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    10 questions to Valerie Steele

    10 questions to Valerie Steele: „Why are they all white?“

    The deans of studies of Fashion Design (B.A.) have created the series “10 questions to…” in order to test new formats and enrich the teaching this special summer semester 2020. Taking the current crisis as a chance was the motto to invite experts of the fashion world for a video meeting with fashion design- and journalism- students of all locations of AMD.

    The series was started with Serhat Isik, designer and CEO of GMBH and has now been continued on June 3rd with the Director of the FIT Museum New York and fashion theorist, Valerie Steele. The second event was moderated by Professor Ulrike Nägele, Vice Dean of the AMD Munich.

    After a short introduction about her work, Valerie Steele was asked prepared questions by AMD professors. The spectrum covered current issues in the field of fashion such as general developments in fashion, changes in the conception of future fashion exhibitions and trends in fashion education. The questions were also modified to reflect current Covid-19 situations. During the last 15 minutes the round was opened for questions for the students and other colleagues of the university.

    The first question asks for the medium-term development of the fashion industry due to corona effects. Be it an “end of fashion”, as Li Edelkoort predicts, or as Orsola de Castro means, a relapse into massive consumption due to renunciation and lack. VS: Neither opinion is correct. It depends on the category of people. Many people will have more awareness to products and production conditions.

    To what extent will the crisis also change the season of fashion, the products and the designer themselves. VS refers to Gucci and the decision of the basic handling of fashion shows. She sees a variety of reactions and changed actions of the influencing fashion houses. Fashion is mainly influenced and run by huge companies, like LVHM or in the lower levels of H&H and Zara. The decision of the upcoming designers will be to either find the gap in the system to still be able to deal independently with the fashion industry, or to find a way to make it more independent network. Or to cooperate inside a big brand and to find out there.

    Another question relates to the curating of fashion. Does an exhibition add value to fashion and make it last longer. VS explains the fundamental difference between fashion in the museum and fashion on the body in everyday life. However, there are also art forms of everyday fashion, such as Alexander McQueen or Balanciaga.

    How will the exhibition planning be changed. VS explains the current parameters of exhibition planning. Starting with distance rules, walking directions, slots for admission, determination of visitor movement, number of visitors, etc. All public programs within the exhibitions have been cancelled.

    Another question concerned the trend and influence of “modest fashion”. And to what extent is fashion a utopian dream. VS mentioned that there is little “modest fashion” in the USA. There is a lot of diversity, religions and races, and also efforts to protect nature, environment and animals. The post-industrial system will change fundamentally. One of VS’s core research projects concerns fetish. As an example, she explains that fetish of shoes has its beginning in childhood.

    How will Covid-19 change fashion education? The online teaching will prevail. Nevertheless, one challenge concerns the creative courses of studies, like fashion. The craft requires a haptic approach.

    The professional independence of designers is increasingly difficult. How can one maintain independence where the big companies determine the image of fashion? A large team is responsible for fashion.

    Another question concerned the handling of masks, as we use in these times due to Covid-19. How will the mask enrich fashion? VS: The mask will become a permanent companion of society, just as it has been common in Asia for 20 years. In Tokyo, it’s normal. Masks will remain in fashion and establish themselves.
    Question about Thierry Mugler and the Munich exhibition of the same name: How is the iconographic corset to be classified? The details and the technical production of the corsets in the Mugler exhibition are extraordinary and from highest quality. Mugler’s female role models are the strong, extraordinary women who have above average strength.

    To what extent can fashion take political stance also through colored models? Fashion is one of the largest industries and is led and shaped by white people. A handful of Asian models can be seen on the catwalks. The black US movement will also change the fashion sector. Nowadays, it is more difficult for designers to achieve direct independence after graduation, and unfortunately especially for black designers.

    One question was about the quality and sense, to present fashion in exhibitions? VS: Fashion should be shown in museums as well as in real life, as part of art and culture. In exhibitions there is always the problem of not seeing fashion in motion. A planning of VS is to put fashion & psychology into a presentable context. The body and fashion represents one of their questions in this context. Two years ago, the president of the FIT Museum, who is himself of African-American origin, asked about the skin colour of the display figures. Why are they all white? Thereupon they bought a differentiated skin colour of the display mannequins. Also the physical conditions are often not the same as the wearers in the real world.

    To what extent can fashion draw attention to social issues? It has always been and can be used to show political statements. A planning of VS is to put fashion & psychology into a presentable context. The body and fashion represents one of their questions in this context. Two years ago, the president of the FIT Museum, who is himself of African-American origin, asked about the skin colour of the display figures. Why are they all white? Thereupon they bought a differentiated skin colour of the display mannequins. Also the physical conditions are often not the same as the wearers in the real world.

    Will Corona change the attitude towards fashion? Will there be virtual avarars instead of real interview partners in the near future? Potential customers will be won with artificial mannequins. Virtual exhibitions will be very important in the future and become more and more popular.

    Due to uncertain financial situation people will be very hesitant about buying fashion. The timeless, classic fashion will prevail in the near future.
    To what extent can fashion draw attention to social issues?It has always been and can be used. T-shirts have been used for political statements for many years. Every colour also has its statement. For example, the color pink had a completely different meaning and also a connection for many years. From an assignment to sweetness and romanticism to a connection to punk, protest and feminism. The meaning and interpretation of fashion, as well as of colour, is carried out in its social classification and its socio-cultural localisation.

    Following a question about her “touching moment” in fashion, VS answered: She had a “touching moment of fashion” with Daphne Guiness during the construction of an exhibition dedicated to her person. Both draped the clothes for the exhibition. VS absolutely did not want diamonds in the exhibition for security reasons, which Ms. Guiness did not want to understand at all. In the end, the assistant fetched alternative and cheaper glass stones from home. It was perfectly normal for Mrs. Guiness to wear diamonds in her daily wardrobe.

    I think the professors of the AMD and all the students who were allowed to experience the interview had a “touching moment” of 45 minutes with the many comprehensive and multi-layered statements of Valerie Steele.

    Thank you very much, Valerie!!!

    * ABOUT Valerie Steele

    Valerie Steele is director and chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, where she has personally organized more than 25 exhibitions since 1997. She is also founder and editor in chief of Fashion Theory: Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, the first peer-reviewed, scholarly journal in Fashion Studies.

    Steele combines serious scholarship (and a Yale Ph.D.) with a rare ability to communicate with general audiences. She is author or co-author of more than two dozen books, including Paris Fashion: A Cultural History, Women of Fashion, Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power, and Fashion Designers A-Z: The Collection of The Museum at FIT. Her books have been translated into Chinese, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

    As author, curator, editor, and public intellectual, Valerie Steele has been instrumental in creating the modern field of fashion studies and in raising awareness of the cultural significance of fashion. She has appeared on many television programs, including The Oprah Winfrey Show and Undressed: The Story of Fashion.

    Her internationally acclaimed research has elevated the broad field of fashion studies into a significant social and political relevance. She has the intellectual flair to evaluate and bring together fashion issues at the right time. She inspires and touches people with her acclaimed curatorial work. She evokes cross-generational enthusiasm for fashion and has provided important fashion theoretical analyses for higher education in fashion.

    Described in The Washington Post as one of fashions brainiest women and by Suzy Menkes as The Freud of Fashion, she is listed as one of The People Shaping the Global Fashion Industry in the Business of Fashion 500 (2014-present).

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