Cheryl is a design historian and writer on the material possibilities and histories of interactions in the consumption of fashion and textiles, and how these can in-form, de-form, and re-form future design thinking/practice.
Cheryl is an Associate Lecturer on the RCA/ V&A History of Design MA in the School of Arts and Humanities. Before joining the RCA Cheryl was Senior Lecturer at the University of Arts, London; Lecturer in Fashion and Dress History, University of Brighton; Senior Lecturer in Fashion History: Visual Cultures, Middlesex University.
She has worked as a Visiting Lecturer at London College of Fashion, Chelsea College of Art, Arts University Bournemouth and The Royal School of Needlework. Her earlier practice as a costume designer for film, TV, theatre and a stylist for music videos continues to inform her approaches to thinking, research and teaching.
School, Centre or Area
Cheryl’s research is rooted in the material culture of objects, in particular the consumption of dress and textiles, and how they acquire meaning through their relationship with specific acts in historical and cultural contexts. Her work considers how the traditional approach to material culture has focused on the symbolic meanings of objects and has overlooked the material and sensory qualities of ‘things’, and their impact on everyday life in contemporary culture.
Current and recent projects
Choreography of Leftovers: A Rabbit Hole of Possibilities. (2022-2023)
This Image-Maker in Residence project for the Sociological Review, provides a space to unravel historical processes of repurposing both human and animal detritus and how this is influencing current and future fashion systems. The project explores how the materials of waste, material literacies, and the processes of creativity can help in understanding the often-conflicting meanings in the contemporary moment. With the rise of fashion’s interest in regenerative agriculture and the possibilities of using “the whole” animal, the residency reflects on resourceful reuse practices of the past, value chains, global environmental activism, and textile futurology.
There are two research pathways; the first is an exploration of multisensory persuasion- both cultural and physical, the liminal, and dirtiness to explore how the business of fashion engages in many of the senses to seduce the customer yet it can also repel, disrupt, and inform the mechanism of fashion. The second considers ideas of no-waste in fashion process and animal product leftovers in the fashion industry, to question how past approaches could, and do, permeate current and future sustainable production. The aim of these investigations is to create exploratory problem-solving conversations that will develop into a wider collaborative project which merges making practices and stretches conventional fashion contexts
Starlets, Showgirls and Circusettes: Negotiating Fashion, Femininity, Eroticism and Wholesomeness.
The core of this project historically explores how young women pushed working-class boundaries to define modernity, femininity and community roles on their terms, through the act of performance and the clothing worn. Bodily refinements, such as grooming, cosmetics, fitness instruction and dance practice were part of the intricate, extended process of improvement that removed aspirational young working-class women from the ordinary and visually integrated them into the extraordinary. Research follows the lives these women as they negotiate spectacle, dress, sensuality, audience, and modernity within the beautiful and the grotesque of the circus. These arenas of carnivalesque and liminality disrupted the safety of the mundane and the conventional perimeters of class, engaging young women into the wider realm of a travelling demographic and a shifting, transitory community with blurred margins.
Alongside this investigation, a parallel research path will reveal how circus spaces and notions of fantasy are an inherent resource for fashion creatives. From Elsa Schiaparelli’s surrealist, ‘riotous and swaggering circus collection show’ (1938), to Alexander McQueen’s unconscious narratives and Tim Walker’s encapsulating images of the ‘transformative powers of the imagination’, that propel questions surrounding diversity of identity and reverie as escapism from the everyday. Outputs for this research include a film and photographic exhibition- online and in curated spaces, and journal articles.
Publications, exhibitions, other outcomes
- Roberts, C. (2022). Consuming Mass Fashion in 1930s England: Design, Manufacture and Retailing for Young Working-class Women. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Pages 332.
- Roberts, C. (2023). Choreography of Leftovers: A Rabbit Hole of Possibilities. In: Steve Walls, ed. Fashion Forward: Evolution, Resilience, and Responsibility in the Fashion Sector. Bristol: Intellect Books.
- Roberts, C. (2023). Furland: Global Fur, Feathers and Empires of Fashion Materialities. In: Alex Burchmore, ed. Material Selves. London: Bloomsbury.
- Roberts, C. (2023). The Poverty Oxymoron: Working-class Fashionability. In: Joe Harley and Vicky Holmes, eds. Objects of Poverty, 1600- Present. London: Bloomsbury.
- Roberts, C. (2023). In: Deborah Nadoolman Landis, ed. The Bloomsbury Encyclopaedia of Film and Television Costume. London: Bloomsbury.
- Roberts, C. (2022). Synergy and Dissonance of the Senses: Negotiating Fashion through Second-hand Dealing, Seconds Trading, Jumble Sales and Street Markets. In: Serena Dyer, ed. Shopping and the Senses: A Sensory History of Retail and Consumption since 1700. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 145-168.
- Roberts, C. (2017). A Price for Fashion: A Young Working-class Woman’s Wardrobe in 1930s London. L’Apparences: Histoire et Culture du Paraître, 7, Web. https://journals.openedition.org/apparences/1348
Other academic articles
- Roberts, C. (2018). Archaeology of Dust. Tenderfoot. Goldsmiths University and QUAD Derby. Web. https://tenderfoot.co.uk/archaeology-of-dust/
- Roberts, C. (2011). “Dispelling the Myth at L.C.F.” The University of Brighton Research News 27, pp. 21-22.
- Roberts, C. (2022). Fashion and Class by Rachel Worth. Costume: The Journal of the Costume Society, 56 (1), pp. 143-144.
- Roberts, C. (2021). Shoe Reels: The History and Philosophy of Footwear in Film by Elizabeth Ezra and Catherine Wheatley. Studies in Costume & Performance Journal, 6 (2), pp. 323-327.
- Roberts, C. (2021). Fur: A Sensitive History by Jonathan Faiers. Costume: The Journal of the Costume Society, 55 (2), pp. 271-272.
- Roberts, C. 2021. Worn: Footwear, Attachment and Affects of Wear. Journal of Dress History, 5 (4), pp. 190-193.
- Roberts, C. (2016). Fashion on Television: Identity and Celebrity Culture by Helen Warner. The Journal of Visual Studies, 31 (2), pp. 155-156.
Impact and interviews
- Roberts, C. In interview with Olivia Petter: Twice as Nice: How the Fashion Set Fell Back in Love with Co-ords’ The Independent 18 April 2021 https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/coords-fashion-two-piece-trend-b1833336.html
- Roberts, C in conversation with Rebecca Pride. Poverty Oxymoron: Working-class Fashion. Arts University Bournemouth October 2021, March 2022, November 2022
Artist in Residence
- 2022. Choreography of Leftovers: Fashions Discards and Misfits: Materials of Garbage. The Sociology Review. https://www.thesociologicalreview.org/magazine/june-2022/clothes/image-maker-in-residence/
External collaborations and activities
- (2020-2023). Visiting Research Fellowship. University of Brighton, UK.
- (2016-Present). External Expert Assessor and Secondary Proposer. COST Association: European Cooperation in Science and Technology, Brussels, Belgium.
- (2018- Present). Editorial/ Advisory Board. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.
- (2020- Present) Member of Review Panel. International Journal of Fashion Studies, Bristol, UK.
- (2019- Present). Member of Review Panel. Fairchild Books, London, UK.
- (2016- Present). Publishing Review Panel. Taylor and Francis, London, UK.
- (2016- Present). Editorial/ Advisory Board. Bloomsbury Publishing, London, UK.
- (2016- Present). Publishing Review Panel. Bloomsbury Publishing, London, UK.