) and Dressing Dangerously: Dysfunctional Fashion in Film (Yale University Press, 2013). Recently he has written essays for Alexander McQueen (V&A 2015), Developing Dress History: New Directions in Method and Practice (Bloomsbury, Nov. 2015), London Couture 1923-1975: British Luxury (V&A, Nov. 2015) and Critical Luxury Studies: Art, Design and Media (Edinburgh University Press, March 2016) In 2014 Jonathan launched Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption (Taylor & Francis Routledge); the first peer-reviewed, academic journal to investigate this globally contested term. He lectures widely on textiles and dress and is a founding member of the Winchester Luxury Research Group and the Advisory Committee for the Costume Colloquium, Florence.

The speakers for the afternoon may bring back memories for some members and for others it may mean vintage fashion but colour and pattern feature throughout.

Helen Taylor: Bernat Klein: An Eye for Colour

The textile designer and artist Bernat Klein was born in Senta, formally in Yugoslavia, in 1922, and his career spanned five decades from the 1950s until his retirement in 1992. Based in the Scottish Borders, his visionary use of colour blending and texture had a massive impact both nationally and internationally. Klein had success in selling his designs to British Home Stores, but in 1963 Chanel used his mohair tweed fabric in the Spring collection and this led to sales to other designers such as Christian Dior, Hardy Amies and Balenciaga. The talk will explore the early influences on Bernat’s career, his holistic approach to textile design and his continuing influence.

Helen Taylor is the Archivist at Heriot-Watt University and manages the archive collections at both Edinburgh and Scottish Border campuses. She has an MA in History from Edinburgh University and an MA in Archives and Records Management from Western Washington University, USA.

Dr Christine Boydell - Horrockses Fashions and cotton ready-to-wear 1946 -1960

Horrockses Fashions was one of the most well respected ready-to-wear labels of the late 1940s and the 1950s. It was established in 1946 as a subsidiary of Horrockses, Crewdson & Company Limited, the Preston-based cotton manufacturer. It produced women’s day and evening wear, beach clothes and housecoats from high quality cotton cloth, using fashionable styling and custom-designed fabrics.

The paper explores the strategies adopted by Horrockses Fashions to transform the fortunes of cotton as a fashion fabric. The decision to focus on good quality ready-to-wear with attention paid to fashionable styling, fabric design and finish was designed to help elevate the status of cotton and in turn increase the parent company’s sales of cotton piece goods to clothing manufacturers. Crucial to the success of the venture was a promotional campaign that played down the true mass produced nature of Horrockses Fashions but emphasised exclusivity, fabric design and quality cloth.

Dr. Christine Boydell, De Montfort University, Leicester is a design historian, writer and curator. She has taught in universities for 33 years. Her book Horrockses Fashions: Off the Peg Style in the 40s and 50s was published in 2010 to accompany the exhibition at the Fashion in Textile Museum. She has written extensively on twentieth century fashion and textiles. Her most recent project has been as curator of the exhibition ‘Riviera Style: resort and swimwear since 1900’ (May-Sept 2015, Fashion & Textile Museum).

The report on this event is included in the Spring 2016 issue of WECS Wardrobe.

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