Setting Up a Menswear Archive: Our Journey and Process

Last year, University of Westminster commissioned White Line Projects to set up and curate a menswear archive that would be part of the fashion department at Harrow Campus and on the same floor as the newly established MA Menswear Course, run by Ike Rust. The brief was to create a handling archive for both education and the industry. It has been an amazing journey for us, where we not only worked with a great team but we also had the opportunity to handle and research menswear pieces.

Established as the Westminster Menswear Archive  the archive has examples of some of the most important and exciting menswear garments from the last 100 years, including garments by some of the most iconic menswear designers, military garments, workwear and sportswear. Although the majority of the pieces in the archive are garments, there is also a growing collection of accessories and related ephemera.

The archive is aimed to encourage and develop the study of menswear design from a technical and functional point of view. The archive is also intended to advance the general knowledge of menswear as a design discipline and as a resource tool to inform contemporary menswear design.

From the very early stages of this project, the archive was very popular with students from the MA and BA fashion design courses, including both mens and womenswear. Students found the archive useful for carrying out research throughout their design process. Some days we would even have three students at the same time!

Westminster Menswear Archive overview. Source: Westminster Menswear Archive Instagram

Westminster Menswear Archive overview. Source: Westminster Menswear Archive Instagram

The archive is currently divided in eight main collections. As you enter the archive, the first thing you see is the Designers collection, which includes pieces from iconic designers such as Alexander McQueen and Massimo Osti, as well as alumni such as Liam Hodges and recent Westminster Fashion graduates.  

C.P. Company 'Beekeeper' jacket A/W 2000; Junior Gaultier Denim Jacket with Metal Panels. C.1992; Stone Island Reversible Metallic Coat A/W 2003. Source: Westminster Menswear Archive Instagram

C.P. Company 'Beekeeper' jacket A/W 2000; Junior Gaultier Denim Jacket with Metal Panels. C.1992; Stone Island Reversible Metallic Coat A/W 2003. Source: Westminster Menswear Archive Instagram

Of particular interest to students, due to the construction, fastenings, prints and materials, is the Active and Casual Sportswear collection. It holds a diverse range of garments, from motorcycling and hunting jackets to an extensive range of mountaineering outfits, as well as brands such as Adidas to United States Rubber, to name but a few.

Sportswear collection, ©whitelineprojects, 2017

Sportswear collection, ©whitelineprojects, 2017

Currently, the largest collection in the archive is Uniforms. It includes a substantial selection of police and firefighters uniforms, as well as postman and other professions. But the most popular and largest section within this collection includes military garments, with coveralls and camouflage being the most popular items amongst students.

Image Left: Hwayan Immersion and Thermal Suit. ©whitelineprojects, 2017 Image Right: British Army Grenadier Guards Protective Ceremonial Drummers Tunic. C.1989s. Source: Westminster Menswear Archive Instagram

Image Left: Hwayan Immersion and Thermal Suit. ©whitelineprojects, 2017

Image Right: British Army Grenadier Guards Protective Ceremonial Drummers Tunic. C.1989s. Source: Westminster Menswear Archive Instagram

Smaller collections developing rapidly are accessories and tailoring, as well as the denim and heritage brands. By the time we finished the project, the archive was also starting to collect pieces from the 19th century.

Accessories section, ©whitelineprojects, 2017

Accessories section, ©whitelineprojects, 2017

There are numerous steps to take in the process for setting up of an archive. In summary, first and foremost is to determine the aim and the objectives of the archive and secure funding, followed by, amongst other things, acquiring garments and ephemera, auditing and cataloguing them, curating the collections, and developing a Collection Policy for management, development and maintenance.

We worked with Westminster Fashion to develop a brief which, together with the director of the archive Andrew Groves’ tireless campaigning, not only contributed towards approving the concept of the archive by the university but also secured funding from the Quintin Hogg Trust for the set up and the maintenance of the archive for at least one year. 

At the time, the fashion department already held about 100 pieces that were part of the study collection for students and teachers. Over the course of two years, the university acquired an impressive collection of around 900 pieces. Some garments were acquired through donations from teachers, alumni as well as current students. Yet, the majority came from auctions, such as Kerry Taylor Auctions, and online purchases.

Auditing process. ©whitelineprojects, 2016

Auditing process. ©whitelineprojects, 2016

The next step was the process of auditing, consisting of conducting condition reports for each of the garments in order to assess their conservation status, as well as research on dates, materials, provenance, designer, etc, in order to decide how the archive would be organised in terms of collections.

Checking the condition of a garment, ©whitelineprojects, 2017

Checking the condition of a garment, ©whitelineprojects, 2017

After finalising the curation of the archive, we created the ID codes that identify the garments, as well as designing the swing tags, which contain the main information of each garment. Alongside this, we produced bespoke padded hangers tailored to the size of each garment with the help of students, as well as sourcing all materials such as boxes, garment and bags, before developing a collections policy. We also collaborated with furniture designers to design bespoke furniture for the archive. In addition, we advised on online database platforms that were functional and user friendly not only for the archivist but also for students and industry.

Swing tag with the information at the front and the image of the garment at the back. ©whitelineprojects, 2017

Swing tag with the information at the front and the image of the garment at the back. ©whitelineprojects, 2017

The main challenge that arose during this project was to create a handling collection that was totally accessible to students while following museum conservation standards. The brief was to create a handling collection to work as a resource for teaching and learning, however, the fashion department did not want to replicate a museum setting, with garments hidden from view.

The level of accessibility to the garments was very important for the university and importance was placed on students being able to examine the garments up close. The experience of the visitor was crucial here. Therefore, museum protocols would not necessarily apply in the same way in an archive of this nature.

As open storage, the archive space brought numerous conservation challenges in terms of environmental controls and infestation risks. We also identified that some garments needed more strict handling and storing rules than others due to their conservation condition, value or the type of material prone to infestation.

Westminster Menswear Archive space,©whitelineprojects, 2016

Westminster Menswear Archive space,©whitelineprojects, 2016

Taking all those considerations into account, it became obvious that a compromise and a balance for minimising all those factors had to be taken. Therefore, we chose beautiful tyvek bags and museum conservation boxes only for those garments at higher risk.

In particular to those hidden pieces, the swing tags with information and images became crucial to minimise the need to handle the garments unnecessarily. In order to create a consistent and modern aesthetic for the garment images, a Styleshoot machine was acquired. Mostly used within retail to photograph large volumes of items within a short amount of time, this has enabled the team to create images for both internal records as well as for external promotional use for the archive. Social media tools such as Instagram and Facebook enable both students and members of the industry to keep up to date with new acquisitions and get a sense of the archive’s importance as a design resource.

Designers collection. Garments at risk of infestation stored in tyvek bags.  ©whitelineprojects, 2017

Designers collection. Garments at risk of infestation stored in tyvek bags.  ©whitelineprojects, 2017

We would like to give our thanks to the following people involved in this project:

The invaluable help of our intern Daniela Monasterios Tan, and Robert Newman, an MA Menswear student at University of Westminster.

To Ike Rust, MA Menswear director, and Robert Leach, BA Fashion Design senior lecturer, for their advice and support.

And finally to Andrew Groves for granting us such a great opportunity to work on this project.

THE UNTOLD STORY OF WOMEN'S ROLE durINg THE Spanish civil war

Last month marked the 80th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). In this article, we want to focus on the role of women during these years.  

Similar to WWII Britain, women during the Spanish Civil War took up the traditional roles of men when they had to go to war, such as manual labour in factories and agriculture. It was through this process that women for their own voice; forming collectives, as well as publishing cultural journals and newspapers.   

This involvement of women during the Spanish Civil War would empower them and therefore reinforce their importance beyond traditional roles within society. The following photographic accounts and propaganda posters from the time, are testament to that change. 

Militia women, Guadalajara. Image: Libcom Write here...

Militia women, Guadalajara. Image: Libcom

Write here...

Mechanic members of Mujeres Libres, the anarchist women's organisation. Image: Libcom

Mechanic members of Mujeres Libres, the anarchist women's organisation. Image: Libcom

Militia women, Madrid, 1937. Image: Entre Hilos y Cuerdas

Militia women, Madrid, 1937. Image: Entre Hilos y Cuerdas

Female Chauffeur of Valencia's Communist Regiment. Image: art.com

Female Chauffeur of Valencia's Communist Regiment. Image: art.com

Image: Civil War Advertisement

Image: Civil War Advertisement

Image: Civil War Advertisement

Image: Civil War Advertisement

Image: Civil War Advertisement

Image: Civil War Advertisement

Image: Alba Archives

Image: Alba Archives

 

 

 

 

Diversity in the Modelling Industry: Novelty or Norm?

Diversity in the modelling industry: is it becoming the norm...or is it still very much a novelty? Whereas the Oscars controversy highlighted the underrepresentation of African American actors (but interestingly not other ‘minorities’ such as Asian or Hispanic), the current discussion involves the underrepresentation of most ethnicities from the fashion radar. It’s also sadly nothing new and the very fact we are still discussing it conveys how much an issue it still is. 

Up until the past decade or so, ethnic minorities within the model industry were approached with a kind of tokenism and treated with as an exotic novelty; notable examples being Iman and Grace Jones in the 1970s and 80s and Alek Wek in the late 90s.

A notable change came in the mid-noughties in the form of market driven representation. Asian models (primarily from the Far-East) started appearing in their numbers on the catwalks. Coinciding with the birth of Vogue China in 2005 , this made sense from a commercial perspective, considering the overwhelming consumer spending power that was the Chinese luxury market. Fast forward to 2016, the slightly weakening economy in China has fortunately not equated to less of a Far-East representation in model casting. The formula for diversity within the modelling industry is however not clear cut. Despite India being a major superpower and one of the largest populations on the planet poorly under represented as one of the world’s burgeoning superpowers. 

It’s not only to do with casting models with multi-ethnic heritage, it's also about celebrating it. Despite the mixed heritage of models such as Gigi Hadid (Dutch and Palestinian) her image is still very much White Caucasian. Whereas Lineisy Montero, with her Puerto Rican heritage, stood out from the crowd on the Prada catwalk for sporting a more natural hairstyle, in contrast to the style used for the rest of the line-up. And whether you love or hate Olivier Rousteing and his takeover of the French house Balmain, his introduction of a more multicultural world of strong global female power certainly promotes a more representational image. 

Lineisy Montero, Prada SS'16

Lineisy Montero, Prada SS'16

If the objective of models to represent the consumer and their aspirations, we still have a long way to go. According to The Fashion Spot, in the Spring 2016 catwalk shows, 77.6% of models were white, which marks the latest in a gradual improvement from 80% in Autumn 2015 and 83% in the previous season.

There are many aspects of the fashion industry which have been criticised as archaic. Just as it was slow to adopt digital, it may be even slower to accurately represent global consumers. There is hope though, with an increasingly diverse new crop of models each season, as well as more experimental approach to casting. 

Claire Barrow Presentation SS'16

Claire Barrow Presentation SS'16

As seen in our article on last season’s presentations in London, emerging designers such as Claire Barrow and Ashley Williams some have gone one step further in casting not only women of differing shapes, ages and sizes, but also male and transgender models. Initially, seen as a statement, it could be a vision as what’s to come.

Transgender model, Andreja Pejic

Transgender model, Andreja Pejic

So what’s next? Starting with Burberry’s choice to combine the the shows for mens’ and womens’ collections; men modelling women’s clothing and vice versa; the rise of transgender models such as Andreja Pejic, there seems to be a shift in the high fashion system and could be indicative of a soon to be wider change within the industry, therefore making a former novelty the norm.