Ghost of Fashion Past: Material Culture and the Debris of History and The Materiality of Fashion: A Subjective View

Giorgio Riello and Sarah Scaturro
Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Conservation Conversations are public research dialogues pairing a conservator and a professor and exemplifying the goal of “Cultures of Conservation,” a five-year curricular initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. For more information, visit http://cultures-of-conservation.wikis.bgc.bard.edu/.

Giorgio Riello is Professor of Global History and Culture at the University of Warwick. He received his Laurea in Economia Aziendale from Università Ca’ Foscari, Venice, and his Ph.D. in History from University College London, University of London. Prior to his current position, Riello was Research Officer in Global History at the London School of Economics and Lecturer in the Research Department of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Royal College of Art. His research interests, which are located within the long chronologies and geographical spaces covered by Global History, are directed towards issues of material life and economic development and the relationship between consumption and production. Riello’s current research focuses on changes in consumer demand and their impact on the spheres of production and material culture, with specific reference to textiles and clothing. His recent publications include Cotton: The Fabric that Made the Modern World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); La moda: Una breve storia dal medioevo a oggi (Rome: Laterza, 2012); Global Design History, co-editors, Glenn Adamson and Sarah Teasley (Basingstoke: Routledge, 2011); Moda: storia e storie, co-editors, Maria Giuseppina Muzzarelli and Elisa Tosi Brandi (Milan: Bruno Mondadori, 2010); The Fashion History Reader: Global Perspectives, co-editor, Peter McNeil (Basingstoke: Routledge, 2010); and The Spinning World: A Global History of Cotton Textiles, 1200-1850, co-editor, Prasannan Parthasarathi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

Sarah Scaturro is Conservator at The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She received her B.A. in History with a minor in Italian from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and her M.A. in Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory and Museum Practice from the Fashion Institute of Technology. Prior to her current position, Scaturro was Textile Conservator and Assistant Curator of Fashion at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Additionally, as an independent textile conservator, Scaturro has worked on projects at the Bard Graduate Center, the Guggenheim Museum, the Haiti Cultural Recovery Project, the Menil Foundaiton, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Scaturro’s curatorial projects include Principals of Design: Pratt Fashion Alumni (Pratt Manhattan Gallery, 2011); Ethics + Aesthetics = Sustainable Fashion (Pratt Manhattan Gallery, 2009); and Modern Master: Lucien Lelong (Museum at FIT, 2006). Her recent publications include “Fashion Criticism as Political Critique: An Interview with Lynn Yaeger,” Fashion Projects, Volume 4, 2013; “Rodarte: Outsiders Inside the Runway,” Surface Design Journal, Spring 2012, Volume 36, Number 3; and “Black and Blue: Hmong Textile Traditions in Transition,” Hand/Eye Magazine, Issue 6, Fall 2011.

What is the role of artifacts in understanding the past? We are presented with a multitude of objects from the past presented behind protective glass in museums, sold at auction houses, passed down from our forefathers or simply forgotten or discarded. Together they form a specific way to engage with the past that is far from un-mediated. Riello’s presentation will focus on fashion and consider the different story lines of three artifacts: a fan made of fragile feathers, a car with only 1500 miles on its clock, and a pair of battered shoes. These objects might appear at first sight rather distant from glamor or fashion, yet they reveal in different ways the challenges and opportunities of conservation and the problems that fashion encounters in becoming old and transforming itself into the Ghost of Fashion Past.

Scaturro asks ‘what happens when fashion fails?’ Not the fashion system, not the fashion image, but the actual fashion object? When faced with a broken, decaying, and damaged garment, how and why do conservators attempt to bring it “back to life”? Fashion was never meant to endure, so what does it mean when we try to make it persist longer than intended? For costume conservators, these questions are paramount when faced with the impending dematerialization of the fashion object they are charged with protecting. Recent conservation efforts in The Costume Institute involving a Charles Frederick Worth gown and the works of the Anglo-American couturier Charles James demonstrate how conservators approach the limits of fashion’s materiality.



Back to Top