The Work of Valerie Steele. History of Fashion in a Brain

03 October 2016


” Valerie Steele has overturned the idea of fashion giving it complexity and a sociocultural importance.”


“One of fashion’s brainiest women.”

The Washington Post

“The Freud of Fashion.”

Suzy Menkes

When Valerie Steele talks about fashion, you’re as far as you can get from hearing nonsense. With a Ph.D from Yale, she is author and co-author of over 20 books (among which Fashion Designers A-Z – The Collection of the Museum at FIT, Fashion and Eroticism, Paris Fashion, Women of Fashion, Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power, The Corset: A Cultural History, Gothic: Dark Glamour) as well as contributor to essays and other publications, she has triggered the birth of the modern field of fashion studies and constantly raises awareness on the cultural significance of fashion.

As the Director and Chief Curator of The Museum at FIT – Fashion Institute of Technology, she has organized more than 20 exhibitions since 1997, including The Corset, London Fashion, Gothic: Dark Glamour; Shoe Obsession, Daphne Guinness, A Queer History of Fashion, and Dance and Fashion. She is also founder and Editor-in-chief of Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, the first peer-reviewed scholarly journal in Fashion Studies.

Fashion Designers A-Z 2016 - Taschen
Fashion Designers A-Z – 2016 – Taschen

All of the above may lead one to think that in a fashion conversation Ms. Steele would outshine us mere mortals, rattling off complicated words and leaving us clueless.

Quite the contrary. She is a scholar with the rare ability to simplify knowledge, making it understandable for everyone. When she talks there appears to be a strong desire to always make herself well understood not just from her peers, but from everyone around her.

We had the great honour of having her in the ITS 2016 Fashion & Accessories Jury and we could not but notice her constantly positive attitude, her kindness and radiance. One of the most special moments during the event was having her visit the ITS Creative Archive where we had the opportunity to interview her (extracts can be seen in our teaser video).

Valerie Steele and Barbara Franchin in the ITS Creative Archive
Valerie Steele and Barbara Franchin in the ITS Creative Archive

Among the things she told us during the interview we really loved the image she gave of ITS: “It’s like a magnetic force here, you’re drawing all of these needles, zooming from all around the world to you, it’s really inspiring”. And as a fashion historian and curator we knew she would be excited about the ITS Archive: “I am amazed by the archive, it’s really a treasure house. There’s so much talent and inspiration in here, I want a lot of people to see this, especially fashion students around the world because it’s a totally inspiring place. The ITS Creative Archive is a unique and valuable resource, because it contains looks from a range of international designers at the beginning of their careers. Works from a designer’s earliest collections is incredibly rare, and of great interest both historically and in terms of providing inspiration to today’s fashion students. The Archive deserves financial support from the fashion industry, in order to preserve and showcase a valuable resource”.

Words like hers strengthen our belief in the unique heritage the ITS Creative Archive represents and the importance it holds for the entire creative industry.

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