Pehr Nordquist: An audience while the wig is powdred, 1799, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

Pehr Nordquist: An audience while the wig is powdred, 1799, © Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

Johan Frederik Martin: Illustration to the text "The True Critique" by Olof von Dalin, c.1780, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

Johan Frederik Martin: Illustration to the text "The True Critique" by Olof von Dalin, c.1780, © Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

Print-culture and fashion products

PI3: Peter McNeil, Sweden

Along with IP2 this aspect of our work also focuses on the importance of print-culture in disseminating ideas about fashion in a European context; IP3 specifically interrogates the mechanisms through which print (as news, trade-cards, visual and satirical images) supported or undermined the spread of fashions such as ruffs, wigs, new forms of hairstyles and hose. The data generated will allow us to specifically model the transmission of this visual form of information between England, France and Scandinavia.

Based at the Centre for Fashion Studies, Stockholm University, this project will benefit from the institution’s close connections with the Scandinavian fashion and design communities, and with the involvement of the Nordiska Museet, Stockholm ensuring that events and outputs have an impact on the academic, museum and professional communities in Sweden as well as internationally.

Importantly, this project recognises the fact that fashion is both a material product and a feature of the imagination. The way in which it is visualized, disseminated and distributed through representations is central to its social impact and influence across time and place, the key issue for the CRP as a whole. A study of print culture as it relates to fashion also requires the type of detailed understandings of the producers and reading publics for eighteenth-century periodicals and earlier forms of print. Yet the study of the construction and dissemination of the first fashion magazines is still little understood. This part of the project will ask the following questions: What was the relationship between publishers, writers and illustrators of the fashion design press in France, England and Sweden? Who provided the narrative structure and imaginary settings of these magazines that continue to animate contemporary advertising today? How do we track (potentially using some of Ormerod’s evolutionary and spatial analysis models) the transmission of ideas in print as well as in practice – and what is their inter-relationship?

The dominance of an English-French dialogue about fashion is not just a product of the dominance of contemporary Western European foci in cultural history, in part a product of the languages that were taught in schools and colleges until recently. Even in the 18th century, fashion was often discussed as a type of dialogue between France and England. The eighteenth-century periodical Cabinet des Modes was itself positioned as a type of dialogue between England and France, suggesting that fashion derived from these two principal fashion capitals. Indeed, it changed its name at one stage to Magasin des Modes Nouvelles Françaises et Anglaises, allowing both a pictorial and a rhetorical dialogue to take place on the page, and inserting both countries into a cosmopolitan circuit of ideas and of exchange. How then can we narrate the story of fashionability in countries other than France and England, what can be learned from national collections and foreign language texts than remain poorly accessed outside those countries?

These influences are visible in the Swedish Then Swänska Argus an early periodical, edited by writer Olof von Dalin who was inspired by English periodicals such as Tatler and Spectator. Research has shown that several of the articles were direct translations from international periodicals. The choice of articles can however prove the Swedish reception of European fashionability. The narration of fashionability in Sweden during this era is much dominated by the foreign influences on the one hand and the strivings of early nationalism on the other. For example, Gustav III launched a set of costumes, called the Swedish Costume that was to be worn by the members of the Royal Court. These costumes were partly designed by the king himself and were published in an illustrated volume by German artist von Runge. The debate surrounding this initiative was extensive in the latter half of the 18th century.  Indeed, in the 1730s in a play, Swenska Sprätthöken, English fashion terminology was caricatured on stage, suggesting that the theatre was a very important space for spreading and discussing fashionable influences in Sweden.

In addition, there is a Swedish tradition of loose prints called kistebrev (uniting of religious, royal and folk motives), which reveal national fashionable influences from the Royal Court to the peasants and the bourgeoisie that enjoyed these popular prints, today in the collections of Nordiska Museet as well as the Royal Library and Uppsala University Library. Price-lists and other mercantile publications in the collections of these libraries can also be used to trace the introduction of fashionable goods and their terminology in Sweden. The research on this area benefits from the involvement of the designated postdoctoral researcher, Patrik Steorn who holds a PhD in Art History. Steorn will contribute with expertise on Swedish visual culture (early modern as well as modern) and an extensive network within the Swedish museum world. Steorn teaches courses in the History and Theory of Fashion at the Centre for Fashion Studies, Stockholm University. He is now exploring issues of fashionability over a longer period of time, going back into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and his expertise compliments that of the PI, McNeil. Their material will be entered into the database together with other literary texts where fashionability is the main topic. The materials gathered will provide a crucial comparison for Miller’s examination of the translation of terminology, ensuring that we move beyond simple shifts from French into English but look at how fashion terminology changes as it enters the Baltic region, allowing us to create spatial and evolutionary maps of transmission.

Secondly, the project will make a fresh investigation of the enormous production of fashion caricatures.  Caricatures nearly always indicate innovations. As new and cheaper forms of graphic reproduction, and literate audiences for periodicals and prints arose in eighteenth-century Western Europe, there was a marked increase in the output of satirical printmaking from the 1760s in France, Germany and the Dutch Republic and Sweden, but notably England. In the second half of the century, numerous English print-makers who were also print-sellers switched their output from political caricatures to social ones in which fashion formed the principal and not the secondary subject. These satires of dress and fashionability were connected to older carnivalesque ‘drolls’, making extensive use of duality, pairing, and vulgar puns. Themes include the speed of new fashionable items, textiles, patterns and bodily silhouettes; the alleged spread of fashionability to the lower orders including the servant class, the concomitant difficulty of reading the social sphere, themes of metropolitan urbanity versus rustic simplicity, the role of the appearance trades such as wig-making and hairdressing in promoting fashion, and alleged relationships between national fashions and character. Such themes have relevance even today for understanding national identities in the broadest sense. The relationship between these national traditions is very little studied, due in part to barriers of language, so that for example a set of Swedish fashion caricatures remain unpublished and under-studied in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. English prints were imported by French dealers and sent as far as Saint Petersburg. Ambassadorial missions reported on their contents to rulers such as Louis XVI. What did they think they would learn there? It is also clear that a number of English caricatures were pirated in France and England; how did their meaning change as new titles were appended and they were circulated in new contexts? Just as the development of caricature demands its opposite, idealised aesthetics, so the convoluted forms, surprising gestures and novel departures of caricature perfectly reflected contemporary notions of the chicanery of fashion.

Bookmark & Share:

Follow Us:
Fashioning the Early Modern on Facebook