The first Fashion and Psychoanalysis Conference organised by the Freud Museum, RCA and LCF was held at London College of Fashion on 14th and 15th October 2017. It brought together psychoanalytic thinkers and fashion experts to offer fresh perspectives in fashion thinking. The aim was to bring together psychoanalytic thinkers and fashion experts to offer fresh perspectives in fashion thinking. The Director of the Freud Museum, Carol Seigel, welcomed attendees to the event and thanked those involved in its organisation from The Freud Museum, The Royal College of Art and London College of Fashion.

Zowie Broach, the head of fashion at London’s Royal College of Art, first attracted attention for co-founding avant-garde fashion label, BOUDICCA. Launched in 1997 with her partner, Brian Kirkby. The line of highly conceptual designs and architecturally inspired tailoring became known for its non-conformist approach to commerce. Consistently blurring the lines between fashion and art, Broach and Kirkby’s work has been displayed at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as the Art Institute of Chicago. Alongside her role as a designer and artist, Zowie Broach has been involved in fashion education for over a decade. Teaching for eight years at the University of Westminster in London, Parsons School of Design at The New School in New York, SAIC in Chicago and Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. Between 2009 and 2011, Broach was appointed designer in residence at London College of Fashion. As the head of fashion at the Royal College of Art, Broach has put an emphasis on the importance of artistic and intellectual experimentation, telling NY Times in June 2017: “From the moment I arrived here, I made it clear that I want these students to feel equipped to ask urgent questions,” and adding, “They need to feel a sense of ownership over their own cultures. They are the future, after all. It is my job is to make them feel empowered and confident enough to have strong, distinctive points of view.” After the RCA’s 2015 MA graduate fashion show, the first under Broach’s instruction, Suzy Menkes declared Broach’s appointment heralded a “new era” in London fashion.

Broach opened the conference, pointing out the similarities between fashion design and psychoanalysis, before introducing the Keynote, Professor Valerie Steele, Director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she has organized more than 25 exhibitions since 1997. Her books have been translated into Chinese, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian. In addition, she is founder and editor in chief of Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, the first peer-reviewed, scholarly journal in Fashion Studies. Steele combines serious scholarship with the rare ability to communicate with general audiences. As author, curator, editor, and public intellectual, Valerie Steele has been instrumental in creating the modern field of fashion studies and in raising awareness of the cultural significance of fashion. She has appeared on many television programs, including The Oprah Winfrey Show and Undressed: The Story of Fashion. Described in The Washington Post as one of “fashion’s brainiest women” and by Suzy Menkes as “The Freud of Fashion,” she was listed as one of “The People Shaping the Global Fashion Industry” in the Business of Fashion 500: (2014 and 2015). Professor Steele’s talk on Freud and Fashion explained the importance of sexuality in both psychoanalysis and fashion and how the idea of sexual symbolism in clothing and fashion is important and valid. Speaking of fetishism, the gaze, fantasy and the uncanny, Steele introduced the idea of ‘tactile eroticism’ as a fundamental component of fashion. In fact, she asked, “What’s normal and what’s fetish in fashion?”

The next paper was given by Claire Pajaczkowska, Senior Tutor in Fashion and Textiles Research in the School of Design, Royal College of Art, where she leads a group of postgraduate researchers in fashion and textiles. The exploration of the relationship between digital and analogue experience has been the focus of her research for many years. Recent lectures include the New York No Wave: the film and photography of Vivienne Dick and Nan Goldin at the Ireland Museum of Modern Art Dublin (September 2017), Smart Textiles and the Human Computer Interface, Beyond Disciplinary Boundaries in Design (London College of Fashion July 2017), University of Bucharest, School of Architecture and ‘Urbanism: Design in the Digital Age’ (2012). She is the author of Perversion (Icon Books, 2001) and co-editor of Shame and Sexuality: Psychoanalysis and Visual Culture (Routledge, 2008). Pajaczkowska asked “What can fashion tell us about the experience of time and patterns of recognition and modernity?”. She articulated her reasoning through the modern phenomenon of ripped jeans, arguing that this trend is not about making people look richer, or more beautiful, so what is it about? Are people buying protection from their personal lives? Protecting anonymity through uniformity?

The next talk was from Anouchka Grose, a practising psychoanalyst and member of the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research, where she regularly lectures. She is the author of two novels, as well as several non-fiction books including, No More Silly Love Songs: A Realist’s Guide to Romance (2010), and Are You Considering Therapy? (2011). She is the editor of Hysteria Today (2015), a collection of essays on hysteria in the contemporary psychoanalytic clinic. Her journalism is published in The Guardian, and she also writes for numerous art and fashion publications. She has taught at Camberwell School of Art and gives talks on art and psychoanalysis in museums and galleries, as well as sometimes speaking on the radio. Her new book, ‘From Anxiety to Zoolander: Notes on psychoanalysis’ will be published by Karnac in autumn 2017. Grose’s talk for the conference, brought together two seemingly disparate theories. Beauty and Time: Fashion and the Prisoners’ Dilemma presented two perspectives on fashion gaze comparing it with the experiences of babies when they become self-aware. At this time, Grose argues, babies experience themselves as more perfect than they are. Thus, jubilation is followed by a lifetime of disappointment. This is paralleled by the vision of edited photos on Instagram which can only be a disappointment when seen in reality. Image is external to us, and fashion exploits or helps us with this in that “…fashion fits everyone by ignoring the body. Fashion can make us feel bad about ourselves, but it also helps us enjoy habiting our bodies. The system of change invites us to engage…”.

The afternoon session began with Dr Shaun Cole, Associate Dean Postgraduate Communities at London College of Fashion and former Head of Contemporary Programmes at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where he curated several exhibitions. He is Vice Chair of the Costume Society UK and associate editor of the journal Fashion Style and Popular Culture. He was consultant on exhibitions A Queer History of Fashion (FIT New York) and Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s (V&A, London). Shaun Cole has also written and lectured on the subject of menswear and gay fashion and his publications include ‘Don We Now Our Gay Apparel’: Gay Men’s Dress in the Twentieth Century (2000), Dialogue: Relationships in Graphic Design (2005) The Story of Men’s Underwear (2010) and Fashion Media: Past and Present (2013). Cole’s talk was entitled, the ‘Great Masculine Renunciation’ re-assessed. The second talk of the afternoon was given by Philip Mann who has worked with the Archigram group of architects, curating their major retrospective in Vienna in 1994, and has written for various publications, notably Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Vogue. He is often invited to lecture about matters sartorial-dandiaecal in Vienna, New York, Bern and London. Mann’s most recent work, The Dandy at Dusk will be published by Head of Zeus in October 2017. Mann’s fascinating talk on Dandyism was interspersed with wonderfully dry humour.

Professor Caroline Evans, Professor of Fashion History and theory at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London and a visiting professor at the Centre for Fashion Studies, Stockholm University, gave a talk, entitled Material mnemonics of fashion, discussed the life of French fashion designer Paul Poiret. Prof Evans researches material and immaterial cultures of fashion. She is the author of The Mechanical Smile: Modernism and the First Fashion Shows in France and America, 1900-1929 (2013) and Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness (2003); and co-author of The House of Viktor & Rolf (2008), Fashion & Modernity (2005), Hussein Charlatan (2005), The London Look: Fashion from Street to Catwalk (2004) and Women and Fashion: a New Look (1989). With Marketa Uhlirova, she co-curated the fourth London Fashion in Film Festival in 2013, Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams.

The final session of Day 1 was an ‘in conversation’ with Bella Freud is a London-born fashion designer Evans’ t and film maker, renowned for her signature jumpers. Fans of her work include Alexa Chung, Laura Bailey, Kate Moss and Alison Mosshart. Bella Freud launched her eponymous label in 1990 and won Most Innovative Designer at the London Fashion Awards in 1991 when she produced a Super 8 short film ‘Day at the Races’ as an alternative to a fashion show. Bella continued to produce films and seasonal catwalk shows and in 1999 began her fashion film collaboration with John Malkovich. Between 2004 and 2006 Bella was appointed head of womenswear for the relaunch of Biba. She has also consulted for Miss Selfridge and Jaeger. In 2011 Bella co-wrote an experimental short film Submission with Bafta winning director Martina Amati and in 2013 she art directed the short film Je T’Ecoute, starring Lara Stone, which screened at White Cube Bermondsey. Bella’s directorial debut was ‘Girl Boils Egg’, a two-minute film commissioned by Nick Knight for Bella has an ongoing Blank Canvas collaboration with Fred Perry and a range of perfume and scented candles inspired by her signature sweaters. The first Bella Freud stand-alone store is located at 49 Chiltern Street, London. After graduating from Oxford University, Amanda Harlech began her career as Junior Fashion Editor at Harpers & Queen where she met John Galliano and became a full time creative collaborator for his own label, helping to establish both his London and Paris businesses. It was during Galliano’s move to Dior in 1996 where Amanda was successfully pursued by Karl Lagerfeld and made her highly documented move to Chanel, where she has remained as a creative consultant and cultural muse, spending large periods of time in Paris. Amanda has been integral to Chanel’s creative process, involved in every aspect of directing, image and brand consulting. Aside from Chanel, Amanda works as a consultant at Fendi, where she focuses on making the collection more expressive, through detail, colour, fabric and texture. Amanda has featured in various short films and outside of Chanel and Fendi, and continues her role as stylist and writer for various publications such as V Magazine, POP, Garage and CR Fashion Book. Amanda is currently working on her first fictional novel as well as a reflective film series, ‘Cartes De Tendresse’, a documentary that maps her fashion journey. As an audience member listening to this conversation, I felt mesmerised and intimately engaged with the conversation.

Day 2 opened with Claire Pajaczkowska, describing a project she had been involved with, in a talk entitled Empathy by Design. The project took place at an NHS care home in Harlow and was concerned with enabling residents to create with various fabrics and textiles. An unplanned benefit was the discussions that arose during the creative sessions in which residents recalled memories of experiences of life in the post-war new, modernist town of Harlow when many of the residents had been employed in the textile industry. Their creations were installed in previously empty corridors and this seemed to encourage more family visits. In addition, the residents were also able to show care staff their craft skills.The next talk came from Katerina Fotopoulou, Reader in Psychodynamic Neuroscience at the Psychology and Language Sciences Division, University College London. Funded by a Starting Investigator Grant from the European Research Council for the project ‘Bodily Self’, she runs KatLab, a group of researchers and students that conduct studies on topics and disorders that lie at the borders between neurology and psychology. Katerina is the founder of the International Association for the Study of Affective Touch (IASAT) and editor of From the Couch to the Lab: Trends in Psychodynamic Neuroscience, published by Oxford University Press in 2012. In 2016, she was awarded the prestigious Early Career Award of the International Neuropsychology Society. Fotopoulou’s talk entitled Body imaging: mentalising and modifying bodily appearance was concerned with the tensions between Self as subject Self as object. She explained how this relationship depends on how individuals play with this relationship, within existential limitations.

The last talk of the conference was given by Emilia Rachovska, who has been part of the Freud Museum Education Team since 2013, most recently delivering Museum’s outreach programme dedicated to older people and mental health service users. She is also a psychologist, currently working with patients with memory loss and traumatic brain injury. She is interested in clinical psychoanalysis and applications of psychoanalysis to education and health psychology. Her most recent research interests include enclothed cognition and phenomenology of appreciation and apprehension of beauty. Rachovska’s talk, entitled Fashion in the Consulting Room, focused on the importance of the clothes of the patient and the clothes of the therapist. She highlighted how these important elements of appearance have been ignored in research and how her own research was addressing this gap in knowledge.

The conference closed with a panel discussion chaired by Emilia Rachovska, with Claire Pajaczkowska, Katerina Fotopoulou, Anoushka Grose and Carolyn Mair. Dr Carolyn Mair is Professor of Psychology for Fashion and consultant to industry. She created the world’s first Masters and Undergraduate courses to apply Psychology to Fashion at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London. She also established and led the Wellbeing Research Hub at the College and co-convened a Community of Practice across the University for academics interested in the intersection of Art and Science. Mair has a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience, MSc in Research Methods and BSc (Hons) in Applied Psychology and Computing. Prior to becoming an academic twenty years ago, she worked as a visual merchandiser, graphic designer and portrait artist. Mair is a Chartered Fellow of the British Psychological Society and Vice-Chair of their London and Home Counties branch. Her book, The Psychology of Fashion will be published by Routledge in Spring 2018.

The Panel discussed the concept of enclothed cognition and how this can empower individuals through the fashions they wear. They also discussed the need for Psychology in Fashion and how these disciplines can be integrated along with Psychoanalysis to develop a better understanding of the human condition and support a more ethical and sustainable fashion industry.

In summing up the conference, Mair hinted at a 2nd Fashion and Psychoanalysis Conference which was met with a positive response from the panel and the audience. Emilia Pajaczkowska thanked the technicians for their support throughout the conference and extended thanks to Ruzina Choudhary and Michelle Cage, the staff on the Front Desk and the volunteers who helped make the conference such a success.

This blog post is also available on the Freud Museum site here.

The programme is available here.


Photo: Niall McInerney, Photographer. ©Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.