This thesis argues that the distinctiveness of contemporary British fashion design can
be attributed to the history of education in fashion design in the art schools, while the
recent prominence and visibility is the result of the expansion of the fashion media.
Fashion design had to struggle to achieve disciplinary status in the art schools.
Tarnished by its associations with the gendered and low status practice of the
dressmaking tradition, and then in the post war years, with the growth of mass culture
and popular culture, fashion educators have emphasised the conceptual basis of fashion
design. Young fashion designers graduating from art school and entering the world of
work develop an occupational identity closer to that of fine artists. This is a not
unrealistic strategy given the limited nature of employment opportunities in the
commercial fashion sector. But as small scale cultural entrepreneurs relying on a selfemployed
and freelance existence, the designers are thwarted in their ability to maintain
a steady income by their lack of knowledge of production, sewing and the dressmaking
tradition. The current network of urban `micro-economies' of fashion design are also
the outcome of the enterprise culture of the 1980s. Trained to think of themselves
primarily as creative individuals the designers are ill-equipped to develop a strategy of
collaboration and association through which their activities might become more
sustainable. While the fashion media has also played a key role in promoting fashion
design since the early 1980s, they are overwhelmingly concerned with circulation
figures. They produce fashion images which act as luxurious environments for
attracting advertising revenue. Consequently they carry little or no coverage on issues
relating to employment or livelihoods in fashion. But their workforce is also creative,
casualised and freelance. In each case, these young workers are the product of the shift
in the UK to an emergent form of cultural capitalism comprising of low pay and the
intensification of labour in exchange for the reward of personal creativity. This current sociological investigation aims to open the debate on the potential for the future
socialisation of creative labour.
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.