Matteo Augello finished his MA Fashion Curation degree at LCF in 2012, and is now studying for his PhD at the Centre for Fashion Curation. Having studied fashion design at undergraduate level we asked Matteo why he decided to move towards a career in curation. Here he shares is his experiences of studying at LCF and his thoughts on how popular fashion exhibitions are nowadays.
Why did you decide to study MA Fashion Curation at LCF?
I started working in museums when I was doing my BA in Italy. I didn’t really have to think too much about it – somehow I just knew it was the right thing to do. I knew the work of Judith Clark and Amy de la Haye – in fact most of my class mates including myself, picked the course mainly just to be able to work with them. It was also the only course in Europe that focused on fashion curation – I had a quick look at other courses, but the others were theoretical ones. I wanted to get some practice during my masters, so I instantly knew that MA Fashion Curation at LCF would be the perfect course for me – and I still believe it now.
What were the highlights of the course for you?
The highlight was definitely organising the exhibition with my classmates. We had three months to stage an exhibition – we had no venue, nothing – we had to fundraise and do everything ourselves. We did a pretty amazing job! We managed to get a space for two weeks in Carnaby Street, and the people liked us so much that they also commissioned us another project so that we could fund our exhibition. Another highlight is the fact that you have Judith Clark and Amy de la Haye, sitting next to you and you can ask any questions you want – the fact that we had access to their knowledge was amazing.
What challenges did you come across?
The most challenging thing for me came after my MA – it was the realisation that curating does not necessarily mean museums. It was very difficult to find jobs in museums – there’s competition everywhere, and everybody wants to work at the V&A – we all came in thinking “one day I’m going to be the head of the V&A!” I don’t think I belong in a big institution – that was the hard part. It took me a while to realise that I shouldn’t keep knocking on doors if nobody was opening them.
What would be your tips for prospective students on the course?
The first thing I would say is don’t expect to be working in museums when you finish. Be practical – you will be asked to work for free a lot and you won’t have a lot of free time, so give it to people that you really consider important. I did it myself – I earned almost nothing from museums for three years, but I was always selective over which projects I wanted to work on. I would also say you should engage with the professors as much as possible, and build relationships with fellow students – it’s very important. I’m still working with former classmates on projects now, because we all developed different skills. UAL is full of creative people and it’s like a big family – you can put things together with no money because everyone’s got will, which I think is one of the best things about UAL.
What have you been doing since finishing your MA?
Well, during my MA I was working at the auction house Kerry Taylor and then I worked with Amy de la Haye on the Coco Chanel: A New Portrait by Marion Pike exhibition – my BA dissertation was on Chanel so we started working on the London exhibition. I managed to secure a venue in Italy, so I coordinated the transfer to Italy – that was in 2013. I also co-curated a festival in Cardiff about theatre design, with LCF’s Donatella Barbieri who specialises in costume for stage. I also worked at the V&A for nine months as research assistant in the theatre and performance department. After that I decided I no longer wanted to work in museums and moved back to Italy for a break. It was difficult to find a job in a museum in Italy too, so I sent my C.V. to schools and I started teaching two years ago. I still teach now – in Italy and here in the UK, at BA and MA level. I also do consultancy for Italian fashion companies that need students for projects. And now I’m focusing on my PhD.
Why did you decide to do a PhD?
I always wanted to. I originally applied to do a PhD just after I finished my MA but I was too young and my mind wasn’t trained enough, so I didn’t get the funding. I consider LCF as my home now and I wouldn’t have considered doing my PhD with any other professors than my current supervisors.
What’s your PhD about?
It’s about museums fashion collections in Italy – mostly about Italian company archives and how they are being used to boost their profile. It’s a topic close to me – the first museum I worked in six years ago, was the foundation of a textile manufacturer in Italy. I thought it made sense for me to continue in this – it’s a link between Italy and the UK. I developed the idea with Amy de la Haye and Donatella Barbieri, who are my supervisors – we had discussed the topic for more than a year. It’s being funded by a UAL scholarship for three years.
What does curation mean to you?
Curation is about the ability to tell stories and having a developed sense of how to use objects, and which objects work well together. A lot of people need that skill in other fields as well.
Why do you think fashion curation in particular is becoming increasingly popular?
Fashion Exhibitions pull in the crowds – it’s very fashionable to go to a fashion exhibition. I think fashion exhibitions are some of the hardest to stage if you don’t know how to mount mannequins, or how to do the padding – it’s not enough to just say ‘oh, it’s fashion and art – let’s put a mannequin and a print of an artwork’. It seems very easy to approach because we all take for granted that we know fashion, and it’s a language that people understand. That’s the tricky thing about fashion – more than any other type of decorative art – everybody assumes they know about it, because we wear it every day.
What makes a good fashion exhibition in your opinion?
On our course we had two professors, Amy de la Haye comes from the object based perspective – you start with the object, if you don’t study and cherish this object then you’re not going to do service to it and tell its story. Judith Clark uses the idea as the starting point – you start with the idea and then bring in the objects. Personally I think you have to tell a story that is relevant to people, and you select the most relevant objects that speak the language of the people. There is an obsession from museums for funding to get people in and ask them what they like, so I think the role of curator has become that of a service provider. I think the authority of the curator has been challenged a great deal in this sense, because you still have to be truthful to a specific knowledge rather than just staging an exhibition.
Don’t you think that it’s good thing to have this kind of inclusivity?
I absolutely see the positives in it because museums are for people, but I think that there are ways of doing it. Listening exactly to feedback is what gives you the funding, rather than just having a brilliant idea. As a result of this you’re not going to be very innovative – you’re just going to be pleasing people, rather than pushing them out of their comfort zone.
That’s why I like working with brands and private companies – they have the money that offers more freedom. Obviously they take risks, but if I pull people in and it’s something that was innovative as well, then they are happy because they have made money and I am happy because I have stuck to my principles. In museums it’s much harder – museums are big and react slowly so even if they have a feedback program, by the time it passes all the steps, you’re creating projects based on opinions that were valid years earlier so you have to question – is that really what we need?
What are your plans for the future?
I’ve created a position for myself as a mediator between industry and education, and also between the UK and Italy. I want to keep doing what I do, and work more and more with companies, to bring students and museums to them. The things I love are education and culture and finding new ways of making them profitable. Apart from that, there’s always the dream of directing the V&A!
- Find out more about MA Fashion Curation
- Find out about UAL scholarships
- Find out more about the Centre for Fashion Curation
- Read more Fashion Curation stories on LCF News