Madeleine King

Madeleine King is Co-Director of The Fashion Archives. Madeleine is a researcher, curator and practitioner of design and art. In 2012, Madeleine completed her MA research which paired her dual backgrounds in fashion and art history with her special interest in the utopian dress experiments of the early 20th century European avant-garde. Madeleine has previously worked as Research and Program Development Manager at MAAP (Media Art Asia Pacific), a sessional academic and guest lecturer in the areas of contemporary art, fashion and 20th century design, and has been active in artist-run-initiatives since 2004.

Tell us how you came to be interested in fashion…

I suppose it was actually an initial (and abiding) uneasiness towards fashion that made me curious enough to want to probe the subject further. Early on in life, my dissatisfaction with ready-to-wear fashion led me to home-sewing, and this in turn led me to take an interest in fashion design. After studying art, then practicing and running an artist-run-initiative for a couple of years with some friends, I returned to study to undertake a MA looking at the intersection of new media, art, & the body – the developing field known as ‘wearable technology’. I was determined to approach this area with a nuanced fashion perspective (it’s typically dominated by the electronics industry) and eventually my preparatory study of 20th century fashion history overtook my interest in wearable technology. Ultimately I was able to bridge my diverse areas of interest, and my research ended up making comparisons between 21st century wearable technology and some examples of early 20th century techno-utopian fashions designed by a disparate group of avant-gardes (including a Paris-based Cubist, the Italian Futurists & Russian Constructivists). After completing my MA, I’ve been straddling my dual interests in art & fashion – through practice, research and curatorial work in both of these disciplines.

Where do you look for inspiration on matters of style?

I trained as an artist to analyse ‘aesthetics’ and ‘form’, and in fact it still feels somehow subversive to indulge my fascination with ‘style’. Like many with an interest in fashion, I like to see how all people dress-up and dress-down, and I probably enjoy ‘street style’ even more than I enjoy a catwalk spectacle, an elaborately-staged glossy fashion editorial, or a gratuitous display of fashion in a movie. The thing that holds my attention the longest, however, is the very idea of style, as well as related ideas of ‘taste’ and ‘sensibility’ – how people come to discern their idea of ‘good taste’, and how people come to inhabit or cultivate a certain style, look or feeling that is somehow expressive of their mood, attitude or idea of themselves. I like that a person’s style can be a put-on or exaggeration; personal style can be playful and ironic, and thus can be an unreliable way to read things like personality or social standing.

What is your most treasured dress-related object or memory?

I have some early memories of my mother’s collection of vintage clothing that she’d given up as ‘dress-ups’ for us kids. I’m not sure that my memory of these clothes is strong because it’s a treasured one (there were some lovely 1930s fabrics with bold floral prints that I was fond of), or if it’s more a feeling of guilt having destroyed these beauties! (I also have an early memory of being allowed to get crafty with cutting up some fabric as a young child, and mistaking my mum’s fancy silk evening gown as scrap fabric… sorry mum!). I treasure many of the vintage and second-hand items in my wardrobe, and though I’m pretty even-handed in my affections, I tend to get most sentimental about the pieces that have traces of prior owners… a surname scrawled in permanent marker across the label, different-coloured stitching where a seam was taken in, or maybe some hand-stitched embroidery added to an off-the-rack garment for a personal flourish.

Give us three words, people or places you associate with Queensland fashion…

Sticky, short and striking!

Is there such a thing as a distinct Queensland style?

Well, it’s been the big question that Nadia Buick and I hope to address through this project, though I’m not sure we’ll ever find a single definitive answer. Our research and conversations with a number of historians, designers and other style-experts have at times left us with contradictory results. On the one hand there are some obvious factors – namely climate, distance and lifestyle – that have clearly influenced the adaptation and creation of fashion and dress in Queensland. On the other hand, there has always been a desire for connection with fashion from Europe, America and other parts of Australia – and with imported fashions and good reproductions, difference in style can be imperceptible. This being said, I’ve always liked to think that Queenslanders are unique in their approach, and having originally come from Victoria, I’ve always felt there’s a subtle Queensland accent to be found in many things, including style and dress – a relaxedness, practicality, and even an egalitarian attitude that can sometimes be expressed through the casualness of clothing. The trouble is, these are all qualities that have been attributed to Australian style, culture and identity more broadly, so it’s very difficult to pinpoint the distinct Queensland flavour that separates us from the other states and territories. Further muddying the matter is the fact that over time things have changed; fashion is increasingly homogenous due to online communications and shopping, and Queensland’s increasing market relevance to global fashion brands has influenced the way we dress. If I can take one firm position, however, it is to say that Queensland style is worth studying and debating – our very rich and colourful social and cultural history can both inspire and make sense of the work of contemporary Queensland designers and artists.

Published in , on August 27, 2013.