Student Spotlight: Rebecca Crawford

Rebecca Crawford grew up in Sydney, Australia. After graduating from the University of NSW with a Bachelor of Architecture in 2010, she decided to move to New York City in order to further her education through the budding academic realm of Fashion Studies. Becca applied to Parsons’ MA Fashion Studies program in 2011 and was awarded First Class Honors upon graduating in May 2013. Over the past three years, Becca has gained extensive experience in both the retail industry—having worked at Barneys and Scoop in NYC—as well as the world of documentary film/television production. Becca continues to be fascinated by how fashion, architecture and ‘space’ are so profoundly interconnected in terms of how we cultivate and understand our sense of ‘self.’ In November 2013, she was awarded a fully funded scholarship by the Australian government into order to continue exploring these concepts through a PhD of Design at the University of Technology in Sydney.

What current project(s) are you at work on or have you just completed?

The project I am about to embark on is tentatively titled ‘Peering Beyond The Curtain of Adornment – Fashioning the ‘Self’ Through an Aesthetic Life: Architecture, Dress and the Decorative.’ In October 2013, I decided to propose this in-depth study as part of a PhD of Design program at The University of Technology in Sydney.

Continuing researching my Master’s thesis beyond the two years I spent developing it at Parsons in the School of Art and Design History and Theory (ADHT) had been on my mind since I graduated in May last year. Immediately after I graduated in New York—whilst on a sort of inspired ‘high’ after the deeply satisfying immersion into my readings and the thesis writing process—I reached out to an Australian Professor named Peter McNeil. Prof. McNeil has been a key thinker and contributor to the academic landscape of Fashion Studies for many years, and by some strange turn of fate, had just completed an essay on the ‘rich women’ of New York’s inter-war elite in which he mentioned Babe Paley, the socialite my Masters thesis is centered around.

Committing the next four or so years of my life to the academic world was a huge decision, and one that I continued to put off until something simply clicked in my heart and mind. I soon realized that my fascination with philosophies of beauty, aesthetic cultivation, and the notion of living a ‘decorated life’ was not going anywhere, and that, for me, the most comprehensive and exciting way to explore these topics was through a PhD. By embarking on a Doctorate of Philosophy in Design, I not only hope to advance the underdeveloped scholarly exploration into sartorial female dandyism and female subjectivity, but to develop dynamic, visionary research. I would like my research to go beyond the creation of a singular written document. Rather, by incorporating the visual mediums of film and photography, I hope to develop a more relatable and creative approach to the universal themes encapsulated by my thesis topic.

Having left myself just one week to put together a research proposal, Professor McNeil’s encouragement and guidance allowed me to develop a strong research plan with which to be admitted into the PhD of Design program. In November, I was accepted by the University and was granted a full Commonwealth Scholarship by the Australian Government to continue my studies on a full-time basis for the next four or so years.

I officially begin my studies on the 10th of February 2014, so at the moment I am in the very early stages of continuing the development of my Doctorate topic.


What inspired these projects/this project?

My decision to complete a Doctorate of Philosophy was an outgrowth of the initial inspiration behind my MA Fashion Studies thesis topic. What sparked my original fascination with the highly influential, yet relatively unknown, American socialite Babe Paley was the seductive promise that a gorgeously ‘decorated life’ holds in satisfying “the immortal thirst for beauty”—as aptly put by Charles Baudelaire. The enduring power of Babe’s image, as published in magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair throughout the 1950s and 60s, made me question what it actually means to live a ‘decorated life?’ Where decoration, in the world of picturesque American socialites, supposedly concealed the ‘pain behind the glamour’.

I am still trying to uncover why there is such a stark disconnect between the way beautiful American socialites have been, and remain, depicted framed within their homes flaunting flawless skin, artful hair and impeccable fashion, and the way their interior sense of ‘self’ has been written about over time.

When I started reading about Babe’s legacy and her marriage to Bill during the early stages of my research in 2012, I also began reading the novel The Portrait of A Lady, by the renowned American author Henry James. With Babe constantly on my mind, I suddenly began noticing some startling parallels between Babe’s mythology and James’s fiction. In particular, his examination of the ‘inward’ life and fascination with the notion of an ‘aesthetic morality.’ In The Portrait of a Lady, James poses the question “wasn’t all history full of the destruction of precious things? Wasn’t it much more probable that if one were fine one would suffer?”[1] I noticed throughout his various works that James would repeatedly highlight the threat that a search for aesthetic perfection and beauty can hold. It is this eternally shifting question of whether