CULTURES / OF / TAKING
Exploring Cultural Exchange in Contemporary Fashion Practice
Fashion designers frequently take inspiration from external sources, including architecture, music, film, historical dress, and, indeed, the aesthetics associated with particular cultures. But when designers reference other cultures for the production of fashion, they inadvertently become active participants in cultural exchange—a controversial territory rife with the complications of historically institutionalised power dynamics. These designers are often criticised within academia for carelessly appropriating and exoticising those cultures from which they take inspiration. However, the literature has rarely considered the position of designers as actors in these exchanges and has consequently overlooked the potential for constructive negotiation within design practice.
My dissertation thus seeks to complicate these readings by asserting design agency in a critical analysis of transnational flows in the fashion industry. With an understanding of the relevant historiographical context, this study mediates between critical and practical perspectives to explore whether contemporary designers can engender productive cultural exchange through fashion practice. Moving beyond theoretical paradigms, ethnographic research and visual analysis are used to investigate processes involved when designers borrow from other cultures, observe the critical reaction to these designers' work, and examine designers' responses to critique. This approach is utilised to locate sites for potential dialogue and development in contemporary fashion, promoting a discourse that considers how designers can implement criticisms of cultural exchange by evolving innovative methodologies of taking inspiration. The possibilities and limitations of this engagement are also discussed, with particular attention to the underlying issues inherent to industrial practice.
By considering how designers' iterative processes function as dialectical mechanisms, we can revitalise discourses of cultural exchange in contemporary fashion practice, surpassing the stale dichotomy of inspiration / appropriation.
School of Fine Art
MA History of Design, 2015
Through the History of Design MA, I was able to bridge practice, theory, and history by engaging in a critical examination of how cultural exchanges occur in the fashion industry. Theoretical analysis was utilised in conjunction with ethnographic observations and interviews to create a space for mediation and dialogue between academic criticisms and industrial practice. I investigated a variety of themes that include designer agency, design process, inspiration and conceptual development, tradition and innovation, branding and marketing, business structure and financial viability, public relations strategy, critical engagement, artisan partnerships and collaborative design.
I have always been fascinated by intersections of the historical and the contemporary in fashion, and I enjoy exploring ideas like cultural exchange in the global landscape, lifestyle branding, vintage and craft in design, trend forecasting and futurology, and the influence of digital media. In the future, I hope to pursue my interdisciplinary interests through trend and market research, and development within the fashion industry.
- BSc Apparel Design & Management, Cornell University, 2013
- Research insights and strategy internship, Spring Studios, London, 2014–15; Brand development internship, SB Factory Consulting, New York, 2013; Creative services intern, Ralph Lauren, New York, 2012; Assistant researcher, Cornell University Costume Collection, Ithaca, 2009–13
- V&A Global Fashion History Scholarship Award