Part-time lecturer Jessica Glasscock is currently leading a course on Fashion Curation in the MA Fashion Studies program and works as a Research Associate at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We catch up with Jessica on a range of topics including influential reads, her current courses, and her activist roots, among other things.
Because of the quick pace of fashion trend cycles, how does one distinguish between eras? Is that even relevant to the design process?
Having started my undergrad teaching at Parsons with the basic fashion history course, I can assure there are a number of quick and dirty ways to distinguish between eras in fashion. Silhouette is probably the most effective. I don’t know if that is relevant to the design process (and I suspect whether it is varies by designer), but I do think is it relevant to fashion discourse. That discourse is one in which I think all designers should be conversant. The idea that dress is a language, a discourse that articulates social history, is an important foundation to my work.
Considering the criticisms of the American dream unfolding in this post-2016 election era, what would you say was the price of the dream of Metropolis? How does this relate to the history of Industrialization and feminism? How does the history of fashion play a critical role in developing a new culture around this shift women have made from the roles imposed on them by men throughout history?
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is a touchstone for me as an epic aesthetic proposal threaded through with a really confused and murky ideology. In that way, it is the original gangster of big, dumb sci-fi movies, and I take not-so-secret pleasure in picking apart and analyzing those in my classes. The real appeal in looking at the costumes for these films and their subsequent manifestation in fashionable discourse is in teasing them out as projections of masculine self-image. Most histories of dress are about women: women as objects, women as consumers, women as contaminants. But the costumes of science fiction (and subcultural street styles) tend to be predominantly menswear. And in that form may be the spectacular fashion identities which are denied in the mainstream of menswear and its history. Ambivalent politics of the film aside (Is it fascist? Is it Communist? May we trust anything that Goebbels was a big fan of?), Metropolis and its many descendants in dystopian science fiction represent to me a heroic response of the imagination to limitations imposed on men.
Regarding the title of your course Death of Cool, being taught in Spring 2017, what happens to subculture after fashion has consumed it? Is it trash? Does it go into the recycling bin, waiting for pickup from the next aesthetic? Is there a fixed state as subculture loses its commodity status or does it adapt in a state of becoming another commodity?
Everyone agrees that fashion is the consumer/destroyer of subculture, but this idea tends to fall apart under any close examination. It feels true, but it isn’t. Based in the contention that while style equals resistance, fashion equals surrender; a little scratch to the surface reveals that finding the distinction between style as authentic and spontaneous response to social conditions and fashion as capitalist edifice is challenging when they both equal blue jeans. Gender is a huge factor in this reading as well, as subcultural style is consistently cast as the politically relevant masculine force and ranked superior to the frivolous feminine preoccupation of fashion. What holds fascination for me is how certain fashionable objects acquire their talisman-like qualities through subcultural associations. I love that there is an alternate history of fashion concerned less with silhouettes and shoulder pads than board shorts and bomber jackets.
Would you mind weighing the academic v. nonacademic educational environments you’ve navigated?
Before I went to graduate school, I worked at the ACLU and as a student organizer. Being an activist in that context informed my understanding of the political possibilities of the creative histories I teach now. Those political possibilities are still far more intriguing to me than any theory which might be used to illuminate them. I think the academy is merely a tool – the proof is in practice.
What important lessons have you learned from your students? Your peers?
I’m not sure I have a list of lessons learned. And now that I am thinking about it, nothing springs to mind. I can say that generally I have learned the most from people who have obsessions. Obsessed people write the best papers.
How does the Stephen Sprouse: Rock on Mars exhibition, which you worked on as a co-curator at Deitch Projects, intersect with what you teach in your Futurism and Death of Cool courses?
Designer Stephen Sprouse held interest for me precisely because he was equally preoccupied with futurism and with subcultural style in his design aesthetic. Working on the exhibition allowed me to take a deep dive into his milieu and mythology, which informed my view of punk subculture particularly. Sprouse’s futurism was rooted in his childhood in the 1960s, and I could follow the threads from 1960s futurism through hippie utopianism to punk. Typically the relationship between the hippie and punk subcultures is characterized by rupture. Punk is the dystopia to hippie utopia. I realized by examining Sprouse’s career and aesthetic that rupture was not of necessity. This also gave me the revelation that British subcultural histories were not sacrosanct. I began to formulate an American story of punk style (not just punk music) that I am still articulating in my teaching. And I got to meet Debbie Harry. That was f*cking awesome.
Were you a writer or visual artist first? Does your writing inform your visual work more than your visual work informs your writing work?
I have always been a writer first. I do not consider myself a visual artist at all, though I do like to dabble in making various things. But I wouldn’t call it art.
In regards to your book Striptease: From Gaslight to Spotlight, what does the future place of revealing, arousing, and amusing on a stage look like?
No idea. Once I finished that book, I was off burlesque altogether. I had seen enough tassel-twirling to last my whole life.