Failure in Fashion: The Negative Art of Design

Oct. 31, 2022, 3:30 p.m.

Chicago Hall LL 102

Professor Nick Rees-Roberts, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris

Mass-media representations of fashion designers often trade in romanticized images of the creative artist. Today’s designers, however, are now more often promoted by the industry as “creative directors”—in essence communicators who tailor creativity to the commercial imperatives of brands. This lecture forms part of an ongoing book project on failure, which engages critically with the discourses of contemporary designer fashion culture. The book balances individual histories of design failure with a focus on the collective mishaps, aesthetic imperfections, and structural breakdown of the traditional fashion system. In this lecture, Professor Rees-Roberts mobilizes failure as a critical tool to unpack the structural fault lines of an industry invested in the promotion of success and celebrity in which no one can afford to fail. Why do designers and labels go out of business or leave fashion? What’s after or beyond fashion? Why do “rising stars” wane or fail to take off? How do designers manage failure over a career? This talk addresses the question of the power struggle or tension between a designer/creative director and the brand, and the question of fit and misfit between the choice of designer and the brand.

Nick Rees-Roberts is Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University, Paris, France, where he is the director of the Masters programme in Fashion and Creative Industries in the Faculty of Arts and Media. Professor Rees-Roberts’s research focuses on contemporary media-culture in the intersecting fields of fashion studies, film studies, and gender and sexuality studies. He is the author of Fashion Film: Art and Advertising in the Digital Age (2018), French Queer Cinema (2008/2014); co-author of Homo Exoticus: race, classe et critique queer (2010); and co-editor of Alain Delon: Style, Stardom and Masculinity (2015) and Isabelle Huppert: Stardom, Performance, Authorship (2020).

Sponsored by the Department of French and Francophone Studies.

Co-sponsored by the departments of Chinese & Japanese, Film, German Studies, Hispanic Studies, Italian, and the Media Studies, and Women, Feminist, and Queer Studies Programs.

With generous support from the Office of the Dean of Faculty.