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The public value of fashion

Madeleine King and Nadia Buick examine the artistic, cultural and social value of fashion….

While many people think that fashion is synonymous with ‘the fashion industry’, our understanding of fashion includes broader artistic and social concerns. Fashion is at once inclusive and exclusive, mundane and special, broad and niche, high culture and low culture, commercial and non-commercial. At first glance, the world of fashion seems alienating and strange, rather than inviting and accessible. But fashion’s ubiquity and familiarity allow a diverse range of audiences, sectors, and practitioners to understand it. When taken in it’s broadest social and cultural setting, fashion can be something that many different people, practitioners, and institutions can have profound connections with.

Our project, The Fashion Archives, is about presenting a holistic view of fashion. We work with individuals and organisations both inside and outside the industry so that our project can be representative of the complexity of fashion’s position in culture and society.

The Fashion Archives has connected with an extensive network of collaborators in the public and private realm, including: small community historical associations, public collecting institutions (state archives, libraries, museums, galleries), private collectors, independent and small business, commercially driven events, universities, and individual artists, designers, historians, and academics.

Some of the organisations and collaborators we have approached were alarmed that a fashion project was interested in them – they’d never considered themselves, their work or their collection to be viewed in a fashion light. Our multi-faceted and cross-disciplinary approach can be hard to communicate, as there are few other examples of a cultural fashion project that links public and private sectors that we can call upon.

Working across various sectors has allowed us to focus on ‘small’ and local stories that our audience have personal and meaningful connections with. Because fashion is so pervasive it has been the connective tissue that links the regions to the major cities, the young to the old, and Queensland to the world. Fashion has given us the platform to bring attention to some under-appreciated figures of our design and art past and present, and we’ve been most proud of bringing to light the untold stories of Queensland women (women’s stories are a feature of fashion’s success, as well as a reason for the field’s neglect).

We’ve found that the private and public sectors are equally open to reaching new audiences, and enjoy the cross-pollination that can occur with a project like ours—particularly as they’re not always sure how to find each other. This has been felt the most by some of the small and remote groups we’ve worked with; many have little experience with the web, and struggle to find ways to attract visitors. Their under-utilised fashion collections can provide a point of entry for new, and particularly young, audiences.

Taken in its broadest and most inclusive sense, fashion can be: accessible; an insight into private and public histories; a source for grand social, economic, and cultural narratives and intimate personal stories; and, a connection between our present and past. As a resource for public value, it’s largely untapped, and as we’ve found in our Queensland project, there’s so much ground still to cover.


Madeleine-King-Nadia-BuickThe Fashion Archives is an online publication created by Madeleine King and Nadia Buick that reveals the untold story of Queensland fashion. It is the destination for original, curated and commissioned content from some of the state’s most illustrious collections, designers, artists, historians and industry leaders. On May 29 at the Queensland Memory Awards, Madeleine and Nadia were announced as the inaugural recipients of the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship. The fellowship will enable The Fashion Archives to continue their research into Queensland fashion history, through a special online project called ‘High Street Histories: Queensland’s fashion business leaders’.