Fashion Remains : The Epistemic Potential of Fashion Ephemera

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Media Studies, Stockholm University

Abstract: This dissertation investigates fashion ephemera as objects of knowledge. By focusing on a category of fashion ephemera (invitations, catalogues and press releases) created by contemporary ready-to-wear fashion designers, this study moves beyond the canonical idea that fashion exclusively endures in the form of garments or other wearable objects, while shedding light on an overlooked category of fashion objects. Although the practice of collecting ephemera is established in many types of museums (e.g. social, ethnographic, historical) and archives (both public and private), very few fashion museums have paid attention to these materials, which are usually collected through sporadic private donations. Similarly, fashion scholars have only intermittently employed these materials, mostly using them as mere supportive evidence or as auto-explanatory in the study of dress, fashion shows or fashion designers’ agency.This dissertation fills this gap, focusing on the epistemic capacity of fashion ephemera. Through a case study on the collection of invitations, catalogues and press releases conserved in the Mode Museum of the Province of Antwerp (MoMu), this study investigates what knowledge about fashion these ephemera enable, and how they do so through their material, textual and visual features. The dissertation concentrates on the capacity of fashion ephemera to evoke and to call into question material and immaterial knowledge about fashion, focusing on issues of authorship, time and materiality.Thus, this thesis interprets fashion ephemera as fashion remains. To speak about ‘fashion remains’ aims to stress how ephemera are commonly discarded and how they represent a form of materiality that reflects the ephemeral nature of fashion. Further, ‘fashion remains’ explains the capacity of fashion ephemera to perform and bear traces of fashion and its immaterial practices. Due to their capacity to both ‘live’ and ‘escape’ the ephemeral, these objects record and echo the ephemeral nature of fashion, becoming crucial devices through which to know and experience fashion, its actors and its practices.  

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