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UAL Research Online

In a Contagious Fashion: Some Historical Lessons for Today

Almila, Anna-Mari (2021) In a Contagious Fashion: Some Historical Lessons for Today. In: Rethinking Culture, Media and Creative Industries in the Era of Covid, 1-2 July 2021, Online.

Type of Research: Conference, Symposium or Workshop Item
Creators: Almila, Anna-Mari

After almost 1.5 years of the Covid pandemic, surely everything that can be said about Covid and fashion has already been said? We know about masks, and we know about those pants (and are sick of them). Yes, we heard that Ms. Wintour wears pants too, and saw that meme about Karl Lagerfeld and his (posthumous) pants. On the more depressing side, the cancellations of orders by big corporations, dismissal of vulnerable employees, hazardous conditions for those who have continued to work, sweatshops and accusations of modern slavery right at our fashion backyard, a mere 100 miles from London. What more is there to say, and how can new fashion futures be imagined?

In this talk, I turn to history, in order to learn lessons from previous pandemics and epidemics, many of which are relevant to fashion in one way or another. During the Covid pandemic, there has already been a wide-spread interest in some previous pandemics, but not so much on others. Pandemic memories illustrate the dynamics of global collective memory and its blind spots, also touching upon some of fashion scholarship’s well-documented geographical and class biases.

The Black Death of the 14th century helped stimulate luxury consumption and the emergence of ‘Western’ fashion, and it is widely mentioned when speaking of Covid. Cocoliztli in 16th century Mexico, which was caused by colonialism and allowed European appropriation of wealth used to stimulate fashion at European courts, is likened to Covid in Mexico and rarely outside of it. The Spanish flu that came in the wake of World War I was a major factor in the rise of the 1920s fashion boom, but it is in the Covid frame mostly commented upon the use of masks for medical purposes. Finally, the HIV/AIDS pandemic that emerged in the 1980s, and continues to kill today, was a deeply traumatising experience especially for the New York fashion industry for its stigma and horrifying early death rates. The stigma and experienced collective trauma, some argue, has contributed to a relative silence on AIDS’s impact on fashion and the fashion industry, a silence that has been increasingly broken only recently.

I will end the talk with reflections upon Covid, global inequalities, and the importance of telling multiple stories of Covid realities, both now and in the future. Drawing attention to problematics of social inequalities, class, colonialism, and imperialism, and raising further questions as to whose lives matter, I argue that although the history of humankind certainly justifies pessimism and, often, despair, more optimistic lessons can be learned too.

Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed: epidemics and pandemics, Covid-19, epidemics and fashion
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Fashion
Date: 2 July 2021
Event Location: Online
Date Deposited: 18 Jun 2021 15:23
Last Modified: 18 Jun 2021 15:23
Item ID: 16981
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/16981

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