; ; 15 Mar 2017

The Social Side of Selling Clothes

Fashion Presentations in Europe and America, 1900-1914 by Marta Franceschini

This article is part of  the publication ‘Sooner, or Later’. [1]

Image by Marta Franceschini

With my essay, I retraced the emergence of the fashion show as a selling practice at the beginning of 19th century in Europe and North America. In analysing the historical narratives surrounding this rather complex designed object, it seemed clear to me that two very different approaches developed linked to these performances; each one, apart from being geographically well-defined, was rooted in the society they were generated by, which also formed the audience that had to receive the spectacle – and possibly buy it, in the form of a dream or of the actual clothes.

I therefore decided to exploit the two sides of the page to confront these two modi operandi, and the most straightforward way to do so was to encapsulate their main differences in the ‘bidimensional space’ of one of the ephemera that usually serves as the first presentation of the show itself: the invitation. The process I followed was rhapsodic: a conceptual cut-and-paste of all the peculiar features of the two kinds of show, which translated into slogans and taglines, choice and arrangement of images, individuation of venues and, of course, overall graphic styles; this intellectual technique became material, and so the two images were built cutting and pasting – literally, this time – elements from the historical documents I analysed in my research.

 Sooner, or later is a collection of visual essays by History of Design MA students at the Victoria & Albert Museum and Royal College of Art. The submissions reflect and refract the research undertaken for an historiographical essay in spring 2016. This project was developed in order to push the boundaries of the essay format through collaboration with other schools at the RCA. The essay brief invited students to write a critical historio­graphy of design change in a category of objects or a design process. The brief tested the ability to: identify patterns of historical change; evaluate different explanations for change; and analyse the social, cultural, gendered, ideological and technological reasons for design change. Sooner, or later is an unbound, risograph-printed publication in burgundy and fluorescent pink. Contributors were given 0.25 square metres, or two sides of A3, with which to cultivate and interrogate their historio­graphical research. Most of the visual essays are the result of collabo­rations with other students at the Royal College of Art.

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