IAMHIST Online: Dressing the Media – Materials and Methods for Studying Screen Costume
15 October 2021, 12.00-14.00 (BST) via Zoom
Hosted by Melanie Bell (University of Leeds) and Llewella Chapman (University of East Anglia)
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Since the 1990 publication of Jane Gaines and Charlotte Herzog’s path-breaking Fabrications, the study of costume design for film and television has become well-established in the academy. Scholars have published an impressive body of research on fashion on screen, the costume design process, and the labour and professional identities of costume designers, much of this situated in the wider context of media histories and production studies. This workshop provides an opportunity to hear the latest research from scholars (both early career and established) working in the field of screen costume, to share ideas, reflect on methodologies and archival sources for the research and teaching of costume for the screen.
Speakers: Melanie Bell, Elizabeth Castaldo Lundèn (Stockholm University), Llewella Chapman, Victoria Haddock (Costume Curator and Collections Care, Zenzie Tinker Textile Conservation) and Helen Warner (University of East Anglia).
12.00-12.10: Introduction to ‘Dressing the Media’ by Melanie Bell and Llewella Chapman
12.10-12.20: Dressing the Talkies: the ‘Making Cultures’ of Early British Sound Film, Melanie Bell
This paper draws on the diaries of leading costume designer Gordon Conway to reconstruct the making cultures of costumes for British film in the 1930s. These records offer a unique insight into the day-to-day operations of a costume designer at a time when the film industry was responding to the introduction of sound, opening up the networks and spaces through which a central aspect of film production was realised. As one of the most senior women in the film industry of the day, Conway’s career also raises wider questions about how film history responds to the figure of ‘the woman professional’ and their commercial and creative achievements.
Melanie Bell has published widely on many aspects of gender and British film including a monograph on the star Julie Christie (BFI, 2016), an article on women’s soundwork and the foley artist Beryl Mortimer (Screen, 2017) and women documentarians (Feminist Media Histories, 2018). Her recently published monograph drew on oral history and trade union records to write a feminist revisionist history of women in film: Movie Workers: The Women Who Made British Cinema (University of Illinois Press, 2021). Her latest project investigates the making cultures of costume for British film in the early sound period, using the designer Gordon Conway as a case study.
12.20-12.30: Beyond the Screen: The Perils of Researching Costume Design History, Elizabeth Castaldo Lundén
This presentation will problematize existing literature and research methods used so far in costume design history. It will discuss our role as researchers in building the foundations for a more informed and meticulous research practice that includes a close collaboration with archives beyond our individual projects to validate this area of study. The talk invites participants to reflect upon the political trajectory that costume design must undergo as a scholarly sub-field in its scattered existence within various academic disciplines. It also encourages researchers to write a history of costume design beyond screen representation, using various methods and sources while contemplating the work of below-the-line designers.
Elizabeth Castaldo Lundén is a Senior Lecturer at the Center for Fashion Studies, Department of Media Studies at Stockholm University. Castaldo Lundén’s research addresses the history of the fashion and film industries, costume design, consumer culture, celebrity culture and public relations practices. Her most recent book, Fashion on the Red Carpet: A History of the Oscars, Fashion and Globalisation, published by Edinburgh University Press in 2021, investigates the history of the Academy Awards red-carpet phenomenon. She is currently working on a research project to study fashion newsfilms in collaboration with the Media Ecology Project and writing a book about research methods in costume design.
12.30-12.40: Cutting the cloth of James Bond’s wardrobe: Eileen Sullivan, wardrobe mistress, Llewella Chapman
The voices of women who worked in the wardrobe departments of British film remain relatively silent. I have found several examples in my research into costume and the James Bond film franchise where a costume designer is not employed on a film production at all, and the role of making and sourcing costumes goes to the wardrobe supervisor, master, mistress or costumier. For example, Tessa Prendergast (as Welborn) was credited as being the costume designer for Dr. No (1962), however she only briefly worked with the production when on location in Jamaica, and the bulk of the costume decisions were in fact made by Eileen Sullivan, the wardrobe mistress, who was not afforded a credit in the final film. Therefore, my paper works to spotlight the work of Sullivan, through personal papers that were recently shared with me by her family, and will address the difficulties of researching the work of wardrobe personnel in the James Bond films who have hitherto remained unacknowledged in broader scholarship.
Llewella Chapman is a film historian and visiting scholar at the University of East Anglia. Her research interests include British cinema, fashion, costume and gender. Llewella is a member of The Costume Society, and her monograph, Fashioning James Bond: Costume, Gender and Identity in the World of 007 will be published by Bloomsbury in October 2021. She is currently working on a research monograph, Costume and British Cinema.
12.40-12.50: Stitched Up: Researching labour disputes in wardrobe and costume design, Helen Warner
This talk will be a reflection on some current research on the history of two Hollywood trade unions (Motion Pictures Costumers – local 705 & The Costume Designers Guild – local 892). The research examines the formation of both organisations and the symbolic distinction between the ‘workers’ who clothe the performers and the ‘artists’ who design costumes. The talk will reflect on the process of conducting this research, methodological challenges in Covid times, and the value of certain kinds of archival material when reconstructing women’s histories.
Helen Warner is a Senior Lecturer in Cultural Politics, Communications and Media Studies at the University of East Anglia. Her research interests include gender, textiles, craft and the creative industries. She is the author of Fashion on TV (2014) and co-editor of The Politics of Being a Woman (2015).
12.50-13.05: Comfort Break
13.05-13.15: Searching the Stores: Researching Costume in Museum and Archival Collections, Victoria Haddock
This presentation will discuss the methodologies and sources that can be used to research existing film costumes held in museum and archival collections, focusing on the costumes worn by Oscar-winning actress Vivien Leigh. The paper will encourage us to use museum databases and collections to uncover and view surviving items of dress designed for the screen.
Victoria Haddock graduated with a BA (Honours) History degree from the Open University in 2016, before undertaking a Masters degree in the History of Design and Material Culture from the University of Brighton, graduating with a Merit in 2019. Victoria’s dissertation focused on the topic of fashion tie-ins inspired by film costumes during the 1930s. She currently works as the Collections Officer at Brunel’s SS Great Britain, and has previously worked for the Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall, and the National Trust’s Killerton House. She is currently working on a research project studying the fashions of Argentinian First Lady, Eva Peron.
All speakers will discuss researching costume, wardrobe design and labour through the archives, with the floor invited to discuss the fun as well as the trials and tribulations of applying an empirical approach to this type of research. Victoria will also discuss using groups, such as The Costume Society, for research.
Fabric samples for Anna and the King (1999). Credit: Jenny Beavan Collection, BFI National Archive