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Jason Cyrus

Thesis: Couture & the Colonial Lens

Supervisors: Dr Rosie Dias and Prof Maxine Berg

Contact: jason.cyrus@warwick.ac.uk

Research:

My doctoral project, Couture & the Colonial Lens, explores the fraught history and colonial biases that have created an enduring hierarchy between French and Indian high fashion. French haute couture - a legally protected term describing exclusive, hand-made garments - is held as the pinnacle of global clothing production, while the couture-level output of Indian designers is designated as ‘ethnic’ costume. In order to interrogate and challenge this construct, I will conduct the first comparative study of couture garments from France and India.

My interdisciplinary research engages studies of postcolonialism, critical race, and British/Indian colonial history to ask: why are some garments designated as haute couture, while others are categorized as ethnic costume?; who creates this distinction?; how and when did hierarchies of value become established within the global fashion world; what do these hierarchies signal about the value of racialized individuals and their contributions to design, craft, and culture? These research questions address a range of practices and discourses, including institutional collecting, media representation, curatorial projects, and taught theoretical frameworks.

My doctoral inquiry has real world implications. The dissonance in the valuation of labour, compensation, and working conditions of skilled textile artisans in India and Europe is shocking. My project interrogates this chasm by taking a top-down look at textile production through a critique of the institutionally and historically ascribed value of French haute couture.

Interests:

  • French & Indian Material Culture
  • Fashion History & Fashion Studies
  • Historical Relations between the Indian Subcontinent and Britain
  • Postcolonial Studies & Decolonial Methodologies
  • Critical Luxury Studies
  • Textile & Fashion Curation

Background:

I research fashion and textile history to explore questions of identity, cultural exchange, and agency. My curatorial practice converts my research into public-facing knowledge: History is Rarely Black or White, opened in November 2021 at the Agnes Etherington Centre, Queens University. The exhibition explores connections between the cotton industry in the 1800s and labour through archival research, conservation, and science. In 2020, I curated York University's first fashion exhibition, ReFraming Gender.

Most recently, I was the 2021 Isabel Bader Fellow in Textile Conservation and Research at Queen’s University, as well as the inaugural Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Canadian Slavery, based at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. I have a Master’s Degree in Art History and Curatorial Studies from York University and have held research posts at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum.