‘Why the absence of Fashionable dress in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s exhibition ‘Art Nouveau, 1890-1910?’ in Fashion Theory, vol 6/1, 2002, pp.311-321.
In 2000 The V&A held its major style exhibition Art Nouveau, 1890 –1910. I was astonished that whilst arts and crafts dress was included, no fashionable dress was shown at all. At about the same moment my book The Study of Dress History was published, which contained a detailed historical analysis of the reasons why the V&A had for so long refused to display fashionable European dress in its galleries. I saw in this absence as all too familiar, V&A gender-based prejudice against fashion history.
This article (Fashion Theory 6/1, 2002) through close analysis of surviving garments in European and US museum collections supported by period press comment/photography, proved that Paris couture and Lyon fashion silks of the 1895-1905 period did indeed have an art nouveau character. Further, my article proved that couture manufacture was recognised in Paris at that time as an important segment of luxury art nouveau decorative arts production, along with jewellery, furniture and other decorative arts - which it manifestly was not at the V&A in 2000.
This text therefore questioned the rationale behind the exclusion of these garments and raised issues of curatorial antipathy to the field of fashion. I argued that such clothing famously existed in the museum’s own fashion collection, and questioned why the exhibition curator (not from the Fashion dept.) had not seen fit to display them.
As a direct consequence of this article, I was invited to discuss the inclusion of fashion in the museum’s later style exhibitions - Art Deco and Modernism - and was invited to become the fashion history consultant/selector to Linda Parry on her International Arts and Crafts exhibition ( see Parry 2005 ‘Arts and Crafts Dress’)
I know that this paper was much discussed at the V&A, as staff have told me so. Since then I am happy to say that fashionable dress has always been included within the museum’s major style exhibitions- the most recent being ‘Surrealism’.
I have criticised the Victoria and Albert Museum’s interpretation of dress where fashion was either left out, (Art Nouveau, in Fashion Theory 2002); disrespected by set design, (the V&A’s Spectres, reviewed for the Art Journal, vol.13 /1 Feb. 2006 which became its 6th most popularly read article of 2006); or overly popularist, (conference papers, Copenhagen and New York 2005 and in Establishing Dress History’ (MUP 2004.) My contribution to dress-related critical theory, discussed in the Study of Dress History, further includes ‘The Hierarchy of Fashion Fabrics’ (Schoeser and Boydell, 2003) which applies Bourdieu’s work on the formation of taste to analysis of the fashionability of fabrics.’