By Dr Caroline Ness, PhD graduate
Thesis title: Famous, Forgotten. Found: rediscovering the career of London couture fashion designer Giuseppe (Jo) Mattli, 1934-1980
Researching my PhD thesis has been an amazing experience. I arrived in Glasgow in October 2010 just as the Centre for Textile Conservation (CTC) opened at the University. Having completed my Masters at the Textile Conservation Centre in Winchester, where I began my research into Mattli, I was very excited to follow the centre to its new home where I had the opportunity to begin my doctoral research.
It has been a fascinating, intriguing, fulfilling journey of discovery, and sometimes a steep learning curve. This level of research has required determination, tenacity, patience, attention to detail and a sense of humour. The high level of support from my supervisors, Frances Lennard and Mary M. Brooks, has enabled me to produce a research thesis that I hope is worthy to be the first PhD for the CTC in Glasgow.
My thesis interrogates dress history methodology using the career of Giuseppe Mattli as a form of case study. During the 1950s and 1960s Mattli was a famous London couturier but he had been almost forgotten until I began my research. A collection of garments, press books and design drawings recently rediscovered at the Fashion Museum in Bath formed the basis of my research. Using primary evidence to explore the production and consumption of Mattli designs I tested methodologies including object-based material culture research, oral history, socio-cultural, socio-economic, and structuralist approaches. I found that object-based research supported by an inter-disciplinary methodology worked very well for this period of dress history. If the objects exist I firmly believed they should be examined carefully as they often tell you things that cannot be found in other sources of evidence. Oral testimonies were highly valuable in contributing different perspectives, explaining the primary evidence, supporting and at times challenging traditional theoretical models.
The business history of twentieth century couture designers has been under-researched, making my thesis unusual in this respect. I gathered evidence from a number of sources including Companies House and the National Archives that has begun to shed light on this area.
Research often leads to the unexpected. I was fortunate to be able to take advantage of the facilities and expertise at the CTC when I began to question the recorded fibre content of some of the garment fabrics. Dr Anita Quye tested a small sample of fibres from three garments using Attenuated Total Reflectance Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy. The results, though limited in number, lead to broader questions and challenge the assumed perception of luxury as applied to couture fabrics mid-twentieth century. I intend to take this aspect through to post-doctoral research and hope to secure funding to do so.
The Fashion Museum in Bath supported my research by allowing me open access to their collection, offering advice and encouragement and many cups of tea! I am enormously grateful to Rosemary Harden and all her staff as well as of course the numerous curators, archivists and collections assistants at the very many institutions in Great Britain and internationally who provided me with information and access to their collections.
After a great deal of proof reading and a week of printing I submitted my thesis in October 2013 and passed the viva this January. As with all research the journey is ongoing. Since beginning my research and submitting my thesis several newly discovered Mattli garments have appeared at auction and on Ebay that require examination and investigation. Curators, collectors, auctioneers and vintage dealers are beginning to recognise the name Mattli as one of the foremost designers in London mid-twentieth century, making his designs collectable and increasingly valuable. Thank you for the opportunity and encouragement Glasgow – Mattli was famous, he was forgotten but he has now been found once again.