Developing a discourse in fashion design: What is research for fashion design?



Fashion, Jewellery & Textile Design


  • multi-disciplinary education, production


The concept of fashion has attracted a great deal of interest from a variety of academic disciplines such as history, culture, anthropology, sociology, psychology and semiotics to name a few. This has often resulted in tension between different approaches. At a conference held in England in 2009 concerning the future of fashion studies, a number of fashion scholars such Rebecca Arnold, Christopher Breward, Professor Stella Bruzzi and many others, deliberated on the methodologies and research agendas that have emerged in the growing research area of fashion studies.

It was noted that although fashion studies has gained momentum over the last decade as an interdisciplinary field of research, fashion as an academic subject has remained weak. Research activities in the field of fashion studies include the contribution of authors from other fields of study that preserve their own disciplinary identities (Riello & McNeil 2010:7). In order to develop the area of fashion studies as an interdisciplinary field of study that is acknowledge by the academy, McNeil (2010) notes that key areas of concern need to be addressed. These areas include the development of research that combines theory and history with the development of material products resulting in a methodological richness.

This poses a challenge for the development of fashion studies as a research area as students are required to have practical experience in the skills required in making a product as well as an understanding of historical and theoretical practices that encompass fashion as a broad and complex social phenomenon.

In order to achieve this, an opportunity arises for fashion design education in South Africa to engage in a discourse that promotes research that emphasises issues of materiality combined with theoretical and historical constructs. Recent research activity in the department on masters and PhD level has emphasised the above. This paper is a discussion document by two lecturers from the department of Fashion Design, Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg, on the future and development of fashion design studies and suggests that design thinking provides an important basis on which further discussions on fashion design education may be pursued.

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