The Enterprise of Culture: International Structures and Connections in the Fashion Industry since 1945 (EOC)

Project Participants

Popular media forms such as style magazines and ca- ble TV often reduce fashion to individual personalities. Designers from Coco Chanel to Alexander McQueen are depicted as visionaries who define changing trends, perhaps even new epochs. In reality, the fash- ion business is an extraordinarily complex industry that operates across national, cultural, economic, and social boundaries. Funded by the Humanities in the European Research Areas (HERA), this project seeks to explore the relationships in fashion as a cultural phe- nomenon and a business enterprise, and to examine the transmission of fashion as a cultural form across nation- al and international boundaries by intermediaries such as educational institutions, media outlets, advertisers, branders, trend forecasters, and retailers.

One of the major questions behind this project is how Europe rose from the ashes of World War II to rebuild and reshape its fashion industry, and how that indus- try has defined a European identity in modern times. The creation of fashion ecosystems, as embodied in the branding of so-called fashion cities and a network of fashion weeks and fashion fairs, has contributed to the re-building of nations. European state and city govern- ments increasingly dedicated resources to the fashion business in the postwar era. This made sense economi- cally and culturally because fashion allows nations to “invent” and “re-invent” traditions, both as a central part of diaspora economics and as a symbol of the im- agined communities of Europe as an assemblage of nations and of regions.

This project seeks to deepen our understanding of these developments using an interdisciplinary approach that explores the relationships among enterprise and culture. Fashion is often studied from a purely theo- retical perspective, from a costume history or dress history viewpoint, or from a popular media-driven van- tage point. EOC breaks new ground, using the fashion business to examine how various types of cultural en- counters – between “core” fashion cities such as Paris and London and “peripheral” areas such as Sweden and Scotland, between style labs and the high street, and between fibre makers, clothing manufacturers, and re- tailers – stimulated innovation, and created a new and competitive industry.

Over the next three years, the EOC team will hold a series of workshops, conferences, and public pro- grammes, will produce articles and books, and will launch a pilot oral history programme on the history of the European fashion business. Our team of historians and management scholars has a strong commitment to public understanding and will work closely with non- academic institutions, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Centre for Business History in Stockholm, the Marks and Spencer Company Archive in Leeds, and the sponsors of fashion-textile trade fairs throughout Europe, including Première Vision, Bread & Butter, and Messe Frankfurt.

For more information, see the project website: www.enterpriseofculture.leeds.ac.uk

Associated Partners: 

AP-1: Sonnet Stanfill, Victoria and Albert Museum, UK, S.Stanfill@vam.ac.uk

AP-2: Mr Alexander Husebye, Centre for Business History Stockolm (CBHS), SE, alexander.husebye@naringslivshistoria.se

EOC