Dene October “After a Fashion: Kays Catalogue, Modernism and Fashion Persuasion”

Write up Dene’s lecture

According to The Observer’s Lauren Laverne, ʺNothing beats leafing through the pages of the latest thriller – especially when it’s a posh clothing catalogue.ʺ In its infancy, the fashion catalogue was the tool used by department stores to encourage loyalty and patterns of consumption, particularly amongst women. Through the 1920s to 1960s, the success of catalogues like Kays was partially the result of responding to modernist principals in balancing text and image and, to some extent, borrowing from the psychological techniques used in advertising. Since then, the proliferation of youth styles and media has left the fashion catalogue seeming a bit dated, but the recent resurgence in titles owes as much to internet shopping as to reimagining the relationship between the catalogue and consumer.

This lecture looks at these key ideas: fashion persuasion; taste; modernism and catalogue design; active and passive consumption

ʺwe are using taste to designate the subjective preference for which there are no objective standards […] Fashion is a collective phenomenon and has an objective existence apart from any individual. It makes attractive what often seems outrageous and bizarre to the preceding generation as well as the next.ʺ Kurt Lang and Gladys Engel Lang: The Power of Fashion in Collective Dynamics, Thomas Y Corwell, 1961.


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