Session 9(a): The Politics of Fashion: Revolutions

3rd Global Conference

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Thursday 22nd September – Sunday 25th September 2011
Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom


Tutus, Crinolines and Revolution in Paris: 1860-1871 (3/20)
Judith Chazin-Bennahum
Department of Theatre and Dance, University of New Mexico, USA

In my book The Lure of Perfection: a Study of Fashion and Ballet from 1780 to 1830 (2005), I posited that various fashions on the street greatly affected the ballet stage and that these fashions endured, but I’d like to continue this investigation now focusing on a critical decade both for fashion and ballet, ie., 1860-1871.

The 1871 battle between the Versaillais and the Communards of the Paris Commune was one of the most ghastly events in the history of France. It was the last act in the failed and disastrous war with Prussia that shook the very foundations of civil society. After a prolonged siege, twenty thousand communards, mostly students and workers, were massacred by the more conservative royalists and republicans. This battleground highlighted the hidebound hierarchies still present today. Perhaps surprisingly, women exerted a significant influence during the Commune. (Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune. G. Gullickson, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1996).

For years ethereal women on the ballet stage assuaged the experiences of these bloody events. The ballerina with delicate arms and tiny feet in pointed shoes wore the clothes that dreaming audiences relished, those gentle light tutu concoctions displaying their revolution, transformed the ballet technique forever. Sometimes the narratives of some of the ballets called for dancers to depart from sylph-like embodiments to represent exotic nationalities, with costumes and choreographies that suited the various regional influences.

This paper will pose two questions did street fashion and haute couture influence costume designs seen on the ballet stage? And, how did they reflect the cultural and economic forces that led to the demise of the Second Empire of Napoleon III and Eugénie and the birth of the Third Republic that endured until 1940? It was Empress Eugénie who “instigated many styles and new fashions” (Bradley, p. 291) and who wore the famous and luxuriant creations of Charles Fréderic Worth. At the time, dresses with skirts of enormous width, crinolines, gave women the appearance of huge floating “majestic ships.” (Laver, p. 179). Hiding the bottom half of their bodies, while the protruding breasts rested on tiny waists perpetuated the image of the essential yet modest woman.

Download Draft Conference Paper (pdf)


Fashion to Survive: Russian Influences in the French Haute Couture after the 1917 Revolution: Irfe’, Kitmir, Lucien Lelong, Valentina Schlee and Chanel
Luca Lo Sicco
Independent Scholar, UK

Russian Fashion or we should say better the European fashion warned by the Russians created an industry made by highly talented artisans. If Tolstoy liked to wear traditional Russian folk clothes both in private and public life, the majority was wearing European fashion. With the falling of the Monarchy and the advent of the Communist regime an impressive number of the population fled the country founding refuge in France with a strong number in Paris and Biarritz. High society, formal Aristocrats and rich bourgeoisies left together with those who were in one way or another dependent from them. Jewelers, tailors, hairdressers, artists all found themselves reunited and ruined in France.

The condition of these people as described by Orlando Figes was tragic.
“ My heart bleeds for my distant and unhappy native land. It pains me to think of the torments being suffered there by my friends and relatives- and indeed by all the people” (Lvov, 1920).

This paper aims to start drawing a clear overview on the structure of the Fashion industry in Russian before the Revolution differentiating the Folkloristic and the European styles; second presents and explain how the émigré managed not only to find jobs in the French Haute Couture industry but also to influence style for almost two decades. Through several case studies: Maison Irfe, Kitmir embroideries manufacture, the Russians in Chanel, Lucien Lelong and Nathalie Paley, as well as Valentina Schlee; the influences, interaction as well personal relationships will be presented.


Culture beyond Multiculturalism: Fashion, Femininity and the Westernization of Islamic Headscarves
Ruxandra Todosi
Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom

Over the past three decades, the Islamic veil has raised multiple controversies and stirred up flared discussions from various political, religious, social and psychological angles. Regarded by recent scholarship either as a symbol of women’s repression (and disproportionate male hegemony, respectively), religious anachrony and political backwardness (e.g., Arthur, 1999; Shirazi, 2001) or, conversely, as a cultural trope for unstifled liberty of choice, personal self-assertion and fashionable emancipation (e.g., Bailey & Tawadros, 2003; Noor, 2009; Tarlo, 2010), the Muslim headscarf per se stands on the borderline between welcome and unwelcome, traditional and novel, religious and secular, spiritual and commercial.

Although initially conceived as a means to cover up feminine charm(s) with a humble, plain piece of cloth leaving no more to sight than the unadorned purity of facial expression — especially in what married, mothering women were regarded — the traditional hijab is currently undergoing a rapid process of cultural enrichment, connotational deflection and, in close accordance with its wearers, fashionable emancipation in the Western space (Shirazi, 2001; Bailey & Tawadros, 2003; Tarlo, 2010).

In an effort to ‘pierce’ through this garment’s symbolic aura and transcend the multi‑ (or, arguably, anti‑)cultural tropes surrounding its incessantly contested dialectics, this paper proposes to:
1. Contextualize the current (fashion theory) debates, and aesthetic vogues that the adoption of innovative, embellished, flamboyant Muslim headscarves ignite in Western cultural theory and high‑street commercial practices;
2. Put forth — as derived from my ongoing research activity — a hybrid, academically/empirically‑grounded plan for applying liberation psychology principles (e.g., Montero & Sonn, 2009) to the creation, with the help of Muslim female volunteers and a team of international designers, of new forms of ‘liberated’ headscarves, eliciting aesthetic considerations and individual sartorial insights directly from hijab wearers themselves.


The Political Power of the Online Shop: American Apparel’s Virtual Campaign for Immigration
Emma C. McClendon
The Courtauld Institute of Art,  London, UK

Since 2003, the Los Angeles-based clothing company American Apparel has positioned itself as a harbinger of “cool” within the fashion industry generating a devoted following of young urbanite consumers. While its advertisement campaigns have incited biting criticism as pornographic and perverse, American Apparel’s business strategy has been widely lauded for its ethical innovation of the garment production process. At the core of this business model is the company’s concern for worker’s rights and immigrant labour.

In December 2007 American Apparel launched its “Legalize L.A.” campaign across a variety of media outlets to disseminate a political message on immigration reform during the lead up to the 2008 U.S. presidential election. As early as 2004, American Apparel produced advertisements declaring the slogan “Legalize L.A.” in support of an overhaul to U.S. immigration policy that would allow illegal aliens already in the country to gain citizenship more easily. In 2006 and again in 2007, the U.S. Senate failed to pass two acts that would have greatly reformed the government’s stance on immigration. This failure set the stage for the issue to take a prominent position in the 2008 presidential race. Capitalizing on the political climate, American Apparel renewed its “Legalize L.A.” campaign with added force from December 2007 to the election in November 2008 in an effort to raise awareness of immigration issues among the young voters of its consumer base through advertisements, pamphlets, t-shirts, and particularly the company’s online store.

This paper will examine the ways American Apparel used the virtual space of its website to promote its “Legalize L.A.” campaign. It will look at how this virtual information differed, supported, and went beyond the other physical “Legalize L.A.” advertisements presented around the country. In so doing, this paper will aim to assess the political power of American Apparel’s website, and add to the discourse on the significance of the online shop.

Download Draft Conference Paper (pdf)