The Enterprise of Culture


Popular venues such as style magazines and cable TV often reduce fashion to individual personalities. Designers from Coco Chanel to Alexander McQueen are depicted as visionaries who define changing trends, perhaps even new epochs. In reality, the fashion business is an extraordinarily complex industry that operates across national, cultural, economic, and social boundaries.

Funded by the Humanities in the European Research Area II (HERA II), The Enterprise of Culture (EOC) explored the relationships among fashion as a cultural phenomenon and a business enterprise, and examined the transmission of fashion as a cultural form across national and international boundaries by intermediaries such as educational institutions, media outlets, advertisers, branders, trend forecasters and retailers.

One of the major questions behind this project was how Europe rose from the ashes of World War II to rebuild and reshape its fashion industry, and how that industry has defined European identity in modern times. The creation of fashion ecosystems, as embodied in the branding of so-called fashion cities and a network of fashion weeks and fashion fairs, has contributed to the re-building of nations. European state and city governments increasingly dedicated resources to the fashion business in the post-war era. This made sense economically and culturally because fashion allows nations to ‘invent’ and ‘reinvent’ traditions, both as a central part of diaspora economics and as a symbol of the imagined communities of Europe as an assemblage of nations and of regions.

This project sought to deepen our understanding of these developments using an interdisciplinary approach that explored the relationships among enterprise and culture. Fashion is often studied from a purely theoretical perspective, from a costume history or dress history viewpoint, or from a popular media-driven vantage point. The Enterprise of Culture broke new ground, using the fashion business to examine how various types of cultural encounters—between ‘core’ fashion cities like Paris and London and ‘peripheral’ areas such as Sweden and Scotland, between style labs and high street, and between fibre makers, clothing manufacturers and retailers—stimulated innovation and created a new and competitive industry.

Our team of historians and management scholars has a strong commitment to public understanding and worked closely with non-academic institutions across the three years of this project. These included our Associated Partners the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Centre for Business History in Stockholm, in addition to the Marks and Spencer Company Archive in Leeds and the sponsors of fashion-textile trade fairs throughout Europe (such as Première Vision).

Over the course of the grant period (1 August 2013 to 31 October 2016), The Enterprise of Culture team analysed relationships among ‘enterprise’ and ‘culture’ in the European fashion system, broadly defined to include its global reach, by advancing work on or publishing four single-authored books, four anthologies, 21 journal articles and 38 book chapters; coordinated three special issues for two major journals; and implemented a pilot Oral History Programme.

The team presented their research at more than a dozen EOC-sponsored conferences, workshops and public programmes, and at dozens of academic conferences around the world, from Norway to Japan. Our relationships with industry have informed our research and have expanded our collaborators’ understanding of history and management theory. We are pleased that our project had an impact outside of the academy.

More information about our research activities and events, grouped under our three broad themes, can be found by exploring the menu to the left.

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