Fashion Matters: Fashion, Art and Society

Fashion Matters: Fashion, Art and Society

Fashion is all around us: it can enable change as well as challenge and even divide us. What is fashion: mirror, barometer or change agent? This lecture series opens up the world of fashion across cultures and societies. It explores how western fashion developed through an interaction with Asia and other regions. Understand better the intimate embrace of art and fashion. Learn how to read clothes from the past. Study images of fine fashion, jewels and accessories. Access rare and beautiful items of fashion, including many from private collections. Learn about the fashion worlds of men and women alike, from the middle ages to today. Find your own identities through fashion.

Dr Peter McNeil is a world figure in fashion research and has worked globally between Australia, Sweden and Finland. Currently Distinguished Professor of Design History at University of Technology Sydney and Finland Distinguished Professor at Aalto University, he was Foundation Professor of Fashion Studies at Stockholm University for ten years. He is an elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and heads its ‘Arts’ Section. An award winning author and sought-after public speaker, he has published dozens of works on fashion including the bestselling Shoes (with G Riello 2006; 2011). Recent works include Luxury: A Rich History (with G Riello 2016) and Pretty Gentlemen: Macaroni Men and the Eighteenth-Century Fashion World (Yale, 2018). His works have been translated into many languages including Chinese and Hebrew. He was main writer for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s touring exhibition Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear 1715-2015, the largest show of men’s fashion ever assembled.

Fashion and Art   Friday 13 July 5.30pm – 7pm – PAST

The relationship between art and fashion has a long and complicated history. Fashion as a realm of material creation has never been separate from art or design. For centuries artists engaged with and influenced fashion, many designing the very stuff of its support – cloth, as well as creating dress, fashion prints and society portraits. Learn how art forms as different as history painting, sculpture, portrait painting, printmaking and the commercial arts, ephemera and photography of our own era have depicted and promoted new fashions. Experience art twinned with fashion history from the middle ages to our time.

 Fashion and Textiles: Eden to Edo.  Friday 24 August 5.30pm – 7pm – PAST

A surprising amount of world fashion is bound up with botanical knowledge. The flower has been central to fashion’s forms and its supports – textiles – in nearly all cultures. The flower is much more than a motif. Subject to artful cultivation since ancient times, flowers indicated passion and hope in the middle ages, they were collected and traded in the Renaissance, classified and hybridised in the Enlightenment, and made sentimental, domestic and erotic in the 19th and 20th centuries. Learn how references to floriate forms within fashionable dress contributed to the creation of patterns of thought, status, gender and nation. Decide whether flowers are for you, or not.


 WoW Weekend: Combo Ticket for both events (save $10!)

High-heel Heaven: Saturday 6 October 10.30am – 12noon -PAST

What do your shoes say about you? Before they became objects of desire, they had a history. From ancient times to the present day, shoes have worked with both cultural and practical purposes. Shoes are powerful things that allow us to move in and experience the physical and social world. Footwear is blamed for a range of personal and social evils but nonetheless, women’s shoes become more and more extreme. Different shapes, colours and materials for men’s and women’s shoes today revolve primarily around the construction of gender difference… but was it always so? Learn about shoes, power, mobility and history, from Renaissance platforms to shoes in fairytales, from boots for war to the cult of shoe designers.

Pretty Gentlemen: Sunday 7 October, 10.30am – 12noon – PAST

Macaroni men were the English ultra-fashionables of the 1760s-80s. Slippery like the pasta this name evokes, the term ‘macaroni’ was once as familiar a label as ‘hipster’ is today. Their tight suits, clashing colours, high wigs, steel buttons and jewelled snuffboxes indicated a cosmopolitan, fashion-centric outlook, with their own speech and slang. The macaronis included a politician (Charles James Fox), a court painter (Richard Cosway), a criminal parson (Rev. William Dodd), a freed slave (‘Soubise’) and a gentleman-scientist (Sir Joseph Banks). News of their style spread from London all the way to the North American colonies. How did men’s fashion become a form of style politics and youth rebellion in the past and what were they resisting?


Revolutionary Dress: Sunday 11 November, 3.30pm – 5pm – PAST

Fashion started changing well before the French Revolution of 1789. New ideas about domestic life, ‘taste or aesthetics, sport, and even medicine made the famous model of the French courtier begin to look very old fashioned. New ideas about fashion were spread by a new innovation, the fashion magazine. Urban shopping was developed. Fashion was transformed by the exercise of individual taste and a new focus on individuality. This week explores the tumult of fashion before and after the Revolution. It includes the ‘Incredible’ and ‘Marvellous’ ones, the Incroyables and Merveilleuses, who emphasised the theatricality of fashion and wore some of the most extreme fashion ever seen, in the 1790s.

Magic Fashion: Sunday 9 December 3.30pm – 5pm

In the early part of the 20th century, Victorian taste was very ‘out of fashion’. In the 1930s a strong female fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli, rediscovered the period and cast it in her own light. She commenced a series of collaborations and conversations between couture, art and interior design. Schiaparelli’s playful engagement with shapes and surprising creations ranged from dresses to sofas, from brooches to decorative vases. Well before Prada she rehabilitated kitsch and ugliness. She broadened a sense of the ‘fashion arts’. Learn about the creative circles of fashion and design in inter-war Paris, understand the ‘chic of poverty’ promoted by couturier Coco Chanel and interior designer Jean-Michel Frank, track the stylish South Americans, and follow the collaborative inter-war aesthetic project of fashion, fantasy and surrealism.