2018 represents a significant moment in the history of Costume Colloquium, as this year we celebrate our 10th anniversary! Since its inception in 2008 with the first Colloquium: A Tribute to Janet Arnold, this biennial event, generously supported by the Fondazione Romualdo Del Bianco® – Life Beyond Tourism®, has grown both in its breadth of critical enquiry and international recognition. The Colloquium’s professed intention to be a truly interdisciplinary, international forum for the exchange of ideas and information on all aspects of historical dress, costume, contemporary fashion and textiles has been fulfilled, and indeed, exceeded all expectations, so far attracting more than 700 attendees from at least 35 countries of every continent.
Since its first iteration dedicated to the seminal dress historian, artist, designer and teacher Janet Arnold, the Colloquium, in similar multidisciplinary fashion, has continued to celebrate and explore the historical, cultural and political importance of dress and, crucially, the sheer enjoyment and sense of unity the study of dress can bring to its truly international audience. Following the first Colloquium, Dress for Dance in 2010 celebrated the performative possibilities of dress in all of its sumptuous, spectacular and dynamic glory. 2012’s Past Dress Future Fashion investigated the fundamental relationship between time and dress, including the influence of history, from ancient times to the recent past on the clothes we wear, its preservation from the ravages of time and indeed the importance of the future in the form of avant-garde fashion. Costume Colloquium IV held in 2014 took the theme of Colors in Fashion, an especially rich and dazzling forum as befits its subject, and which led to the bestselling book Colors in Fashion published by Bloomsbury to great critical acclaim and which showcased a selection of the brilliant papers presented at the Colloquium. The presentations and discussions enjoyed at Costume Colloquium V: Restraint and Excess in Fashion and Dress of 2016 provided ample proof of how truly diverse, socially engaged and thought provoking the space now occupied by the study of dress and textiles has become, with papers addressing subjects as diverse as the construction of gender, body modification, utopian idealism and spirituality.
In addition to the remarkable scholarship, intellectual and creative exchange guaranteed by each successive Colloquium, of equal importance, and what makes the event unique in its field, is its location, the magical city of Florence. As a major historical, cultural and innovative center Florence provides the perfect setting for our discussions of dress, fashion and textiles and their production, consumption and display. Taking full advantage of this inimitable setting, and another distinctive feature of the Colloquium, are the cultural activities that take place alongside the academic presentations. Over the years delegates have been able not only to enjoy Florence’s many famous cultural and commercial attractions, but also to gain privileged access to what might be termed the ‘insiders Florence’. The Colloquium provides visits, demonstrations and receptions often held in spaces overlooked or unknown by the casual tourist and has enjoyed intimate encounters and talks hosted by some of the city’s greatest experts, many of which have been made possible through the auspices of the Fondazione Romualdo Del Bianco® – Life Beyond Tourism®.
Which brings us to our 10th anniversary edition, Costume Colloquium VI: Textiles in Fashion: Creativity in Context. This year the Colloquium has taken as its theme the very fabric of fashion and dress and devotes its proceedings to a discussion of textiles. Given the importance of the subject and to acknowledge, in its anniversary year, its commitment to continual development, the Colloquium will follow a different format with a greater emphasis given to the creative, alongside the theoretical, understanding of textiles. After all there would be no clothing without textiles and no true understanding of their use without considering their fabrication. To this end a number of excursions will punctuate the academic presentations providing an opportunity to consider the actual construction, development and handling of textiles (see Exclusive Visits, pages 19-25).
The topics that will be considered in this year’s Colloquium, while directly addressing textiles in all their forms, can also be understood to reflect many of the areas that have provided the liveliest discussions and debates throughout all of the colloquia. Attendees this year, therefore, will be asked to consider the political potential of textiles in the session entitled Patterns of Power: The Politics of Textiles and Dress. Textiles are often encountered as small samples or scraps of material and reflecting on these ‘parts that make up the whole’ and textiles’ essential narrative potential will be the subject of the session Fabricating History: Scraps, Remnants and Samples. Promoting Craft: From Workshop to Runway will be the first of the sessions concentrating on the actual perception of textiles in this case considering their production as both craft and as an art form. Taking a cue from the Colloquium’s location in Florence and its immediate environs and their importance to textile history, Material Locations: Place, Cloth and Culture will discuss the importance of place to textile production both in terms of locally available materials and skills, but also the importance ‘made in…’ has to the consumption and appreciation of textiles. Embellishment, excess, and artisanal skill has been a subject that has pervaded many of the sessions in past colloquia and, of course, plays a central role in our attraction to, and desire for, specific textiles and the session Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On: Embellishment and the Imagination will provide textile aficionados the opportunity to admire some of the most extraordinary examples and exponents of the embellished textile. Our final academic session fittingly points us towards the future of textile production and The Future is Now (and Then): From Cellophane to Smart Textiles takes us on a tour of the ‘new’ as it has been fabricated by 20th and 21st textiles. With the growing call for sustainable systems of textile production, and an increasing need for us all to consider alternative patterns of consumption, this year’s Colloquium with its emphasis on the very mainstay of the garment industries and the lessons we may learn from understanding both the historical and contemporary importance of textiles to global cultures is especially timely.
So join us in the city famed for its rich textile legacy from dazzling renaissance brocades to vibrant contemporary printed silks and take part in our exploration of Textiles in Fashion: Creativity in Context.