The HERA project as a whole explores the formal and informal structures that underpinned the development and dissemination of early modern fashion and their relevance for creativity and innovation today. Obtaining documentation for the often ephemeral transmission of creative ideas and objects can be very difficult. This project uses a wide spectrum of evidence to overcome these difficulties (archival documents; surviving material objects; archaeological remains; prints and paintings). To bring them together we will create a pool of evidence – physical, visual and verbal – that will enable their interrogation from a range of angles. This will allow us to challenge the assumptions that are usually drawn by scholars who only use one type of evidence (usually literary or legal) to argue that fashion is generated by an elite and is then disseminated downwards. Instead, this project explores the mechanisms by which creative ideas about fashion occurred and were disseminated (often in small steps) at different social levels and by different groups of consumers and producers who were connected together in complex social networks.
The period from 1500-1800 is a useful focal point for study as it saw some of the most dramatic shifts in the design, production and dissemination of a wide variety of fashionable products, from novel fibers and fabrics to umbrellas, beauty patches and perfumes, to name but a small number of innovative goods. Although these were often described in very different ways in different countries and regions – a topic that is the focus of IP2,they almost always generated strong comment (both positive and negative) – an issue that is the focus on IP3. Yet while historians have long been aware of these shifts, work has only just begun on the creative communities that made such transformations possible and on the frameworks that supported this high level of innovation, particularly during a time of major social, religious and political unrest, including the 30 years war and the French revolution. We need to know much more about the conditions that enabled networks of producers and designers to develop and promote their products, not only within densely populated urban centres but also between these centres, Europe’s aristocratic courts and its rural peripheries. How quickly did one creative style or product move from one centre or region to another? Can we regard shifts in traditional forms of manufacture such as knitting as changes in fashion (a question addressed in IP5)? Did the very concept of fashion have a different meaning in rural Sweden than in rural Italy (work that will be undertaken in IP4), and if so, how do we make these distinctions? Who was dominant in ensuring this dissemination – princes, merchants or new forms of printing and other forms of cultural dissemination such as theatrical performances.
This theme explores how new products (such as perfumes) were regularly invented within the domestic setting, but were also produced in courts, pharmacies, monasteries and specialist shops and then quickly disseminated. It asks how the creation and marketing of ‘branded’ scents such as Neroli fragrances developed in sixteenth-century France and Italy became fashionable in both northern and southern Europe; or how other products such as the folding fan, unknown before the sixteenth century in Europe, became ubiquitous. To answer these questions we will analyse the legal, social, demographic, technological support needed for the successful dissemination of new products and examine the resistance to their integration and use elsewhere. For example, the ruff (whose popularity was thought have caused grain famines due the ingredients required for starching) was adopted across most of Europe, but to a much lesser extent in parts of Italy; the full face mask for women was used in 17th-century England and Italy, but not in Sweden or Denmark; hand- knitted stockings were considered luxury items in Denmark where the use of the kitting frame seems to have been regarded as problematic. The wig, in contrast, became an essential part of menswear not only across Europe but also in the colonies. Why? What impact did the shifting adaptation of fashionable wares have in terms of employment and innovation? What levels of capital investment were required, what types of training, apprenticeship systems were needed to sustain new products? What legal infrastructure supported or suppressed innovation? What was the impact of patent systems which developed in Italy and France in the sixteenth centuries and then much later in Britain and Scandinavia? Can we relate the early system of trademarks (as evidence by Southern v. How which was heard in England in 1618) to the protection of a brand?