Studying from home because of coronavirus might feel like a whole new world, as UAL moves to online teaching and learning. While the University’s Archives and Collections across the Colleges are closed, LCF students can still access other related activities and opportunities online that can inform and inspire their studies.
We spoke to Susanna Cordner, Senior Research Fellow: Archives at London College of Fashion, about new ways of working and advice for students on engaging with objects and collections remotely to help you stay creative.
Tell us about the Fashion Archives and how it can help LCF students?
LCF’s Archives are an eclectic and eccentric mix of collections that document the history of London as a fashion capital and that capture the full fashion cycle – from items that relate to concept and design, to process and production, to finished pieces, then press and promotion, and the personal – which is really social history or biography through fashion.
The Archives are a teaching and inspiration resource that I encourage students to use to seek out information and ideas. While, under the current restrictions, you can’t physically visit the Archives or access any of the objects or collections we hold in there, I’m keen to keep linking with students and show them other ways they can use collections and objects at home or online in the meantime.
Part of your job involves working with objects and collections – what new ways of working have you taken up since working from home?
I’ve been developing different opportunities and ideas for other ways for students and our community to keep working with objects and using them in their practice – whether that’s virtually online or closer to home. For me, everyday dress – so the items we wear in real life, throughout our lives, rather than just the extremes of high fashion - are at least as interesting as a protected piece of couture, so I think we need to utilise this opportunity to read the things around us and see what you can learn from them. So, some of the work I’ll be doing will be around encouraging students to develop their practice by applying some of the processes and approaches I’d normally use with them in the Archives to objects from their own home or items from their own wardrobe.
Do you have any advice for students about working with online resources, seeing as we can’t access physical ones like museums?
As a part of the online delivery I’ll be offering around the Archives, I am currently preparing a resource pack that includes a suggestions section on lots of virtual and digital museums, exhibitions and collections you can access remotely, as well as documentaries, podcasts and social media accounts you might want to look at to help you keep accessing this kind of material and keep you feeling informed and creative.
To be honest, under normal circumstances a lot of my work focuses on the importance of looking at the real thing, whether that’s so that you can note tiny technical details that might be lost in a photograph or to get the sense of a garment’s physicality – how heavy it is, for instance. Having said that, digital collections and records can still give you brilliant access to and insights on objects and can spark all kinds of ideas and investigations. Museums like the V&A and the Museum of London have very detailed pictorial and written accounts of the objects in their collections online, and this can give you all kinds of details you might not expect. They can also create linked object records, so when you’re looking at one item you might then stumble across a related but unexpected find that takes you down a whole different course.
Another bonus is the sheer quantity of material you can engage with when using virtual collections and museum resources, whereas if you were to have a study appointment in a physical archive or collection the number of items you can see will usually be capped at 4-8 objects.
You usually run appointments for students and Fashion Archive events – are you planning any online options - how can students get in touch?
Students can still get in touch using the Archives email account which is still being checked on weekdays. Only general enquiries or requests for collection or object related advice can be answered, however, as it’s not possible to arrange an appointment or to ask a specific question about an object in the Archives as we can’t currently access them.
As well as providing a range of information and virtual resources, I will also be running a series of online workshops and activities to keep students engaged and working with objects. These will include a virtual fashion history themed pub quiz and online BYOO (Bring Your Own Object) discussion groups based on different social themes that will utilise objects in your home or from your wardrobe. I will also be running virtual Silent Sessions, my workshop series that’s a little like life drawing but using objects as your models.
You host a podcast series ‘Sartorial Stories’ interviewing leading figures from the fashion industry – which of these guests has been a highlight for you and why?
Since starting it in 2017, the real pleasure for me of running Sartorial Stories is the range of people I get to interview – whether they’re an editor, a campaigner, a designer or a curator – and to explore how they each think about and work with fashion. In terms of the live events, I am particularly proud of having interviewed Penny Martin from The Gentlewoman and Vanessa Kingori MBE from Vogue, who were both fantastic, generous and insightful.
For the podcast, all the episodes of which are still available online, I greatly enjoyed interviewing Steph Wood from the V&A and Beatrice Behlen from the Museum of London, both of whom spoke very interestingly about the role of the curator and the social stories our clothes and collections can tell. Ade Hassan MBE of Nubian Skin was brilliant and spoke candidly but inspiringly about what it takes to make change in the industry and to set up your own fashion business, and the impact a strong campaign image can have. There’s also an episode in which I interview an anonymous member of UAL staff who spoke to me about the role clothes played in their campaigning work for LGBTQ+ rights and for equal marriage. It felt like a real honour to hear and share their story.
Obviously, I’ve really enjoyed doing all the interviews and feel really lucky to get to have and share these conversations, and to show how objects relate to different portions, practices and personalities within the fashion industry.