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Art world, rag trade or image industry?: a cultural sociology of British fashion design

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posted on 25.11.2010, 15:08 by Angela McRobbie
This thesis argues that the distinctiveness of contemporary British fashion design can be attributed to the history of education in fashion design in the art schools, while the recent prominence and visibility is the result of the expansion of the fashion media. Fashion design had to struggle to achieve disciplinary status in the art schools. Tarnished by its associations with the gendered and low status practice of the dressmaking tradition, and then in the post war years, with the growth of mass culture and popular culture, fashion educators have emphasised the conceptual basis of fashion design. Young fashion designers graduating from art school and entering the world of work develop an occupational identity closer to that of fine artists. This is a not unrealistic strategy given the limited nature of employment opportunities in the commercial fashion sector. But as small scale cultural entrepreneurs relying on a selfemployed and freelance existence, the designers are thwarted in their ability to maintain a steady income by their lack of knowledge of production, sewing and the dressmaking tradition. The current network of urban `micro-economies' of fashion design are also the outcome of the enterprise culture of the 1980s. Trained to think of themselves primarily as creative individuals the designers are ill-equipped to develop a strategy of collaboration and association through which their activities might become more sustainable. While the fashion media has also played a key role in promoting fashion design since the early 1980s, they are overwhelmingly concerned with circulation figures. They produce fashion images which act as luxurious environments for attracting advertising revenue. Consequently they carry little or no coverage on issues relating to employment or livelihoods in fashion. But their workforce is also creative, casualised and freelance. In each case, these young workers are the product of the shift in the UK to an emergent form of cultural capitalism comprising of low pay and the intensification of labour in exchange for the reward of personal creativity. This current sociological investigation aims to open the debate on the potential for the future socialisation of creative labour.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


© Angela McRobbie

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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