Some new, some old, some cinematic, some digital: Archaeology of Fashion Film Conference, 6 July 2018

The project’s conference, Archaeology of Fashion Film, took place in July and brought together a cadre of fantastic speakers across multiple disciplines while also involving industry voices. The task of the conference day was to see how media archaeology becomes not only one tightly defined methodology but a manner of asking questions that probe the early 20th century context of fashion film and the more recent versions of digital culture that have also witnessed fashion moving into small screens and the data-intensive environments of social media.


In this sense, our interest in archaeologies of cinema and the digital culture of fashion became a vehicle for thematic and methodological discussions. A case in point was the keynote by Wanda Strauven that tracked alternative ways of viewing the media archaeology of fashion film with an eye to the parallel histories of textile materials and film. This also demonstrated that there’s more in fashion film than visual culture, and connected it with longer traditions of the digital in textile work such as weaving, stitching, and knitting.


While Strauven opened the discussion to the wider material contexts of film and digital culture, the talks throughout the day had fruitful angles to what the cinematic in fashion film is. From the industry panel hosted by Marketa Uhlirova with contemporary filmmakers Stella Scott and Isaac Lock and creative director Raven Smith, to talks such as by Beatrice Behlen, curator at Museum of London, which with a meticulous eye for close-reading investigated a 1918 British Pathé film from the perspectives of its historical context and material movement of garments: “floating chiffon and misty tulle”.


Nick Rees-Roberts’ talk drew from his just-released book Fashion Film, and tied together many of the angles of the day: what is fashion film as this hybrid of a genre, a practice, and a technological horizon that moves between art and commerce? What is the right vocabulary and critical angle to discuss its particular status in contemporary digital culture of social media, where the post-cinematic angle of fashion film becomes further emphasised? These questions were also discussed in the final plenary conversation hosted by professor Chris Breward.


A further important aspect to the day were actual films. Lucy Moyse Ferreira curated a glimpse of fashion film old and new in a way that spoke again to our media archaeological idea of trying to create a parallax view of the topic. Instead of linear histories of how fashion film has developed, the Archaeology of Fashion Film conference day ended then with a rich set of ideas about how the legacy of film is part of current concerns in filmmaking, and which parts of the current commerce of fashion – and its important infrastructural context in digital platforms – have shifted some of the concerns in ways that demand us to investigate both the new in the old, and the old in the new, to borrow Siegfried Zielinski’s ideas about how media archaeology can provide alternative ways to media cultural analysis.


The papers and conversations of the day will be shared over the following blog posts.