Professor Reina Lewis

Profile image of Professor of Cultural Studies

Professor of Cultural Studies

London College of Fashion

Research interests

Fashion and Faith, especially internet retail, blogs and magazines; Fashion and Islam, especially historical and contemporary veiling debates; critical approaches to Orientalism, especially travel writing, photography, and Orientalist painting; Middle Eastern and Ottoman women's history (1800-1945); postcolonial theory, gender and ethnicity/race studies; Sexuality studies, including lesbian and gay visual and literary culture, queer fashion, queer theory; retail geographies and non-western modernities.

Research statement

Lewis' current research breaks down into two interconnected areas: feminist postcolonial studies (concerned predominantly with changing attitudes to Islam in the ‘west’ and in the Middle East); and lesbian, gay, and queer studies (concerned mainly with the role of dress in the formulation of sexed and gendered identities).

Her current work in feminist postcolonial studies focuses on matters of fashion and faith. She uses contemporary debates about the Muslim veil as a focus to explore how the figure of the Muslim woman, veiled or unveiled, continues to be central to changing debates about the relations between Islam and the west and about community and belonging. She has been researching and publishing in this area for some time.

Lewis' first book, Gendering Orientalism (1996), brought to light the contribution to imperial cultures of nineteenth-century western women artists and writers in order to demonstrate the heterogeneity and contested nature of Orientalist discourse.

Her subsequent study, Rethinking Orientalism (2004), looking at the early twentieth century, revealed how women codified as Oriental (and stereotyped as silenced and oppressed) were in fact able to manipulate western cultural codes and challenge western assumptions about middle eastern life - at the same time as they relied on Orientalist stereotypes to create a market for their books.

Lewis' new research brings these historical examples up to date by examining contemporary how the continued and contemporary commodification of Muslim femininities, including historical and current veiling debates, the development of diaspora fashion circuits, and the neo-Orientalisms developing in relation to Turkey's bid for EU accession. Putting fashion and Islam in dynamic with each other, this research focuses not just on images of Muslim dress, but on how Muslims (and people of other faiths) are contributing to the fashion industry, as designers, fashion journalists and bloggers, photographers, and working in fashion retail. Using the hyper-visibility of the veiled body as a lens through which to view contemporary postcolonial cultural crises, this research includes attention to alternative modes of fashion innovation and mediation such as the new Muslim lifestyle media. Her new book, Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures, will be published by Duke University Press in 2015.

The Modest Dressing project extended this work on Muslims and fashion to look at how women from Christian and Jewish as well as Muslim faith backgrounds are developing new trends in modest fashion - see, Modest Dressing: Styling Bodies, Mediating Faith, ed. Reina Lewis, IB Tauris 2013. Funded by the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme, Modest Dressing: Faith-based Fashion and Internet Retail focused on internet retail, to explore how e-commerce is making it easier for women who are religiously motivated to dress modestly to be fashionable. As well as looking at fashion design and retail, the project was also interested to see how new tastes in modest fashion are developed and communicated, especially in blogs, magazines and internet discussion fora.

Lewis' historical interest in Middle Eastern women's history and Orientalism continues with the Cultures in Dialogue book series, and associated research publications, that bring back into circulation travel writing from and about the Middle East by women since 1800.

Her work in sexualities studies uses an interdisciplinary methodology to think about circuits of production, distribution, and reception and particularly how forms of cultural consumption create a sense of who we are. A concern with audience informed the compilation of her co-edited collection Outlooks (with Peter Horne) which in 1996 helped establish the field for queer visual studies.

Her recent contributions in this area have been primarily interested in matters of dress and identity, looking at lesbians as consumers of mainstream fashion magazines, and as producers and consumers of queer lifestyle publications. Building on this, her new project involves a reconsideration of performativity - analysing the historicised cultural competencies needed to enact and decode the dressed performance of ethnicised, sexual, and gender identities. Having written on lesbian dress and visual pleasure, and always keen for a reason to dress up, Lewis' new work in this field is being developed as part of an ongoing performance piece called 'Out of the closet and into the wardrobe'.

She also edits a book series called Dress Cultures with Elizabeth Wilson, for IB Tauris. They are always happy to hear about project proposals that you think would be suitable for this series. 

Students

Current students and thesis titles

Nazli Alimen, Observant Muslims in Turkey: Creating Islamic Fashions and Constructing Islamic Identities.

Elizabeth (Lezley) George, Deconstructing Fashion Identities: dress codes, modesty and fashion practices in the UAE.

Tolulope Omoyele, An Exploration of Transnational cultural expressions, aesthetics and identities: Africa Fashion Week London 2011- 2015.

Premila van Ommen, Kpop, Kathmandu and Camden: Transnational Trends and Fashion Creativity Amongst Young Nepalis in Britain.

Madeline Yale, Import/Export: The Rise of Contemporary Photography from the Middle East.

Completed students and thesis titles

Rachel Lifter, Contemporary India and the construction of identity.Senem Yazan, The Black Princess of Elegance; Reading Literary, visual and social dandyism in the lives and works of women in Paris and London from 1840s to 1920s.

Research outputs