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Lydia Caston

MA work

Fashioning the 'Femme Arabe': European Representations of the Algerian woman and dress (1855-1910)

Algeria was under French occupancy from 1830 to 1962; a period in which Europeans depicted Algerians in paintings, travel writing, and ethnographic photography, and as this dissertation argues, both postcards and fashion press. Using the examples of Jean Geiser, Claude-Joseph Portier and the Neurdein Frères’ postcards, as well as L’Art et la Mode and La Mode Illustrée, this study assesses how Algerian women were portrayed in the artificial Algeria of the photography studios and through the appropriation of their dress into wider forms of nineteenth century Orientalist fashion.

The pseudo-ethnographic nature of the European photographic postcards seemed to invent an Algerian female ethnicity, easily recognisable through the setting, props and dress the models wore. On the one hand, Algerian women were presented as inaccessible and hidden behind the harem walls and the haïk veil, but also vigorously offered as the ‘exotic’ inferior and half-naked ‘Femme Arabe’. Additionally, in French press, Algerian dress was illustrated as ahistorical and static; clothing that could only be modernised and deemed fashionable for European wearers upon its integration into their own consumer cycle. The superimposition of Algerian dress onto the white European body fashioned the Other into the familiar for the French female readership, and reinforced the position of a dominant colonial society capable of freely incorporating and modifying aspects of Algeria.

A study of these artefacts in their colonial context deconstructs the ways in which the French imperial system prevailed, to expose gender and race dynamics, created through the imaginary tropes of the Algerian country.

Info

  • Lydia Caston
  • MA Degree

    School

    School of Arts & Humanities

    Programme

    MA History of Design, 2018

  • Lydia is a design historian and fashion writer with a background in English and French literature. Her research uses dress as a tool to investigate socio-historical interactions, in particular nineteenth and early twentieth century colonial representations. Through an exploration of European photographic postcards and fashion press, her MA thesis investigates gendered and racialised stereotypes of Algerian women as demonstrations of asymmetrical power relations. She applies a global design history approach integrating dress and fashion histories, anthropology, performance and feminist theory.

    Lydia is concerned with public-facing and accessible research practices and has been involved in projects with the Design History Society, the David Parr House and the V&A. Other research interests include eighteenth century French fashion prints and satire, as well as heritage tourism spaces in Singapore. 

  • Degrees

  • BA Liberal Arts, King's College London, 2016
  • Experience

  • Student Officer, Design History Society, London, 2017; Volunteer for Fashioned from Nature, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2018; Vol.1 (Student Publication), RCA, 2017-2018; Curatorial team (Student Exhibition), David Parr House and RCA, 2018
  • Exhibitions

  • A Toolkit for Provocative Practice, Hockney Gallery RCA, London, 2016
  • Awards

  • Paris VII Diderot Exchange, Victoria and Albert Museum Travel Award, 2017
  • Conferences

  • 'Playing with Print: Fashion, Satire and the Parisian Print Industry in Eighteenth- Century Europe','All that Glitters...': Visual Representations of Dress in the Early Modern and the Boundaries of Reliability, Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin, 2017; 'Fashioning the 'Femme Arabe': European Representations of the Algerian woman and dress (1855-1910)', Fashion, Costume and Visual Cultures, University of Zagreb, 2018