Harnessing uncertainty: social, cultural and economic capital in fashion
Thursday 10 March 2016
9.30am to 6.00pm
James Watt Conference Centre,
Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh
Harnessing uncertainty: social, cultural and economic capital in fashion, a conference organised by Heriot-Watt University and the University of Leeds on behalf of The Enterprise of Culture: International Structures and Connections in the Fashion Industry, took delegates on a journey through contemporary fashion.
This one-day conference examined the current state of fashion against the backdrop of an uncertain world and considered some of the ways in which fashion attempts to address global concerns rather than being part of the cause.
Harnessing uncertainty: social, cultural and economic capital in fashion provided a platform for speakers and delegates to question assumptions about the contemporary fashion industry and to scrutinise the place of fashion amidst some of the dominant global issues of today.
Over the course of the day, speakers from the UK, USA and the Netherlands addressed topics such as sustainability, Chinese identity and fashion, fashion blogging as labour and leisure, new perspectives on the suit, challenges and opportunities facing fashion designers, the European fashion business since 1945 and conscientious fashion.
Professor Regina Lee Blaszczyk, Project Leader for the Enterprise of Culture project (based at the University of Leeds) discussed some of the highlights of the project’s research with reference to the relevance to fashion studies.
Professor Fiona Waldron, Head of the School of Textiles and Design at Heriot Watt University, took a look at the history of the School and elaborated on some of their current exciting research projects.
Dr Wessie Ling, University of Northumbria, considered how textile has been employed as an agent of (re)production and (re)construction of a ‘place’ or locality and cultural identity in the creative industry, focusing on the indigenisation of the Red-White-Blue, a polyethylene material commonly associated with China but encompassing inter-regional production and displaying a global presence.
Dr Alana James from the School of Textiles, Heriot-Watt University, made suggestions for moving the fashion industry towards a sustainable future whilst also questioning the factors currently preventing change.
Students Eshiva Wright, Laurence Meeuwis and Wida Arian from the New Fashion Society in Edinburgh and Rotterdam gave their insights into how fashion impacts on our environment, and the value of organisations such as the New Fashion Society.
Dr Agnès Rocomara, London College of Fashion, interrogated the ways fashion bloggers define and practice their activity. Agnes looked at fashion blogging as an ‘invented job’ and a process related to uncertainty. Through interviews conducted with bloggers as part of her on-going research, she considered how bloggers harness this uncertainty.
Sonnet Stanfill, Acting Senior Curator of 20th century and contemporary fashion at the V&A, examined the garments that were displayed in the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition, as well as the techniques of build, film, sound and other elements that enhanced the exhibition’s staging. As production values and the entertainment factor obtain new limits in fashion exhibitions, this leaves curators with the question of ‘what next’ in the light of high expectations from audiences.
The conference welcomed Elissa Bloom from The Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, an organisation that supports and promotes emerging fashion designers and the fashion community of Philadelphia, USA. Elissa considered how fashion designers can thrive and innovate in today’s changing marketplace.
Professor Chris Breward, Edinburgh College of Art, addressed key issues from his forthcoming book The Suit: Form, Function and Style. He considered the characteristic appearance of the suit and the complexities behind its simple appearance.
A round-table discussed conference themes in more depth and opened the floor for debate. Chaired by Dr Andrew MacLaren, questions addressed included: Is the fashion industry getting it right? Where are the certainties for the fashion industry? What has been the most positive impact fashion has had on European culture since 1945?
Speakers Elissa Bloom and Chris Breward were joined by Professor Robert MacIntosh of the School of Management and Languages (Heriot Watt University) and Fatima Mahmood and Ashleigh Slater from luxury ethical fashion company, Ala Mairi to discuss these issues and questions from the floor.
The event ended with a wine reception and opportunity for delegates to network.
Photographs © Tom Finnie