I was lucky enough to be able to attend Fashion Digital Memories 2017, the Europeana Fashion Symposium 2017 organised by the Europeana Fashion International Association in collaboration with Università IUAV di Venezia and The New School – Parsons Paris. The Symposium explored the ways in which fashion archives are experimenting with, and utilising, digital technologies to enhance the record and the reader/visitor experience.
The presentations reminded us of websites which furnish the reader with rotatable, high-definition images of garments, contextual video, and text descriptions, but also showcased more innovate technologies such as those using X-ray images, which provide additional ways to explore and interpret fashion items, and which also stand as new forms of art in themselves.
The three main protagonists of the conference seemed to be (1) fashion house archives (e.g. Versace), (2) academic institutions (eg London College of Fashion, Humboldt University) and (3) significant national collections (eg MoMa, Museum of London, V&A).
Especially interesting was the keynote given by Tim Long (@Fashion_Curator), from the Museum of London. Tim outlined some of the innovative projects he was involved with, which moved beyond collecting and conservation, to explore the boundaries of fashion heritage. The role of digital recording in stimulating new ideas, innovation and creativity was paramount. The challenges inherent in capturing both material and immaterial memories was raised.
Sadly, LIS was represented only through the archive profession, although much of the material dealt with core LIS issues: how to classify items, how to use a consistent vocabulary/terminology for description, what facets are appropriate for the subject, what kind of metadata is useful, how best to use linked data, and how to make digital materials available for both experts and casual users.
There was also an emphasis on UX – in particular the idea that, for casual museum/gallery visitors entertainment must come first, and information can follow for those interested. The tendency of information professionals to want to make all their material available up front should be resisted – it should be there for those who need it, but for most people a sample of exciting/pleasing material will be enough. Experiences and encounters with archive/museum materials should be ‘delightful’. The essential need for any material to be designed for mobile technology was also emphasised, and parallels could readily be drawn with the library world; readers/visitors/audiences have high expectations borne from multimedia, snippeted and mobile informational encounters.
This is often at odds with the scholarly approach taken by traditional academics, librarians, curators and archivists. There is a contemporary need however, to make collections viable financially, and culturally available and of interest to the widest possible number of people.
Also mentioned was use of standard vocabularies – Iconclass, Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus, Getty Index of Names, OCLC’s Virtual International Authority File for names. The limitations of these vocabularies for fashion was evident. Research detailed some attempts to extend them, eg adding multilingual fashion terms to AAT, but there was also a tendency to invent local vocabularies.
Fashion clearly has a strong facet structure, though expressed slightly differently, e.g. form/shape/pattern and form/material/pattern
Video guides to collection items, on YouTube, are popular. These may be best without audio, using simple captions – so that they can be accessed anywhere when audio may not be acceptable without headphones, which helps those who first language is not English
Kate Bethune (@BethuneKate) from the Victoria and Albert Museum described the wide use of digital technologies in the recent Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty, including digital storytelling, digital ‘cabinet of curiosities’ Pepper’s Ghost and immersive sound.
Newer use of digital technologies included x-ray imaging followed by digital enhancement, deep zoom imaging, digital garment creation from digital pattern pieces, inclusion of digital artworks (especially for preservation/reconstruction), and outreach via social media.
Overall, I thought about documents and documentation. Specifically, the similarities between attempts to document fashion with attempts to document performance. Why are we documenting, and who for? What is missing from our record?
Somewhat surprisingly, none of the presentations reference VR/AR, which seems an area which could offer much to the realms of archiving and documentation in general, and perhaps fashion, specifically.
I wondered if garmets, and their associated archives, could benefit conceptually from Buckland’s documentation theory – if we think of ‘document’ very broadly (i.e. the item of clothing as a document), we can consider firstly the physical attributes of the garment, and then subsequently, our personal interpretation or understanding of/from the garment as a document, and finally the socio-cultural meaning and impact of the garment.
There is more to fashion than looking good.
A wonderful symposium. Many thanks to organisers and sponsors.: “Europeana Fashion International Association in collaboration with Università IUAV di Venezia and The New School – Parsons Paris. The event was co-funded by the European Commission within the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) Programme.”
Buckland, M. (2017). Information and Society. MIT Press.
Long, TA. (2015) Charles James, Designer in Detail, V & A publishing.
Robinson, L (2017). Storify of Fashion Digital Memories.
Van Hooland, S and Verborgh, R (2014). Linked Data for Libraries, Archives and Museums. Facet.