The Extant Costume as Emissary
This paper explores the agency of extant ‘resting’ costume and its role as an envoi between learners, practitioners, and researchers of costume. Adopting and adapting Peter Korn’s use of the term ‘the object as emissary’ from his text Why We Make Things & Why it Matters: The Education of a Craftsman (2013), my research replaces Korn’s ‘object’ with ‘costume.’ Korn maintains that his crafted furniture is an emissary ‘sent out into the world on his behalf.’ (2013: 67) I propose that extant costume generates the same agency between the previous practitioner and current maker, made tangible through its resurrection.
Examining the porosity between the costume, and the novice or skilled practitioner echoing Aoife Monks avowal of the prevailing porous relations on stage between the actor, the costume, and the audience’ (2010: 3) in her text An Actor in Costume. As costume practitioners, and learners we read and respond to the previous maker through their aesthetic and technical choices, visible through the extant costume. Their agency made legible through the crafted costume. I am proposing that this act of resurrection emphasises the agency of extant costume experienced through an ’embodied practice’ established in Hilary Davidson’s paper ‘The Embodied Turn: Making and Remaking Dress as an Academic Practice’ (2019).
Authenticating the agency that extant costume has as an envoi for researchers, novice and proficient costume practitioners, Korn and Davidson’s research confirms the agency that crafted objects have between makers. Viewed alongside Monks writing on the porosity present between the actor, the costume, and the audience, the extant costume emerges as a potent emissary between costume practitioners both past and present.
Louise E P Chapman is currently studying towards an AHRC-funded practice-based PhD at the University of the Arts, London, London College of Fashion, in the Centre for Curatorial Practice. Her supervisory team includes Amy de la Haye as Director of Studies and Jeffrey Horsley as her second supervisor. Entitled, Costuming as an Authorial Practice: Reading and Re-Authoring an Assemblage of Every day, Aesthetic Womenswear from the Birmingham School of Art 1795-1885, her research is concerned with the practice of re-authoring a collection of extant historical dress which she discovered in 2012. Her research is utilising costuming practices from her experience within the theatre.
Prior to beginning her PhD, Louise had been a theatre costume practitioner for more than 17 years, employed as a supervisor, cutter, and maker with directors and companies including Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Northern Broadside and the Royal Shakespeare Company. This extensive experience within theatre has shaped her research approach, practice, and teaching. Louise leads on the BA Honors Costume Design and Practice programme at Birmingham City University. Much of her teaching has involved the management of live projects. Louise is currently working with the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire on The Enchanted Island, a Baroque opera, performed in March 2020, and has previously collaborated with Newcastle University on a production of Acis and Galatea at Seaton Delaval, and the Gres Portela School of Samba on their ‘Final’, performed in Rio de Janeiro.
Louise is currently sharing coordination of the Costume Society’s Patterns of Fashion Award and was instrumental in introducing the new award Patterns for Performance. Both awards utilise research undertaken by Janet Arnold from her Patterns of Fashion series to inform practice.