Leah Armstrong

Objects of a Passion

In Uncategorized on February 19, 2013 at 22:25

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This evening I went along to a Professorial Lecture given by Amy de la Haye at the London College of Fashion. Entitled ‘Objects of a Passion: Exhibiting Fashion and Dress in the Context of the Museum’, de la Haye took the audience on a journey through her work as Dress Historian, Fashion Curator and Ebay addict. As an undergraduate student,  De la Haye’s book Defining Dress, (1999), was one of the first texts that got me interested in fashion and design culture (I had to hunt it down in the anthropology section of the uni library along with Elizabeth Wilson’s Adorned in Dreams!), so I was really keen to go to hear her speak. 

The lecture began with some historical contextualisation of fashion curation, through a discussion of two major exhibitions at the V&A Museum: Britain Can Make It in 1946 and Fashion: An Anthology by Cecil Beaton in 1971. Both of these exhibitions, she argued, focused primarily on the designer and not the wearer; the emphasis being on the production rather than the consumption of design. Some fascinating archive material was shown, including a fantastic photograph of Cecil Beaton posing for a self-portrait  in his early twenties and some meticulously kept scrapbooks of his work. De la Haye was hinting towards the ways in which Beaton curated his own life through his exhibitions. 

She then moved on to discuss her own work, which started at the Brighton Museum in, The Messels: Six Generations of Dress, (2005) which told a very personal and yet universal story about the power of fashion and memory in a display of this family’s wardrobe. The next exhibition she discussed was Land Girls: Cinderellas of the Soil, (2009), which deconstructed the uniform of the Land Girl during the second world war. 

In addition to the unique archive material in her presentation,  it was de la Haye’s anecdotal asides that I found most inspirational (for example, the gushing way she described finding lipstick on a dress or how she got in contact with people who were out-bidding her for historical dress on Ebay to find out why they wanted it). Her work as a dress historian, fashion curator and Ebay addict has been held together by a genuine passion for the object. For me, her work has a real integrity, driven by the humanity of material culture- the reasons we wear clothes, rather than the reasons they are produced. 

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