Category: Reflections (Page 1 of 5)

SpiceUp Review

As the field of fashion curation rapidly expands past the walls of the museum and gallery and into corporate headquarters and shopfronts, it has now conquered a new frontier; the Islington Business Design Centre in London. A space more commonly known for trade shows and recruitment events, for three steamy weeks this summer the location played host to the exhibition SpiceUp. Subtitled “An Exhibition About The Spice Girls” (lest there be any confusion about the subject of the show), this exhibit was an exercise in curatorial agony and visitor ecstasy.

The Spice Girls were a group of five British women, who auditioned to become a pop group in 1994, and ended up becoming a cultural zeitgeist. SpiceUp has been curated without any affiliation with the group or their management, and is a testament to their lasting legacy. Spread over two floors in a side wing of the former Royal Agricultural Hall, there is no context provided for the location, other than the assumption that there are surely few venues in London built to accommodate such a massive assemblage of clothing, ephemera and merchandise, that would also avail themselves for hire to a member of the public. And so SpiceUp curator Alan Smith-Allison is – albeit one who is responsible for collecting the bulk of the objects on display, and owner of the largest collection of Spice Girls memorabilia on earth. A former charity worker turned exhibition maker, Smith-Allison has collected anything and everything Spice Girls-related since 2007, and in curating and staging this exhibit himself, also brought in loaned objects from fellow fans.

The result is almost overwhelming. With over 7000 pieces of ephemera on display, the exhibition reveals how deeply the public travelled into the mercantile heart of darkness in the Spice era. For the purposes of this review, however, my focus is on the dress and its display

Spice Girls memorabilia on display at SpiceUp.  Photo Cyana Madsen 2018 web

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The T-shirt: curating its narrative

Video interview with Jenna Rossi-Camus

By: Annabel Hoyng – van der Meijden, MA Fashion Curation

16 April 2018

How do you create a fashion exhibition with t-shirts? For curator Jenna Rossi-Camus, it’s all about 21st century style curating: “The keyword is conversation”. Watch the video to find out more.


London’s Fashion and Textile Museum’s current exhibition T-SHIRT: CULT – CULTURE – SUBVERSION tells the story of the most affordable and popular item of clothing on the planet. The exhibition looks at how t-shirts are both personal and universal communicators.

More info

T-SHIRT: CULT – CULTURE – SUBVERSION: from 9 February 2018 – 6 May 2018. For more information see the website of the Fashion and Textile Museum.

Click for a profile of Jenna Rossi Camus

Read more about Jenna’s research

Queer Looks in the Museum

Zoe is one of a group of young volunteers working on the  Queer Looks oral history project which is collecting stories and clothing from LGBTQ+ communities in Sussex, garments which will be displayed at Brighton Museum as part of an exhibition of the same name.  Here she is talking  about her experiences on the project.  

“Being involved in an exhibition for Brighton Museum looking at the last 50 years of LGBTQ+ dress, was a very exciting prospect. Historical dress and LGBTQ+ history is a combination that I’d not encountered in a museum before. As a group of young people from Brighton, we brought an accumulation of various backgrounds and experiences, eager to help shape this project and work on our ideas for what the  ‘Queer Looks’ exhibition would achieve. The continuing thought process throughout agreed upon essential goals like making the exhibition valid and authentic. Also importantly, properly communicating the stories of the people kind enough to tell them. I felt that this project could potentially be challenging yet exciting to work on as it would reflect the stories from within the community.

The Queer Looks Young Project Team at their pop up ‘look book studio’ promoting the forthcoming display. Brighton Museum, March 2018.

Initial tours around relevant exhibitions, a trip to the fashion stores and a variety of workshops gave us a real insight into what it takes to put on a fashion display. We focused in particular on how to use social media to promote our work, oral history interview techniques and photographic skills, giving us a thorough foundation for interviewing older members of the LGBTQ+ community across Sussex. I personally enjoyed learning about museum curation in the context of a fashion display and the logistics of translating oral histories through exhibiting people’s donated clothes and their stories told. Along the way we also learned a bit about things such as conservation issues, archives, informed consent and overall limitations and freedoms. It was apparent that curating a successful exhibition takes more work than I initially thought given the behind the scenes work, both collaboratively and individually for every item that goes on public display.

During the conducting of oral histories, we gathered the stories of people living in Brighton and Sussex. This was by far my favourite part of the project as this required us to speak to individuals in our own community from as vast a range of people as possible who all identify as LGBTQ+. The interviews gave us an opportunity to ask people about the meaning of dress to them and to talk about their donated outfit. I found it so insightful that people have an endlessly different experiences from one another and that dress can mean so many things to different people. The importance of it can range from outward fashion expression, to capturing someone’s true identity. This is what gave the project’s significant context, that behind the exhibition being curated, the outfits weren’t just a donation, they had a meaning and a story.

This experience has given me insight into the procedure for researching and selecting garments for display as well as gathering oral histories, alongside skills such as social media and marketing.  I feel that the work put in so far from the young project team promises to deliver an authentic and impactful exhibition.”

Queer Looks is part of Wear it Out, an HLF-funded project with Brighton Museum and London College of Fashion.

Primavera in December: Installing the Birdsong Festive Pop-up shop in Hoxton, London

One of the most rewarding elements of studying at LCF is being able to communicate a shared passion for curation both within and outside the University. Lecturers on the MA Fashion Curation course invite students to flex their curatorial muscle outside of tutor-led assignments, offering valuable real-world experience and a chance to put ideas into practice.

In December, several of us were invited to install Birdsong London’s festive pop-up shop in Hoxton. Established in 2014, Birdsong is a female-run fashion brand that works with local women’s groups to offer migrant and refugee women an opportunity to receive a living wage for their work. Their mantra is to connect women from worker to wearer, ensuring everyone is offered a fairer deal in the process. Their brief to CfFC was to curate a space that would complement Birdsong’s clothes and accessories with a dash of festive flair; transforming a stark white room into an inviting retail space. Together, we decided on a Primavera-inspired scene and set out to create a sumptuous, scented banquet scene to last for the five days the shop would be open.

Matthew Whaley and I were handed the task of sourcing flowers, foliage and fruit to conjure a table-top feast, worthy of Sandro Botticelli himself – for £40. With the need to maximize our budget we bought winter fruits in bulk from a local grocer and opted for long-lasting eucalyptus branches to fill the room with a rich, woody scent. We arranged our finds Renaissance-style, amidst silver chargers and goblets sourced from local charity shops and finished the arrangement with candles to complete the decadent mood. Annabel Hoyng focused on merchandising Birdsong’s eclectic range of stock: everything from the softest hand-knitted sweaters to Frida Kahlo bodysuits and painted denim from local artists.

MA Fashion-Curation students Annabel-Hoyng and Matthew Whaley put the finishing touches to the Birdsong Festive pop-up in Hoxton. ©Natalie Tilbury

One of the finished displays featuring Birdsong designs. The organic cotton t-shirts (far left) are hand-painted by women at Mohila Creations; a group of low-income migrant mothers based in Tower Hamlets. ©Natalie Tilbury

A detail of the banqueting table laden with clementines, pomegranates and holly. All props were sourced from local charity shops, grocers and florists.
©Natalie Tilbury

Whether you are just starting out in a career in curation, or working in a museum, tight budgets are, and will continue to be, an undeniable reality. It is the way we handle these challenges with innovative and inspiring solutions that will stand us apart from our peers. Important too is understanding what feels right for the brand or institution you are working with. Everything we sourced for Birdsong was from Hoxton’s charity shops, florists and grocers; further supporting one of the communities in which they work.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! Treat every opportunity as a chance to show what you can do, rather than a drain on your time, and your postgraduate experience will be more rewarding than you ever thought possible.

Natalie Tilbury
MA Fashion Curation 2017/2018

Balenciaga symposium at the V and A Museum

The V&A hosted a symposium celebrating Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga’s influence on fashion to coincide with an exhibition about the designer. MA Fashion Curation student, Xinyi Li, attended the day.

The symposium of the exhibition Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion at V&A provided enriching insights into not only the making and curating of the current exhibition, but also multiple perspectives into Cristóbal Balenciaga’s métier and life.

The book ‘Balenciaga My Boss’ about the family’s generations of friendship and partnership with Balenciaga about the family’s generations of  friendship and partnership with Balenciaga, has been released in English

To start, V&A senior curator Lesley Miller and the exhibition’s assistant curator Kirsty Hassard set the day’s theme with the keyword “Legend.” The following speakers’ practices contributed significantly to the making of the exhibition.

Conservator Joanne Hackett presented behind the scenes experience of conservation and installation of the garments. She spoke of the importance of investigating the characteristics of each object in terms of its materiality, volume and fit, and in turn, sculpting customised mannequins for presentation.

Slide showing customised mannequin in hourglass shape constructed to display Anne Bullit’s gown

Nick Veasey introduced us to his practice as an x-ray photographic artist. Prior to this collaboration, he had prominently worked with objects that are mechanical and structural, but clothe and textile. Thus, during the collaboration, he had discovered many techniques of x-ray photographing garments, such as the use of balloons to create volume, while remained invisible in the photograph. Due to the special conditions of this job, he built a special mobile x-ray studio from a truck, which was divided into shooting area and development area.

Photographs showing X Ray artist Nick Vessey working at his X ray mobile studio

As Balenciaga’s trusted dressmaker in San Sebastien Juan Mari Emilass life long work and relationship with Balenciaga could be closely observed through the precious letters, paper patterns, documentations that he had kept over the years.

Balenciaga’s dressmaker in San Sebastien, Juan Mari Emilass shows his collection of papers that document the relationship.

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The Art of the prima donna – part 2

I took part in the preliminary research for the exhibition Opera: Passion, Power & Politics four years ago at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. I was investigating early opera in seventeenth-century Venice and I was fascinated by a soprano, Anna Renzi, considered by many the first prima donna, as she was the first woman to sing opera for a living, she wasn’t a courtesan. Very little evidence of her life has survived and only one portrait from a book that was dedicated to her.

Anna-Renzi – c. 1600 after 1660

Although I stopped working at the V&A, I continued to investigate the history of prime donne and I spent three years buying all the books I could find as well as going to operas and recitals almost every week. I wanted to understand why these women are so fascinating and why they were (and some still are) so worshipped by audiences. As an avid theatre goer, I was also suffering the impossibility to experience the performances of past prima donnas: the only clues we have are written accounts from the audience and illustrations, and for a few of them surviving letters give a glimpse of their own thoughts and feelings

Giuditta Pasta, 1797-1865, one of four prima donnas I played in the performance-lecture

As a historian, I kept digging for evidence about prime donne to create profiles as complex as I could. As an opera-lover, I was eager to find any hints that could help me get a physical sense of their performances: how they moved, what they wore, how they talked and acted, how they interacted with the audience. Although we do have scores and libretti, some of which were written precisely for certain performers, every new recording is an interpretation that mirrors the intentions of the singer, the conductor and the producer, distancing me even more from past prime donne.

Introducing the performance-lecture in a black catsuit

Earlier this year, when the V&A was programming events in conjunction with the exhibition, I proposed to give a lecture on the history of prime donne that would also include performances, where I would be interpreting the singers myself. I had not a clear idea of what I was going to do; no one did in fact but my academic prowess was a guarantee that I would deliver effective research. My only certainty was that I wanted to become part of their history, to use my body as a channel for these prime donne to come back to life.

Maria-Callas, 1923-1977

I selected four prime donne and four arias and I started to rehearse lip syncing: somehow all my knowledge came together, all the observations – gained through years of attending theatre – on how singers move on stage and how their bodies have to be in specific positions to produce certain notes. My body was almost unconsciously adjusting itself to the role. Then I found an interview of Maria Callas where she says that movements are inscribed in the music, if one listens carefully, one will find all the information there. So that’s what I did: I never watched any video of performances of the selected arias and I only used the intuition of my body, my ears and, obviously, my research.

Francesca Cuzzoni, 1696 -1778

Costume played an essential role in the performance: I was adamant that I would use costume not as a form of drag but as a tool to trigger the audience imagination. When I ‘played’ the lecturer, I wore a black catsuit, on which I wore individual pieces of costume when performing each of the prime donne. For Maria Callas, the ‘costume’ was no more than a chignon, lipstick and a pearl necklace, yet it was extremely effective. I also used different lights for the lecture mode and performances.

Maria-Callas, 1923-1977

Giuditta Pasta, 1797-1865

I not only lip synced to arias associated with each prima donna, but I also enacted them: I wrote short monologues by joining researched facts with my personal understanding of the character of each singer. A combination of fiction and factual: imagination was the only way that I could fill the lacks in the surviving evidence and performing was the way through which I investigated my own imagination. I view this event as a total work of research, where textual and audio-visual sources are managed through physical knowledge.

‘Playing’ the lecturer

The theatre was full, more than 200 people attended, and the response was extremely positive: despite many enquired what the event was – whether a lecture or a performance – everyone after acknowledged the success of the format. The greatest, and most frequent compliment I received was that people learnt a lot and were also entertained. I think this is a very effective way of presenting research on a topic that is entirely performative: when the lecture takes on the same form as the topic, it appears to gain consistency and it becomes more accessible. The next step is to continue to work on this performance and turn it into a fully-fledged theatre show, as well as to apply this format to my other great passion, showgirls and popular music divas.

Find out more about the Art of the prima donna

Read more about Matteo’s research 

Matteo on Fashion Curation

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