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  • Writer's pictureAugusta Philippou

Objects Embedded with Memories

“I came upon two photographs - of a black cape and trapezoidal gown…I looked down and saw that they were designed by a man named Balenciaga. It went straight to my heart.” Ralph Rucci (Balenciaga Shaping fashion: 2017)

I was inspired by this quote at Balenciaga Shaping Fashion exhibition at the V&A (2017). In particular I was drawn to the way we, as humans, connect to garments in such a way that they become part of our identity and existence. Comparatively, people living with Dementia, lose a sense of their identity as their memory fades. I began to think about ways to preserve their memories by using certain sentimental artefacts as an extension of their identity, and as a way of triggering memories.

After visiting the ‘House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion’ exhibition at Chatsworth House I was fascinated by an article for Vogue; which expanded on the curation of the exhibition and histories of the Cavendish and Devonshire family. Reclaiming forgotten memories was a prominent theme throughout the exhibition, “Six years ago, even the Cavendish’s, a family of historic collectors, were not aware of the full extent of the fashion that they owned.” (Henderson, 2017: 7) This idea that clothing had been put into storage and out of sight represented the way that an element of family history had been forgotten, or not relayed. As part of my research I have drawn comparisons between this exhibition and the novel “Behind the Scenes at the Museum” by Kate Atkinson. In the ‘House Style’ exhibition, sentimental items placed in a gallery setting draw attention to the historical memories embedded in the objects. Similarly, Atkinson’s “title makes us think of how stuff that is preserved is made to tell us about the past… the novel is full of little things – buttons, toys, keepsakes, photographs – and their stories.” (Mullen, 2008: 1) Creating objects and samples that stimulate memory has been explored within recent work

Lord Devonshire's Slipper - House Style Exhibition Chatsworth House, 2017. Own photo


In the Vogue article Laura Devonshire, when speaking about advice Hubert de Givenchy had given her, said;

“He told me not to make it all about couture and grand things – personal things, he said, are as important as great craftsmanship – and that I should look for Andrew Devonshire’s embroidered slippers.’ Reworked and re-patched a hundred times, these slippers, which were eventually discovered, in the archives, say much about the Devonshire’s situation after the Second World War when, following the unexpected deaths of both Andrew’s brother and father, Andrew found himself with a dukedom and an inheritance tax bill that accounted to 80 per cent of the estates total value.” (Henderson, 2008: 12)

This pair of slippers was hugely influential in my research. Fascinated with the way objects can hold memories and even, like Lord Devonshire’s re-patched shoes, become a kind of visual representation of a situation that is occurring at a specific point in time. The slippers were falling apart and at the same time so many terrible events were happening in his life; they are embedded with emotive memories.

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