Notes from the Field: On Institutions and Interdisciplinarity
For those working in fashion studies, the institution takes many forms: the university, the museum, the archive, the media outlet, the commercial fashion industry, the sponsoring or granting body. This is the nature of interdisciplinary work that engages with a behemoth as grand as fashion: while we’re free to float and cross-reference between research sites, publication venues, and other shared spaces of creation, we are often left to determine our relationships with our institutions for ourselves. We so often need them for resources, but what then becomes our responsibility to their defining modes or ethos? Our three ‘Notes from the Field’ pieces for this issue each present different versions of how work can be done from various positions in relation to institutions.
Ivana Culjak’s article, “The Nursing Home as a Fashion Archive: Dress and Fashion Memory of the Elderly,” introduces her work with Zagreb’s CIMO: Center for Research of Fashion and Clothing on a project inventorying the dress culture of elderly people. She writes specifically about fieldwork conducted in a nursing home, in which voluntary participants shared photos, clothing, and stories with researchers. Where Ivana is fortunate to be operating with the support of CIMO and access to its resources, her subjects are negotiating the transition from independence to institutional belonging that comes when one leaves one’s home. The nursing home itself structures the decisions made by residents around which objects to keep or discard, mirroring the process of gathering and analysis within a research institution.
Ya’ara Keydar brings us her account of a very different project: the conceptualization and execution of a fashion exhibition with Israel’s Farm Gallery. Part of the process involved triangulating between three distinct institutions: the gallery itself. This space would determine many of her curatorial decisions; one of the country’s leading design schools, joining the project partly to promote a new course in shoe design; and the more invisible force of the country’s commercial fashion design system, which wordlessly determines much of how designers are able to participate in extracurriculars such as museum exhibits. Though she makes the intense creative and logistical task of executing an exhibition sound relatively painless and straightforward, Ya’ara’s story betrays the incredible amount of work that goes into this complex type of negotiation.
Finally, we share Philip Warkander’s personal, narrative piece about his own journey as a fashion studies practitioner. Philip is known as the “first Fashion Studies PhD,” having completed his doctorate at Stockholm University’s Center for Fashion Studies in 2013. He writes here about the training he received in “both the trade and politics of academia,” which is both universal within the university system and singularly specific in Fashion Studies. Philip’s journey meanders between academic institutions, fashion business giants, industry magazines, even the government of Sweden. He writes of the alternating currents of feeling free and feeling lost as he weaves in and out of these institutions, seeking purpose. This is a highly relatable story for anyone attempting to forge a career at the crux of fashion research, writing, teaching, or design practice, and we’re so grateful to Philip for sharing such an honest depiction of what success in this field feels like from the inside.
Through these pieces, we not only catch a glimpse of the breadth of fashion studies work – from the museum, to the archive, to the institution – but also pay witness to how individuals are actively shaping this field. What is so unique about fashion studies, but perhaps also perplexing for those of us trying to make it in this field, is the way it so easily crisscrosses between institutions and spheres of influence. What Yaara, Ivana, and Philip all teach us, however, is that we needn’t feel overwhelmed or stymied by the state of our field in-flux; rather, what we can take home from their accounts is the fact that institutions, of all kinds, seem eager to support our work. This shouldn’t be surprising. While academia is certainly competitive, at the end of the day, everyone wears clothes.