Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme

September 15, 2017 – January 6, 2018

Posts in the University of Southampton category

Professor Jonathan FaiersJonathan Faiers is Professor of Fashion Thinking at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. U.K. Originally studying fashion design at Central St. Martins, Jonathan worked as a theatre designer and a retail consultant for the Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as exhibiting his video work internationally before embarking on his career as a writer and academic, focussing on the interface between fashion and popular culture. Jonathan’s publications include Tartan, Dressing Dangerously: Dysfunctional Fashion in Film, and essays for Alexander McQueen and London Couture 1923-75. He contributed the essay “Fur: The Final Frontier” to the book, Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme.

Why write about fur and why now?
These are questions I have had to ponder since working on my latest book provisionally titled Fur: A Controversial History (Yale 2020).

A simple answer would be that there is no book in print that tells the complex history of our relationship with fur, a history I was honoured to consider for the book accompanying the remarkable show Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme.

In spite of increasing pressure from anti-fur lobbies (last month’s London Fashion Week attracted unprecedented organised protests), a considerable number of designers are using fur in their collections. Opposing arguments put forward by the fur industry argue that fur is a natural sustainable material offering a real alternative to fast fashion, while some fake fur’s non-degradability and environmentally polluting manufacturing processes have added yet another side to the argument.

Whatever one’s position on wearing fur, its controversial nature has meant that reasoned discussion of its historical, economic, and cultural importance is rare, and it is this lack of serious research that really attracted me to the subject.

For example, it is impossible to research the history, economic development, and socio-cultural transformation of North America and Canada without addressing at least some aspects of the fur industry, and while the Hudson’s Bay Company’s history is well known, we might also consider John Jacob Astor’s millions made from fur, or how significant movie moguls such as Adolph Zukor (the founder of Paramount) invested furry fortunes in order to establish the emerging film industry.

One of the many aspects of fur that I have become especially interested in is its power to transform the wearer, whether that be psychologically, sexually or economically and how these transformations have been imagined in popular culture.

In the track ‘Wrapped In Black Mink’, from the 1978 album Giant by funk supremo Johnny Guitar Watson, the only lyrics, apart from Watson scatting and uttering ‘Come here guitar’, is the phrase ‘Wrapped in black mink’ – whispered some 29 times! This funk masterpiece, which was included in the impeccable vinyl set spun by DJ Dellores @vinylbunnies at the glamorous Expedition opening night party, distills in one simple phrase fur’s sensuous, sartorial power.

Johnny Guitar Watson surrounded by fur-clad fans for the cover of his 1977 album A Real Mother for Ya.

Johnny Guitar Watson surrounded by fur-clad fans for the cover of his 1977 album A Real Mother for Ya.