Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​7​7​4​2​/​I​M​A​G​E​.​F​C​M​.​9​.​2.2 | PDF

The Canadian Fashion Scholars Network

Kat­ri­na Sark

Study­ing fash­ion cul­ture entails exam­in­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tions, net­works, medi­a­tions, imag­i­na­tions, and scenes in their urban con­texts. The Urban Chic book series, which I co-found­ed and have pub­lished in, devel­ops a method­ol­o­gy of fash­ion cul­ture as the foun­da­tion­al amal­ga­ma­tion of a city’s fash­ion iden­ti­ty, his­to­ry, indus­try, man­u­fac­tur­ing prac­tices, labour con­di­tions, gen­der and iden­ti­ty issues, scenes, and media rep­re­sen­ta­tions. Ana­lyz­ing fash­ion cul­tures loca­tion­al­ly requires an under­stand­ing of fash­ion and cul­ture as com­plex frame­works that are mul­ti­fac­eted and con­tra­dic­to­ry and often chal­lenge our (inter)disciplinary train­ing as his­to­ri­ans, the­o­rists, lit­er­ary and media schol­ars, and feminists.

As a fem­i­nist cul­tur­al ana­lyst, I look at var­i­ous types of cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion across a range of media to exam­ine rep­re­sen­ta­tions of empow­er­ment and pow­er strug­gles. For instance, the grow­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion of war­rior women in main­stream cinema—for exam­ple, the action movies Won­der Woman (dir. Pat­ty Jenk­ins, 2017) and Atom­ic Blonde (dir. David Leitch, 2017) have pro­tag­o­nists whose clothes, shoes, and acces­sories are mobi­lized and incor­po­rat­ed into their body as armour—takes on added sig­nif­i­cance at a time when the U.S., Cana­da, and the globe expe­ri­ence a resur­gence of women’s move­ments, protest, orga­niz­ing, and polit­i­cal and social mobi­liza­tion after the defeat of a female U.S. pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in Novem­ber 2016—for exam­ple, the glob­al Women’s March­es that began in Jan­u­ary 2017 and the #metoo and #time­sup cam­paigns of 2017 and 2018. The fig­ure of Won­der Woman, as Jaclyn Mar­cus explores in depth in her arti­cle in this issue, has been claimed and re-claimed both by cor­po­rate cap­i­tal­ism and fem­i­nists alike. Won­der Women graced the cov­er of the fem­i­nist Ms. Mag­a­zine, was made the U.N. Ambas­sador for the Empow­er­ment of Women and Girls, and then re-brand­ed in Pet­ty Jenkin’s film in the gaze-friend­ly per­son of Gal Gadot. Mar­cus reads fash­ion and cloth­ing in these main­stream rep­re­sen­ta­tions through the metaphors of armour (denot­ing pro­tec­tive pow­ers or even invin­ci­bil­i­ty), as weapons (used for defense and offense), but also as codes of hyper-fem­i­nin­i­ty in con­trast to gen­der-defy­ing strength and pow­er nar­ra­tives. It is also sig­nif­i­cant that these rep­re­sen­ta­tions of empow­er­ment in main­stream cul­ture are still lim­it­ed to white cis-women. Inter­sec­tion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions of empow­er­ment through cloth­ing and fash­ion (of peo­ple of colour, trans­gen­der pro­tag­o­nists, the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty, Mus­lim women, Indige­nous women, women with vary­ing abil­i­ties, and oth­ers) are still very under­rep­re­sent­ed, and are the top­ics of my forth­com­ing edit­ed vol­umes on Eth­i­cal Fash­ion and Empow­er­ment (in 2019) and Fash­ion, Protest and Empow­er­ment (in 2020).

It was my inter­est in ethics and empow­er­ment that led me to cre­ate the Cana­di­an Fash­ion Schol­ars Net­work in 2014. A net­work, in today’s dig­i­tal world, implies instant access, con­nec­tiv­i­ty, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, exchange of ideas and resources as well as pos­si­bil­i­ties of cre­ation and col­lab­o­ra­tion. The tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tions of the past decade have made it eas­i­er to stay con­nect­ed through social-net­work­ing plat­forms and cre­ate online com­mu­ni­ca­tion and research hubs that fos­ter cre­ative and aca­d­e­m­ic col­lab­o­ra­tions. Tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion also makes it pos­si­ble to cre­ate new net­works rel­a­tive­ly quick­ly and inex­pen­sive­ly, with­out rely­ing on expert pro­gram­mers or IT sup­port. One can build net­works that spread wide­ly and even glob­al­ly in con­junc­tion with oth­er estab­lished net­works and social media platforms.

Form­ing a com­mu­ni­ty, by con­trast, is more about bring­ing togeth­er peo­ple with com­mon goals and needs, address­ing these col­lec­tive­ly and prag­mat­i­cal­ly. It requires time, effort, and plan­ning, and, in lieu of avail­able fund­ing, a lot of cre­ative think­ing, fundrais­ing and vol­un­teer­ing. First and fore­most, com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing requires peo­ple to come togeth­er on a reg­u­lar basis to estab­lish con­nec­tions and con­ver­sa­tions in per­son. Neu­ro­log­i­cal­ly, we are wired to con­nect and empathize with peo­ple, which is essen­tial in com­mu­ni­ty build­ing and in find­ing cre­ative solu­tions to col­lec­tive goals, but this can only hap­pen in the off-line world through non-medi­at­ed inter­per­son­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion, mutu­al under­stand­ing, com­mon val­ues and needs, col­lec­tive brain­storm­ing, and solu­tion-based con­ver­sa­tions. It is com­mon­ly accept­ed that com­mu­ni­ties are only as strong as the col­lec­tive efforts of their indi­vid­ual par­tic­i­pants. They require orga­ni­za­tion­al lead­er­ship, as well as com­mu­nal con­tri­bu­tion and ded­i­ca­tion. Pro­fes­sion­al and aca­d­e­m­ic asso­ci­a­tions and orga­ni­za­tions usu­al­ly come togeth­er on an annu­al basis to exchange ideas that fur­ther knowl­edge, strength­en the field, and fos­ter and sus­tain a sense of com­mu­ni­ty among participants.

No such com­mu­ni­ty exist­ed in the field of fash­ion in Cana­da until 2014; the indi­vid­ual mem­bers or clus­ters of this com­mu­ni­ty were present but frag­ment­ed across the coun­try, not always com­mu­ni­cat­ing with each oth­er, often not even aware of each other’s work, and cer­tain­ly not gath­er­ing in per­son on a reg­u­lar basis to exchange ideas or to col­lab­o­rate with oth­er schol­ars and pro­fes­sion­als from all across Canada.

Fig­ures 1 and 2 Colour Block Par­ty at the Mon­tre­al Musee des Beaux Arts with designs by local design­ers, and Mon­tre­al Fash­ion Week 2012, pho­tos by K. Sark

My first expe­ri­ence work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly and try­ing to estab­lish a sense of com­mu­ni­ty through research came when Susan Ingram (a con­trib­u­tor to this issue) and I decid­ed to pub­lish a book on Berlin fash­ion togeth­er, out of fash­ion research I con­duct­ed for Susan while com­plet­ing my M.A. on aca­d­e­m­ic exchange in Berlin. Out of this pro­duc­tive col­lab­o­ra­tion grew a series of con­fer­ence papers, arti­cles, a book, and even­tu­al­ly a book series that began with our first vol­ume Berlin­er Chic: A Loca­tion­al His­to­ry of Berlin Fash­ion (2011). The sec­ond book, Wiener Chic: A Loca­tion­al His­to­ry of Vien­na Fash­ion (2013) was co-authored by Susan Ingram and Markus Reisen­leit­ner, who is now the edi­tor-in-chief of Imag­i­na­tions. The third vol­ume was Mon­tréal Chic: A Loca­tion­al His­to­ry of Mon­tre­al Fash­ion (2016), which I co-authored with Sara Danièle Bélanger Michaud, a fran­coph­o­ne Com­par­a­tive Lit­er­a­ture schol­ar, who con­tributed the “Sym­bols” and “Music” chap­ters and helped map out the French lit­er­a­ture on Mon­tre­al fash­ion. I focused my research on the his­to­ry of fash­ion in Mon­tre­al, the fash­ion col­lec­tions and exhi­bi­tions housed at the local muse­ums, the com­plex fash­ion econ­o­my, the vibrant fash­ion scene with incred­i­bly tal­ent­ed design­ers, the inter­sec­tions of fash­ion and film, as well as the emerg­ing field and com­mu­ni­ty of fash­ion and tech­nol­o­gy based in Mon­tre­al. Through this work, I not only gained a bet­ter under­stand­ing and appre­ci­a­tion of the Cana­di­an fash­ion land­scape but also rec­og­nized the need to con­nect and gen­er­ate vis­i­bil­i­ty for the tremen­dous work of oth­ers. Dur­ing my research for this book, I met with many fash­ion schol­ars, cura­tors, archivists, design­ers, and oth­er fash­ion pro­fes­sion­als in Mon­tre­al, Toron­to, Ottawa, Van­cou­ver and oth­er cities in Cana­da. What became imme­di­ate­ly appar­ent to me at that time was the lack of con­nec­tiv­i­ty between all these cities and their research and design clus­ters, and the great need and desire for such a community.

Fig­ures 3 and 4 Mon­tre­al Fash­ion Week 2012, and Van­cou­ver Fash­ion Week, 2015, pho­tos by K. Sark

I found­ed the Cana­di­an Fash­ion Schol­ars Net­work in 2014, while com­plet­ing my PhD at McGill Uni­ver­si­ty in Mon­tre­al, in the hope of bring­ing togeth­er schol­ars, cura­tors, and fash­ion pro­fes­sion­als from across the coun­try in order to build a schol­ar­ly com­mu­ni­ty and encour­age nation-wide col­lab­o­ra­tion and exchange. I soon dis­cov­ered that while small and local­ized com­mu­ni­ties of fash­ion schol­ars and pro­fes­sion­als had formed all across Cana­da, espe­cial­ly around uni­ver­si­ties, fash­ion schools, and fash­ion col­lec­tions housed in muse­ums, uni­ver­si­ties, and inde­pen­dent archives, there was no nation-wide net­work or col­lec­tive inter­ac­tion. In Octo­ber 2014, I orga­nized the first Cana­di­an Fash­ion Sym­po­sium at the McCord Muse­um in Mon­tre­al. It fea­tured the work of twen­ty-two schol­ars and cura­tors from across Cana­da. The Sym­po­sium was open to the pub­lic and very well attend­ed, bring­ing togeth­er fran­coph­o­ne and anglo­phone schol­ars, as well as many mem­bers of Montreal’s vibrant fash­ion scene. The over­whelm­ing­ly pos­i­tive response to this Sym­po­sium from all par­tic­i­pants and atten­dees con­firmed the col­lec­tive need for this net­work, inspired fur­ther events and com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing efforts, and estab­lished the begin­ning of a new community.

Fig­ure 5 First Fash­ion Sym­po­sium at the McCord Muse­um in Mon­tre­al, 2014, pho­to by John Cruz

The fol­low­ing year, in Novem­ber 2015, we recon­vened at the Muse­um of Van­cou­ver for our sec­ond annu­al Fash­ion Sym­po­sium, where I also had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to curate and orga­nize my first fash­ion show, enti­tled Fash­ion ­Avant-Garde: Now and Then. This time I col­lab­o­rat­ed with the muse­um, Vancouver’s avant-garde, eco-con­scious, and Indige­nous fash­ion design­ers, and the renowned fash­ion col­lec­tors Ivan Say­ers and Claus Jahnke. The his­tor­i­cal and vin­tage cou­ture pieces from Ivan’s col­lec­tion were com­ple­ment­ed the­mat­i­cal­ly, visu­al­ly, tech­ni­cal­ly, or con­cep­tu­al­ly by the new con­tem­po­rary and inno­v­a­tive designs made in Van­cou­ver. The fash­ion show jux­ta­posed the cut­ting edge of fash­ion design of today with old­er styles, as well as high tech and low-tech fash­ion trends and con­cepts. The show cul­mi­nat­ed with Elec­tric Heart, an inno­v­a­tive design by Suzi Web­ster (the Van­cou­ver-based artist and design­er fea­tured as the guest artist in this vol­ume, whose work deserves to be known across Cana­da), a work that visu­al­izes and dis­plays the trans­mit­ted heart­beat of the wear­er (or their part­ner) through blue­tooth trans­mis­sion onto a LED screen on a tai­lored dress. The show was a great suc­cess and fur­thered our goal of fos­ter­ing and sus­tain a com­mu­ni­ty of schol­ars, design­ers, and orga­niz­ers. That year, I also designed and launched our web­site and social media plat­forms, which I cre­at­ed to high­light the work of Cana­di­an fash­ion schol­ars, their pub­li­ca­tions, exhi­bi­tions, pro­grams, projects, and to assist in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and collaboration.

Fig­ures 6 and 7 Sec­ond Fash­ion Sym­po­sium at the Muse­um of Van­cou­ver with Claus Jahnke, Ivan Say­ers, and Suzi Web­ster as pre­sen­ters, 2015, pho­tos by K. Sark

The third Fash­ion Sym­po­sium took place at the Bata Shoe Muse­um in Toron­to in Octo­ber 2016, with twen­ty-sev­en Cana­di­an par­tic­i­pants pre­sent­ing their work on fash­ion. It was the largest gath­er­ing to date and includ­ed new and return­ing schol­ars, fash­ion cura­tors and archivists, tex­tile and fash­ion pro­fes­sion­als, design­ers, and, as always, grad­u­ate stu­dents. Alter­nat­ing the loca­tions of the annu­al sym­posia between east­ern and west­ern Cana­da allows new par­tic­i­pants to dis­cov­er the net­work and to present their work. So far, we have been extreme­ly for­tu­nate to be host­ed by Cana­di­an muse­ums that have fash­ion col­lec­tions, fash­ion exhi­bi­tions, and a man­date to attract new and younger audi­ences, that are not only inter­est­ed in art but fash­ion as well. That year, I col­lab­o­rat­ed with Ingrid Mida and Alexan­dra Kim on com­pil­ing a Bib­li­og­ra­phy of Cana­di­an fash­ion to help fash­ion schol­ars in Cana­da do their research and to map out the grow­ing schol­ar­ship in this field.

Fig­ure 8 Third Fash­ion Sym­po­sium at the Bata Shoe Muse­um in Toron­to, 2016, pho­to by K. Sark

In Sep­tem­ber 2017, we returned to Mon­tre­al, where we were host­ed by the Mon­tre­al Fine Arts Muse­um, with a spe­cial pre­sen­ta­tion by cura­tor Thier­ry-Maxime Lori­ot and a tour of his Jean-Paul Gaulti­er “Love is Love” exhi­bi­tion. We also got a tour of the stu­dio sub­Tela fash­ion and tech­nol­o­gy labs at Con­cor­dia Uni­ver­si­ty, orga­nized by Bar­bara Layne and Joan­na ­Berzows­ka. That year, we began to col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly con­cep­tu­al­ize ways to show­case and rep­re­sent the work of the mem­bers of the net­work at nation­al and inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ences, to pro­mote and cir­cu­late exist­ing pub­li­ca­tions, and to gen­er­ate new pub­li­ca­tion venues for new research. I intro­duced our Events page, which I update reg­u­lar­ly with announce­ments of events, exhi­bi­tions, and work­shops all across Cana­da, and our Call for Sub­mis­sions page, which includes calls for chap­ters and vol­ume sub­mis­sions, includ­ing this spe­cial issue of Imag­i­na­tions. I also cre­at­ed a page to show­case our stu­dents’ work and ­projects that they designed in our fash­ion ­cours­es. With the growth of the net­work and the web­site, I decid­ed to active­ly shift focus towards cre­at­ing more plat­forms for fash­ion pub­li­ca­tions in Canada.

Fig­ures 9 and 10 Fourth Fash­ion Sym­po­sium at the Mon­tre­al Musee des Beaux Arts and the tour of the Jean Paul Gaulti­er Love is Love exhib­it with cura­tor Thier­ry-Maxime Lori­ot in 2017, pho­tos by K. Sark

Our fifth anniver­sary Sym­po­sium took place in Sep­tem­ber 2018 at the Depart­ment of Human Ecol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alber­ta, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the new­ly relo­cat­ed Roy­al Alber­ta Muse­um in down­town Edmon­ton. Both insti­tu­tions house incred­i­bly rich col­lec­tions of cloth­ing and tex­tiles per­ti­nent to Cana­di­an his­to­ry. Julia Petrov, the Cura­tor of West­ern Cana­di­an His­to­ry at the Roy­al Alber­ta Muse­um and a con­trib­u­tor to this issue, showed us rare and impor­tant pieces of cloth­ing from her fash­ion col­lec­tion. We also got a spe­cial tour of the Anne Lam­bert Cloth­ing and Tex­tile Col­lec­tion housed at the Human Ecol­o­gy Depart­ment. Many of the par­tic­i­pants that year have con­tributed to this fash­ion issue of Imag­i­na­tions and oth­er col­lec­tions and vol­umes I am cur­rent­ly editing.

Since its con­cep­tion five years ago, the Cana­di­an Fash­ion Schol­ars Net­work has grown sub­stan­tial­ly in par­tic­i­pa­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion, exchange of ideas, cre­ative projects, and now pub­li­ca­tions. Our Resources page now includes a List of Fash­ion Schools, both pri­vate and pub­lic, in Cana­da. Our mem­ber­ship con­tin­ues to grow each year, attract­ing schol­ars, stu­dents, cura­tors and fash­ion pro­fes­sion­als work­ing on Cana­di­an fash­ion in and out­side of Canada.

Fig­ures 11 and 12 Anne Lam­bert Cloth­ing and Tex­tile Col­lec­tion at the Depart­ment of Human Ecol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alber­ta, 2018, pho­tos by K. Sark

Next year, in Sep­tem­ber 2019, we will be host­ed by the School of Fash­ion at Ryer­son Uni­ver­si­ty in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Tex­tile Muse­um of Cana­da in Toron­to. I look for­ward to expand­ing the net­work to include the new gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents in the grad­u­ate pro­grams at Ryer­son and oth­er uni­ver­si­ties in the GTA, and to col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Ryer­son Cen­tre for Fash­ion Diver­si­ty and Social Change.

Fig­ures 13 and 14 Toron­to Fash­ion Dis­trict, 2014, pho­to by K. Sark and Claus Jahnke’s col­lec­tion, Van­cou­ver 2015, pho­to by K. Sark