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Unit information: Fashion Cultures: From Haute Couture to Global Branding in 2015/16

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Unit name Fashion Cultures: From Haute Couture to Global Branding
Unit code FREN30038
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Nick Rees-Roberts
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of French
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

Fashion Cultures explores the history and theory of Paris fashion from the early 20th century to the present day. The unit will focus specifically on design, media and imagery, including the work of some of the most celebrated designers (Coco Chanel, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent) and image-makers (Man Ray, Guy Bourdin and William Klein) of the 20th century. The unit will combine the analysis of theoretical writings on fashion by key intellectuals such as Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard and Gilles Lipovetsky, with a range of visual representations of Paris fashion from early newsreel documentaries made by Gaumont/Pathé featuring the works of couturiers such as Paul Poiret and Jeanne Lanvin through to contemporary fiction films, biopics and documentaries about the fashion industry. Alongside the high-profile 21st century biopics of Chanel and Saint Laurent, the unit also explores two further strands: Fashion TV (through the ‘behind the scenes’ documentary series by Loïc Prigent, Le Jour d’avant) and the rise of the online fashion film in experimental/artistic and branded/promotional formats. The financial investment in digital media follows the rise, since the 1990s, of the global luxury conglomerates (notably LVMH and Kering) that have revitalised French fashion by strategically manipulating its heritage and by positioning Paris once more as the international centre of innovation and creativity.Unit aims:

  • To provide a thorough coverage of French fashion design and imagery through the 20th century to the new millennium, charting the changes in the production and consumption of fashionable clothing from haute couture of the early 20th century through mid-century ready-to-wear to contemporary fast fashion and global branding.
  • To expose students to a broad range of visual representations of fashion through textual analysis and close reading of fashion films, TV series and online videos.
  • To explore the theoretical writings in French on fashion design and to establish a conversation between theories of consumption, advertising and spectatorship and still and moving image texts.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of this unit, students will have:

1) Developed an ability to analyse both theoretical writings on fashion in French and interpret a range of textual and visual resources including films, television programmes and online videos.

2) Acquired an advanced knowledge of the history of fashion design and imagery in France through the 20th century to the new millennium.

3) Developed an ability to discuss the development of the French fashion industry from a historical perspective and to articulate the development of ideas of fashion having explored its social values, cultural meanings and visual representations.

4) Developed the ability to evaluate and criticise a number of visual representations of fashion including photographs, advertisements, films and online videos, which they will be able to contextualise fully.

Teaching Information

Weekly lecture followed by a seminar.

Assessment Information

1 small group presentation in seminar (25%) testing ILO's 1-4

The presentation will result in a group mark (not an individual mark); the presentations will last 20 minutes and 10 minutes for questions/class discussion.

1 essay (75%), submission following the unit, 4000 words max. testing ILO's 1-4

Reading and References

Background Reading:

Fashion Cultures Revisited, S. Bruzzi and P. Church Gibson (eds), Routledge: London, 2013

Gilles Lipovetsky, L’empire de l’éphémère: La mode et son destin dans les sociétés modernes, Gallimard: Paris, 1987.

Valerie Steele, Paris Fashion: A Cultural History, Bloomsbury Academic, 1998.

Film/TV resources:

Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? (William Klein, 1966)

Mode en France (William Klein, 1985)

Coco avant Chanel (Anne Fontaine, 2009)

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (Jan Kounen, 2010)

Yves Saint Laurent (Jalil Lespert, 2014)

Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonello, 2014)

Le Jour d’avant (Loïc Prigent, 2009 -)