In Conversation With... Fashion Curator and Exhibition Designer Jenna Rossi-Camus

Jenna Rossi-Camus is a London-based fashion curator and exhibition designer whose varied experience in art, design, fashion and performance inform both her academic and creative practices.

Women Fashion Power, Design Museum, 2014. Photo courtesy of Jenna Rossi-Camus

Women Fashion Power, Design Museum, 2014. Photo courtesy of Jenna Rossi-Camus

Jenna's career is prolific. She has worked as an assistant curator in Women Fashion Power at the Design Museum, as a curatorial and design assistant to Professor Judith Clark since 2009, research coordinator for La Galerie Louis Vuitton, and curator and exhibition designer of Digital Encounters at the University for the Creative Arts (2014). She is currently producing a project entitled Fashion and Freedom for Manchester Art Gallery in conjunction with the 14-18 Now Commission. Jenna also works as a set designer and prop stylist, and was assistant to art director Simon Costin from 2009 to 2014.

After nearly a decade of working as a theatrical costume designer, she decided to pursue an MA in Fashion Curation in order to unite her interest in history, set design, fashion and visual communications. She is currently studying towards a PhD at London College of Fashion, examining independent curatorial practice and focusing on fashion in graphic satire.

Digital Encounters. The University for the Creative Arts, Canterbury. Photo courtesy of Jenna Rossi-Camus

Digital Encounters. The University for the Creative Arts, Canterbury. Photo courtesy of Jenna Rossi-Camus

How did your theatre training prepare you for curating practice and displaying fashion?

My training in theatre design began as practical experience working as a costume designer in a very hands-on way, where every aspect of the process from research to fabrication and then maintenance was really a ‘one-woman-show’ embedded in a larger creative collaboration. When I studied set design, at the sadly now-defunct Motley Theatre Design Course, I focused more on how dress was not only part of a literary narrative but also a spatial one. Ultimately, I became more fascinated by dress in space than by plays – although I think my approach does seek to imbue fashion exhibitions with drama.

How has it influenced or enhanced your creative and curatorial process?

In general, my background in creative production means that I approach curating as a holistic and hands-on process. If I am curator/designer of an exhibition I expect to spend equal time researching, writing, drawing and installing exhibitions. I never have the illusion that curating is an academic or genteel profession.

What has been a career highlight for you?

There have been many, however I think the real highlights are small and personal occurrences rather than moments of publicity or fanfare! In general, meeting people with similar passions and expertise and being able to visit archives are the real thrills.

While working on Diana Vreeland after Diana Vreeland, I touched a Fortuny Delphos without gloves on and that was thrilling – but probably not the sort of ‘career highlight’ that would go on my CV!

Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland. Image: Judith Clark Costume

Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland. Image: Judith Clark Costume

Tell me a bit about your experience working freelance.

I have pretty much always worked freelance since I graduated university in 1999, so it’s a way of life that I am used to, but never ceases to present challenges. Obviously, financial ones, as it is really a case of ‘feast or famine,’ and I have usually had some sort of back-up job to keep afloat between main projects. These jobs have always proved their worth, not only to my bank account though. For example, in NYC I worked as a graphic designer at a stationery company, where I learned digital design, and in London, since 2010 I have worked at BangBang Exchange, where I am a buyer, stylist, and sales associate dealing with designer and vintage fashion. I have encountered many amazing pieces there, and work with a stellar group of people who also freelance in creative fields related to fashion.

What are the main challenges in the field of fashion curation and how do you think they can be overcome?

I think one of the main challenges that faces fashion curation is one of definition. The term curating is very fashionable at the moment, and ‘fashion curator’ can mean one who is a wardrobe consultant, editor, or branding executive. Within museums and galleries, there is a tension between historical dress exhibitions and contemporary fashion exhibitions – and while this tension could be exploited to make for infinitely interesting exhibitions, it is a challenge for people from somewhat opposed fields (fashion and museums) to work together in a way that is equal parts substance and style.

Where do you the see the future of fashion curation?

I certainly hope that the future brings more opportunity for fashion exhibitions that defy traditional formats, and engage people in reflecting upon their relationship to dress, rather than merely revering the past or celebrating the contemporary for its own sake.

In your exhibition 'Digital Encounters' you explored the role of digital technology within contemporary textiles practice and also within a museological context. What role and place you think that digital technologies currently have within fashion exhibitions? And in which ways do you think that digital technologies can further contribute with to fashion curation practice?

I think digital display within museums has become quite the norm, although not necessarily used to greatest advantage just yet. I know there have been very sophisticated uses of digital imaging to exhibit fragile pieces, and the ‘unviewable’ aspects of garments – notably by the Balenciaga Museum. This technology is not available to all who might benefit from it and isn’t necessarily in my view a substitute for being in a room with real objects. I am attracted, but then easily bored by a lot of digital media, whereas I am truly mesmerised by proximity to real things. So, I think, again it is a case of balance between the virtual and the physical – so that they complement each other and tell the most complete story.

White Line Projects. Digital Encounters, The University for the Creative Arts, Canterbury. Image: Crysalis Network

White Line Projects. Digital Encounters, The University for the Creative Arts, Canterbury. Image: Crysalis Network