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Professor Reina Lewis

Title
Artscom Centenary Professor of Cultural Studies
College
London College of Fashion
Tags
Researcher Research
Reina  Lewis

Biography

Reina has been Professor of Cultural Studies at London College of Fashion since 2006, joining from her previous post at University of East London where she was also Professor of Cultural Studies. Trained in Fine Art and Art History at the University of Leeds, Reina took an MA in English: Critical Theory at Sussex University. Her PhD in Humanities at Middlesex University on western women orientalist artists and writers marked a new development in understandings of gender and imperial cultures. Reina’s research remains inter- and multi-disciplinary, whether in cultural history or contemporary studies, and 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). In recent years Reina’s research has focused on modest fashion cross-faith and the intersection of the fashion industry and women’s experiences of secular and religious cultures.

A prolific author, Reina has also acted as consultant curator on the exhibition Contemporary Muslim Fashions at the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums (September 2018-January 2019, touring to Germany in spring 2019).

Reina is Series Editor of two books series: Dress Cultures (Bloomsbury), with Elizabeth Wilson; and Cultures in Dialogue (Giorgias Press), with Teresa Heffernan. She sits on the Editorial/Advisory Boards for several journals, including Fashion Theory, International Journal of Fashion Studies, Lambda Nordica, Art in Translation. A frequent media commentator, Reina’s writings and opinion have appeared across the global media, most recently in the New York Times, le Monde, BBC World, BBC Radio, CBC radio, The Guardian, The Times, Marie-Claire magazine, Elle Brazil, Businessoffashion.com, Fortune.com, and Huffington Post.

Reina convenes the public talk series Faith & Fashion at the London College of Fashion, see http://www.arts.ac.uk/research/research-projects/current-projects/faith-and-fashion/

RESEARCH INTERESTS

Fashion and religion, especially online retail, social media and magazines; modest fashion, especially women and workwear cross-faith and faith-secular; 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
My research focuses on gender, sexuality, race, and religion in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, taking an inter- and multi-disciplinary approach informed by cultural studies and feminist postcolonial theory. More recently my studies on contemporary religious cultures as expressed through fashion and the dressed body have connected critical fashion studies with approaches and methods from the sociology of religion.

For the last several years, I have been using fashion and faith as a lens to explore the articulation of contemporary religious and ethnic gendered identities in Euro-America and the Middle East. This began with a study of 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. My research and collaborations have expanded to focus on the modest fashion industry and media as a cross-faith phenomenon that includes also Christian and Jewish women, ‘secular’ women, and those from other religious traditions. I have become especially interested in the how modest fashion cultural politics have played a role in women’s cross-faith social activism in defence of women’s rights to freedom of religious expression through dress, and the opportunities and tensions this produces. These studies of how religion intersects with ethnicity, race, gender and sexuality in the 21st century build on my earlier historical research on gender and western attitudes to Muslim cultures, allowing me to track patterns of continuity and change in how orientalist and imperial stereotypes were circulated and resisted.

My first book, Gendering Orientalism: Race, Representation, Femininity (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. Rethinking Orientalism: Women, Travel and the Ottoman Harem (2004) turned to the early twentieth century, revealing how women codified as oriental (and stereotyped as silenced and oppressed) were able to manipulate western cultural codes. I explored how the genre of harem literature created publishing opportunities for eastern and western women whilst relying for market share on the orientalist stereotypes that some sought to critique. The intellectual scaffolding that underpinned these studies was demonstrated in two collaborative projects: Gender, Modernity and Liberty: Middle Eastern and Western Women’s Writings: A Critical Reader, edited with Nancy Micklewright (2006); and Feminist Postcolonial Theory: A Reader, edited with Sara Mills (2003.

My more recent research moved more overtly into critical fashion studies to examine the continued and contemporary commodification of Muslim femininities, situating historical and current veiling debates in relation to Muslim women’s experiences as fashion industry professionals and consumers. Using the hyper-visibility of the veiled body as a lens through which to view contemporary postcolonial cultural crises, Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures (2006) drew attention to alternative modes of fashion innovation and mediation such as the new Muslim lifestyle print and social media. At the same time, in collaboration with Emma Tarlo (Goldsmiths, London) my Modest Dressing project widened the frame to explore how newly developing online retail and digital media were being utilised in a niche modest fashion market by Muslims and people of other faiths. My edited volume, Modest Fashion: Styling Bodies, Mediating Faith (2013) discussed how religious convictions and cultures factor into the professional lives of designers, fashion journalists and digital content producers, photographers, and those working in fashion retail from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious backgrounds.

My research 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 my co-edited collection Outlooks: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities and Visual Culture with Peter Horne which in 1996 helped establish the field for queer visual studies, accompanied by a series of articles and polemics. My subsequent contributions in this area were 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.

More recently, I have brought my studies on sexuality and culture into the frame of middle-east gender histories. In ‘Sapphism in the Seraglio’ (2016) I reconsider theories of performativity by analysing the historicised cultural competencies needed to enact and decode the dressed performance of ethnicised, sexual, and gender identities. The role of fashion consumption in the making of modern genders and sexualities for enslaved and free bodies in late Ottoman and early Turkish Republican societies forms the basis of a new investigation currently underway.

Grants and awards

(Figures indicate amount awarded to UAL)

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council, Modest Fashion in UK Women's Working Life, £201,250.40, (2018-2020)
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Modest Dressing: faith-based fashion and internet retail, £80,666.00, (2010-2011)
  • British Academy, British Academy Overseas Conference Grant, £400.00, (2010-2010)
  • British Academy, Fashioning Muslim Femininities: Women, Veils, Shopping and the Law, £7,474.00, (NaN-NaN)

Research Outputs

Book Section

Teaching

Current research students

  • Nazli Alimen, Observant Muslims in Turkey: Creating Islamic Fashions and Constructing Islamic Identities (Lead supervisor)
  • Paul Bench, The Queer Subjectivities and the Aesthetic Production of Stephen Tennant, Oliver Messel and Rex Whistler: 1922-1939 (Lead supervisor)
  • Serkan Delice, The Janissaries and their Bedfellows: Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Early Modern Ottoman Istanbul, 1500-1826. (Lead supervisor)
  • Elizabeth Lezley George, Deconstructing Fashion Identities: dress codes, modesty and fashion practices in the UAE. (Lead supervisor)
  • Elizabeth Lezley George, Deconstructing Fashion Identities: dress codes, modesty and fashion practices in the UAE. (Lead supervisor)
  • 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. (Lead supervisor)
  • Tolulope Omoyele, Africa Fashion Week London: An Exploration of Contemporary Cultural Identities 2011- 2015. (Lead supervisor)
  • Anushka Hui-Xin Tay, Chinoiserie outside China, 1945-present. How have mainstream cultural images of Chineseness contributed to the formation and development of British Chinese identities? (Lead supervisor)
  • Premila van Ommen, Kpop, Kathmandu and Camden: Transnational Trends and Fashion Creativity Amongst Young Nepalis in Britain (Lead supervisor)
  • Madeline Yale, Import/Export: The Rise of Contemporary Photography from the Middle East. (Lead supervisor)