The Enterprise of Culture: International Structures and Connections in the Fashion Industry since 1945
This project explored the relationships among fashion as a cultural phenomenon and a business enterprise.
Popular venues such as style magazines and cable TV often reduce fashion to individual personalities. Designers from Coco Chanel to Alexander McQueen are seen as visionaries who define changing trends, perhaps even new epochs. In reality, the fashion business is an extraordinarily complex industry that operates across national, cultural, economic and social boundaries.
This project examined the transmission of fashion as a cultural form across national and international boundaries by intermediaries such as educational institutions, media outlets, advertisers, branders, trend forecasters, and retailers. One of the major questions explored in this project was how Europe rose from the ashes of World War II to rebuild and reshape its fashion industry and how that industry has defined European identity in modern times.
The creation of fashion ecosystems as embodied in the branding of fashion cities and a network of fashion weeks and fairs has contributed to the re-building of nations. European states and city governments increasingly dedicated resources to the fashion business in the post-war era. This made sense economically and culturally because fashion allows nations to ‘invent’ and ‘reinvent’ traditions both as a central part of diaspora economics and as a symbol of the imagined communities of Europe as an assemblage of nations and regions.
The key to unlocking this puzzle lay in the interdisciplinary approach taken in this project. Fashion is often studied in from a purely theoretical perspective, from a costume history viewpoint or from a popular media-driven vantage point. This research project broke new ground, using the fashion business to examine how various types of cultural encounters between core fashion cities like Paris and London and “peripheral” areas like Scotland, or between style labs and high street, stimulated innovation and created a new and competitive industry.