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Exhibiting Fashion and Art in Post-war British Fashion Magazines

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Felice McDowell


This paper will examine the relationship between the fields of art and fashion, focusing upon the representation and cultural mediation of art in post-war British fashion media. Whilst this relationship is increasingly acknowledged and analysed in terms of recent art, fashion and media practice – as German art critic Isabelle Graw points to in her recent study High Price: Art Between the Market and Celebrity Culture (2009), ‘it is usually art historians, critics, and curators who contribute to the generation of this symbolic value, although recently this role has also been increasingly performed by lifestyle and fashion magazines’ – this paper will address an earlier, and often neglected history of fashion and art. What kinds of symbolic value was generated by post-war British fashion media in the field of art? And how was this done?

I will address these questions through an analysis of art’s representation within selected British fashion magazines, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and (The) Queen, published between 1945-1948. Addressing this form of visual culture in relation to a wider socio-historical context this paper will look at the emerging discourse of ‘public’ art in relation to a post-war Labour government and its cultural reforms such as the creation of the Arts Council. I will question how this concept of ‘public’ art was negotiated and represented within a fashion idiom of magazine culture. What symbolic value did post-war fashion media adorn these new modes of cultural consumption with?

This paper will present the ways in which fashion media represented the field of art through a contextualised reading of the key components that create the body of the magazine, namely, photo-spreads, fashion adverts, cultural news and reviews, and feature articles. How was a discourse of ‘public’ art photographed, written about, and advertised? I will question how this notion of ‘public’ art merges with the relative democratisation of the private art market. This will be addressed through the examination of a selected editorial photo-spread ‘Cocktail Party Receipt’ published in British Vogue February 1948.

By examining how this photo-spread appears within context of its publication I will consider how the discursive framework of the fashion magazine contributes to an understanding of this type of visual representation. This paper proposes to directly address how post-war British fashion media contributed to the cultural production of art during this period. In doing it aims to readdresses the ways in which art and history can be interpreted in consideration of a wider and fashionably aware visual culture.


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This Work, Exhibiting Fashion and Art in Post-war British Fashion Magazines, by zbeck is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported license.