In late Spring 2013, our European collaborative reserach project Fashioning the Early Modern: Creativity and Innovation in Europe, 1500-1800, led by my long term teacher and supervisor and subsequently a colleague, Prof. Evelyn Welch, came to an end. During the three years that constituted the life span of this 1-million euro HERA-funded project, I had the chance to explore issues of creativity and fashion innovation in early modern Europe with some of the most inspiring and intellectualy stimulating scholars of early modern Europe from museums and academic institutions in Britain, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
We started the project in 2010 with the simple question of how and why did certain fashionable goods such as wigs, new textiles, ribbons, ruffs and lace become successful in early modern Europe while others failed. What appeared to be a relatively straight forward question evoleved in the following three years into a complex academic debate and discussion over creativity and innovation that lay behind the creation and spread of fashionable goods in early modern Europe. Together with our invited guests, colleagues and advisors, including academics, museum conservatos, fashion designers, and students of history and fashion, we met in workshops and conferences in Helsinki, Copenhagen, London and Stockholm to discuss and think about the implications of issues such as reputation and branding, the disseminatin of fashion across social and geographic borders, and the circulation of fashion ideas through print. The pictures below represent some of the succesful early modern fashion innovations that we discussed in our meeting: the ruff, the wig and the corset.
While the generous European funding permitted us to invite expert speakers such as Dr. Marta Ajmar, Prof. John Styles and Prof. Giorgio Riello into our events, allowing us to share academic papers and develop our discussion within the broader academic network, we also felt that looking at the actual historical textiles and clothing articles -including touching, feeling and smelling- should be an important part of the investigation and academic debate. Consequently, we were introduced to the world of textiles and museum collections by knowledgeable curators and conservators of the Riksmuseum and Royal Armoury in Stockholm, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, the National Museum and Open Air Museum Aarhus, Demark, and the Porvoo Museum in Finland, who generously gave their time to show us the collections, inlcuding some of the trasured textile remainings that were too fragile to display in the exhibition space.
Sometimes even snow could not disable our enthusiasm to visit the local museums. Here we are, in late March 2011, trying to get to the Open Air Museum in Provoo, Helsinki, with the ground being covered with in at least 50 cm of snow!
One of the interesting aspects of the project was our aim to focus not just on historical issues, but also to develop new ways of understanding past fashion concepts in the context of contempoary ideas and practice. During our Helsinki workshop, we were given the possibilty to think about issues of reputation and branding in the context of fashion industry and contemporary design practice, when we visited the Mariemkko headquarters in Finland. Interestingly, Marimekko is one of the few companies that still hasn’t moved it’s fabric production entirely outside Europe. As we discovered during our visit, most of the fabrics, some of which see today on tables and furnishings throughout Europe such as in the picture of a cafe in front of Palazzo Pitti in Florence, are printed in the Marimekko premises in Helsinki (see picture on the left).
In our last workshop, held in Copenhagen, we continued to focus on the connections between past and present, moving the discussion to the display of historical ideas in the museum museum context. We had the chance to meet three Danish fashion designers -Nikoline Liv Andersen, Laura Baruël and Anne Damgaard- who were commissioned to create design ‘interventions’ as part of the Danish designmuseums’ Rococo Mania exhibition, curated by Kirsten Toftegaard. We sat down in groups for one hour with each designer to discuss and debate their design process and outcomes. You can read Peter McNeil’s refelctions on the meeting here: http://fashioningtheearlymodern.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/the-uses-of-history-reflections-on-the-latest-workshop-by-peter-mcneil/
A view to “Rokoko-mania” at Designmuseum Danmark, 2012, with items inspired by eighteenth-century rococo themes: eighteenth-century styles behind glass, twenty-first century styles on rotating mannequins.
Socialising and good food were of course important parts of our meetings! This picture was taken in Aarhus, during our traditional Danish meal of a cold platter of cheese and fish and a traditional stew served with swede.
The project included six principal investigators. In addition to myself, these included Prof. Evleyn Welch (King’s College London), Prof. Peter McNeil (Centre for Fashion Studies, Stockholm), Dr. Leslie Miller (Victoria & Albert Museum, London), Prof. Marie-Louise Nosch (Centre for Textile Research, Copenhagen) and Dr. Maj Ringgaard. We also had three great post-docs working with us for almost the entire duration of the project , Dr. Patrik Steorn (Centre for Fashion Studies), Dr. Corinne Thépaut-Cabasset (Victoria and Albert Museum), and Dr. Maj Ringaard (Natioanl Museum), as well as a number of museum partners from Britain, Denmark and Sweden. Here we are -some of us- with our advisers Girogio Riello and John Styles, in our final meeting at the the Chicheley Hall. This beuatiful mansion situated amidst the amazing English landscape was the perfect site to spend a few days together and draw our results and final conclusions together.
Keep looking for our book, Fashioning the Early Modern: Creativity and Innovation in Europe, edited by E. Welch and published by Pasold / OUP. It should be out in the Spring 2014!
More information on the project can be found in our project website: