Unpicking the history of the fashion business


A major project looking at the history of the post-war fashion business is launched at the University of Leeds next month.

The Enterprise of Culture: International Structures and Connections in the Fashion Industry Since 1945, is a three-year European collaborative research venture led by Professor Regina Lee Blaszczyk, Chair in the History of Business and Society at Leeds.

A €1 million grant from the Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) will fund the project’s exploration of the relationships between fashion as a cultural phenomenon and a business enterprise.

It will also examine how fashion as a cultural form crosses international boundaries and involves intermediaries such as educational institutions, the media, advertisers, branders, trend forecasters and retailers.

Its public launch is held at the University of Leeds on Thursday, December 5, with a series of talks by European experts, fashion professionals, curators and archivists. Offering an insight into the business history of fashion, the event will also give a glimpse of what we will be wearing in the future.

The day’s events will end with Professor Blaszczyk’s inaugural lecture, The Colour Revolution, tracing the relationship of colour and commerce, from haute couture to interior design.

Open to anyone with an interest in the business history of fashion, the events are particularly aimed at academics (e.g. in history, business, fashion), students, curators, archivists, fashion designers, textile-related organisations and wider public audiences.

Professor Blaszczyk said: “This project breaks new ground, using the fashion business to examine how types of cultural encounters – between ‘core’ fashion cities such as Paris and London and ‘peripheral’ areas such as Sweden and Scotland, between style labs and the high street, and between fibre makers, clothing manufacturers and retailers – stimulated innovation and created a new, competitive industry.

“Leeds has a long history as a production centre for textiles and clothing and the University hosts major research collections on campus that will be invaluable to our networked team: the M&S Company Archive and ULITA, an archive of international textiles.”

Bringing together academics from the universities of Leeds, Erasmus Rotterdam, Oslo, Newcastle, St Andrews and Heriot-Watt, the project will also work closely with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Stockholm’s Centre for Business History. Non-academic institutions such as the M&S Company Archive, based at the University of Leeds campus, and the sponsors of fashion and textile trade fairs across Europe are also involved.

Themes for the launch event include transnational fashion, trendsetting and business archives. It will also mark the culmination of a sustainable fashion competition among University of Leeds students, with a presentation to the winners at the evening lecture and provide a chance to explore the Marks in Time Exhibition at the M&S Company Archive.

On the following day (Friday, December 6), Professor Blaszczyk will introduce a talk by Tony O’Connor, Head of Design, Menswear at M&S. This talk, also held on the Leeds campus, forms part of the M&S Company Archive’s On Your Marks networking series.

The Enterprise of Culture team will hold conferences and public events over the next three years at major venues such as the V&A, ULITA and the M&S Company Archive in Leeds, as well as major events in Berlin and Stockholm.

  • For more details about the Enterprise of Culture and the launch programme of events, which are free but with limited places, see www.enterpriseofculture.leeds.ac.uk.
  • To book a place on December 5, email enterpriseofculture@leeds.ac.uk or call Fiona Blair on +44 (0)113 343 1910. Bookings for the On Your Marks event on December 6 should be made via onyourmarks@leeds.ac.uk.

Further information

Visit the Enterprise of Culture website.

For interviews with Professor Regina Lee Blaszczyk, please contact Gareth Dant at the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 3996 or email g.j.dant@leeds.ac.uk.

Regina Lee Blaszczyk is Professor of Business History and Leadership Chair in the History of Business and Society in the School of History at the University of Leeds.  She is the author or editor of seven books, including Imagining Consumers: Design and Innovation from Wedgwood to Corning and The Color Revolution, which received the 2013 Sally Hacker Prize for Exceptional Scholarship from the Society for the History of Technology.

The Enterprise of Culture project team comprises: Professor Regina Lee Blaszczyk, Project Leader and Principal Investigator. Principal Investigators: Dr Ben Wubs, Erasmus University Rotterdam; Dr Véronique Pouillard-Maliks, University of Oslo; Professor Alan McKinlay, Newcastle University Business School; Professor Barbara Townley, University of St Andrews School of Management and Professor Robert MacIntosh, Heriot-Watt University. Associated partners: Sonnet Stanfill, Curator of 20th Century and Contemporary Fashion, Victoria and Albert Museum; Alexander Husebye and Ingrid Giertz-Mårtenson, Centre for Business History Stockholm.

HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) is a partnership between 21 Humanities Research Councils across Europe and the European Science Foundation (ESF), with the objective of firmly establishing the humanities in the European Research Area and in the European Commission Framework Programmes. www.heranet.info