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First Professor of Fashion's Rare Papers Boost RCA's Special Collections Archive

1 February 2013 – The RCA has acquired the highly valuable and rare papers of its first professor of fashion, the former British Vogue fashion editor, Madge Garland.

Madge Garland
Madge Garland, c.1917

Biographer Hilary Spurling, and author Lisa Cohen, whose trio-biography published last summer included a section dedicated to Garland, gifted the College six boxes of papers including draft articles, photos, correspondence, appointment diaries, published writings and other items. The papers, now fully catalogued, will sit within the RCA’s archive, managed separately as a special collection, and will be available to researchers.

Spurling and Cohen approached RCA archive collection manager Neil Parkinson last year to see if the College would house Garland’s papers. They felt the RCA was where Garland had made her most significant achievements.

‘Madge spent such a significant part of her career here, and was influential in having established the fashion school. There are letters in the archive from Hardy Amies, Rosamond Lehmann, John Betjeman and others. What we have is fragmented but it’s all the more valuable because that’s all there is,’ said Parkinson.

Though a somewhat obscure and neglected figure, who was eclipsed by her successor at the RCA, Janey Ironside, Garland was significant in having a rare comprehensive experience of the fashion industry spanning operations, media, marketing, education, consultancy and policy. Her contribution to both the Royal College of Art and the fashion industry earned her much respect.

As Vogue fashion editor, she soared on the glamorous life of high society, rubbing shoulders with Virginia Woolf and the bohemian Bloomsbury set, working closely with Cecil Beaton and inspiring Hardy Amies to set up his first fashion enterprise. Privately, Garland’s life was beset with secrecy, at times embroiling her in scandal. Resilient, however, she recovered and rebuilt her reputation and career.

Former rector Robert Darwin invited her to set up and launch the RCA’s first fashion school in 1948 on the strength of her work with the then newly-formed Council of Industrial Design. She filled the department with staff from industry, rather than art teachers, while students had to have placements at mills, factories or fashion magazines – all of which brought a realism, rather than aesthetic abstraction, to the new department. By the time she resigned in 1956, the RCA’s fashion school was well and truly on the map.

Among the RCA’s other significant acquisitions are the papers of mechanical engineer and Professor of Design Research at the RCA, Bruce Archer. Around 30 boxes were received in 2007.

The Royal College of Art archive is a collection of resources documenting the history of the College. Most of the material consists of RCA publications, including annual reports, prospectuses, degree-show catalogues, student magazines – most notably the influential and long-running ARK – and the publications of the Lion and Unicorn Press, the College’s in-house imprint of limited-edition illustrated books.

Read more about the RCA archive and special collections here.