The Suit: Form, Function & Style

Cover of "The Suit" by Christopher Breward

There is something frenetic and exciting about the publication of a book. Especially when it’s been a long time in the writing. And there’s also something a bit sad about delivering the last words on a project before moving on to the next.

These past couple of weeks have been focused on celebrating the launch of my monograph The Suit: Form, Function & Style published (very handsomely) by Reaktion Books. It brings together almost two decades worth of thinking about the design, cut, wearing and representation of this classic wardrobe item, all of which began when I was engaged on my PhD about men as consumers of fashion in late nineteenth-century London (submitted in 1998). Continue reading

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The Good Tutor

"Oath of the Horatii" by Jacques-Louis David, source: Wikimedia Commons

I have never forgotten her passionate account of the “Oath of the Horatii”, her petite form taking on the pose of the triplet brothers as they made their patriotic vow. “Oath of the Horatii” by Jacques-Louis David, source: Wikimedia Commons

I was deeply moved to read the obituaries of art historian and author Anita Brookner earlier this week. Dr Brookner was teaching at the Courtauld Institute in the mid-1980s and as an undergraduate student there I took her course on eighteenth century French painting. She cut a slightly distanced figure at the time, poised to lead the seminars in her study at the top of a narrow staircase above the Witt Photographic Library in the Courtauld’s Portman Square building. With her bouffant red hair, thick mascara, pressed cashmere sweaters and pencil skirts she appeared like an elegant vision from two decades previously, wreathed in expensive perfume. Continue reading

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The Humboldt Forum: Lessons for Scotland and the world

Architectural model of the new building for the Humboldt Forum.

Architectural model of the new building for the Humboldt Forum.
Image: Wikimedia Commons (Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)

Sometimes one is presented, unexpectedly, with visions of such ambition and worth that they leave you reeling. It seemed fitting on the first day of spring that we should be presented with one such vision by Professor Dr Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation at a workshop co-hosted by the Centre for Cultural Relations at the University of Edinburgh, the National Museums of Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Continue reading

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Collecting Contemporary: Collections as Conversations

Timepieces (2014), Katie Paterson Part of the University of Edinburgh Art Collection. Installed in the Edinburgh College of Art Main Building.

Timepieces (2014), Katie Paterson
Part of the University of Edinburgh Art Collection. Installed in the Edinburgh College of Art Main Building.

It was good to attend the Collecting Contemporary event in the University of Edinburgh’s Playfair Library on 16th February 2016 which included a preview of the upcoming Collecting Contemporary website, and coincided with both the inaugural publication of Affiliate’s new imprint and the opening week of British Art Show 8, showing in the adjacent Talbot Rice Gallery, Inverleith House and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Continue reading

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Thinking forwards in New York

Knickerbocker Club, New York. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Knickerbocker Club, New York.
Image: Wikimedia Commons (bit.ly/knickerbocker-club)

Two weeks ago (hot on the heels of Storm Jonas), at a dinner hosted by the University of Edinburgh’s North American Office at the Knickerbocker Club in New York, I was delighted to have the opportunity to share my sense of excitement at the enormous potential and energy which resides in our School at this crucial moment, five years after the merger of the schools of architecture, art and design at the former Edinburgh College of Art and the schools of architecture, history of art and music at the University in 2011. It seems apposite, as spring starts to send out early shoots over the Meadows, to re-boot this blog with some of the good news. Continue reading

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Time for research

"British Design: Tradition and Modernity after 1948" cover

“British Design” cover

A number of personal research projects of mine have culminated in publication this autumn.

British Design: Tradition and Modernity after 1948 marks the end of a project that began with my co-curation of the British Design: Innovation in the Modern Age exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2012.

The exhibition raised many questions about the particular relationship between place, time and space that characterises much of the UK’s design culture, and a conference during the exhibition’s run produced the chapters in this book. Continue reading

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Forty years on: The past and future of design history

Chris Breward, Pat Kirkham, Catherine Whalen, and Jonathan Woodham speaking at the Open University in Milton Keynes. View on Open Arts Archive website

In May I was honoured to be asked to present at the conference ’40 Years On: The Domain of Design History’ at the Open University (OU) in Milton Keynes. The conference celebrated the launch of the pioneering OU programme “History of Architecture and Design 1890-1939”, an authoritative introduction to Modernism presented by Professor Tim Benton.

It was one of the first university courses to subject design and architecture to academic scrutiny in a context that went beyond the art historical. It was also echoed by similar initiatives in art schools around the UK, particularly Middlesex, Brighton, Manchester, Newcastle and the Royal College.

My polemic considered the continuing place of design historical work in our much-altered scholarly environment, and it generated some lively debate!

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Design in Motion

Travelling Gallery (Image courtesy of V&A Dundee)

The Design in Motion travelling gallery (Image courtesy of V&A Dundee)

Like a scene from the Cliff Richard movie ‘Summer Holiday’, the V&A Dundee ‘Design in Motion’ bus pulled in to Edinburgh last week.

I took the opportunity to take a tour at its stop-over in George Street. In collaboration with the Travelling Gallery, the bus is showcasing the work of contemporary designers trained or based in Scotland who engage with the challenges of digital technology. Continue reading

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Masculinity and fashion: An interview with Professor Ulinka Rublack

Ulinka Rublack. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/1DCP2ED)

Professor Ulinka Rublack. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/1DCP2ED)

I was recently honoured to be interviewed by Professor Ulinka Rublack, Fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge and author of the excellent OUP book ‘Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe’.

Ulinka is just preparing a fascinating facsimile of the autobiographical ‘Book of Clothes’ produced by the merchant Matthaus Shwartz in Augsburg during the 1520s. Contemporary artists Maisie Broadhead and Isabella Newell have been commissioned to produce a series of works updating Schwartz’s sartorial reflections to the present and Ulinka asked me to respond to this project and the synergies between masculinity and fashion in the Renaissance and now.

Read the full interview on The First Book of Fashion >

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Luxury Part Two: The Spaces of Luxury

The Shard from Tower Bridge. Image courtesy of Loco Steve (bit.ly/the-shard-from-tower-bridge), used under a Creative Commons License

The Shard from Tower Bridge. Image courtesy of Loco Steve (bit.ly/the-shard-from-tower-bridge), used under a Creative Commons License

Following the session in Florence last year, the Leverhulme funded International Network on Luxury and the Manipulation of Desire met for its final open conference at the University of Warwick Business School in the Shard, London last week. For three days delegates met to consider The Spaces of Luxury: Places, Spaces and Geographies from the Renaissance to the Present. Continue reading

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