"Research is the key to creativity": Amber Butchart on how to navigate the industry

An interview with BBC Four's Fashion Historian and new Master in Fashion Critique mentor

Amber Butchart is a fashion historian, author, broadcaster, national crime agency external advisor, researcher of all things fashion history on the BBC, public lecturer at major UK institutions like The Tate and The V&A and now, she's the newest Master in Fashion Critique mentor.

From researching to writing and broadcasting to teaching, Amber Butchart just about does it all. Polimoda virtually sat down with the colorful Polimoda mentor to talk about the Master in Fashion Critique, what students can expect from the program, the importance of mentorship and how to navigate the world as a young creative. 

Hi Amber! What is a fashion historian?

A fashion historian is someone who studies the past through the medium of clothing, looking at the historical intersections between dress, politics and culture. As a fashion historian research is at the heart of what I do. I work across a number of platforms, from writing books to lecturing at universities and art colleges, to sharing information via Instagram, or on TV and radio.

What inspires you about fashion history and why is it important to study the history of fashion?

The study of clothing can act as a portal to the past in a number of ways. The way we choose to clothe our bodies can carry layer upon layer of meaning. Across cultures and throughout history people have used clothing to signify power and status, to adorn and beautify, even to prop up or dismantle regimes. So the study of clothing in history gives us insight into all these areas and more - economic history, labor history, technology. The Industrial Revolution was largely driven by cotton manufacture for clothing - these huge ruptures in our history can all be explored through studying how we dress our bodies.

Amber Butchart photographed by Jo Bridges

What three words would best describe your style?

It’s quite difficult to narrow it down to three words! I would say: color, secondhand, turbans.

What should prospective students expect from the Master in Fashion Critique?

To navigate the aesthetic, economic, ethical and environmental issues at stake in the global fashion industry we need strong thinkers, brilliant designers and excellent future strategists and innovators to imagine a better, more sustainable future. The Master in Fashion Critique provides students with the tools to think critically about this industry. An ability to critique and understand the system has never been so essential to leave it in a better state for future generations. We will be engaging with fashion writing and journalism, marketing, curation, politics, aesthetics and culture to develop a well-rounded understanding of how the industry is shaped, so future generations may change it for the better.

"Whether it’s the production of clothing or the representation of fashion and beauty, I hope students learn to really engage with the visual and cultural aspects of the fashion industry in a critical way."

Why is mentorship important for young people?

Mentorship is crucial to transfer the knowledge and understanding from one generation to another, so that the next generation can build on our current knowledge and take it even further. It’s a crucial aspect of education to nurture students who can bring a fresh, new perspective to the study of fashion, and to offer enthusiasm and encouragement along the way.

What do you hope the students learn from their time spent with you during the Master in Fashion Critique?

I hope they learn to question, to think critically and deeply about the fashion system as it operates today and historically. I also hope they develop a theoretical background for their practice, to be able to contextualize their writing, thinking and making. Whether it’s the production of clothing or the representation of fashion and beauty, I hope students learn to really engage with the visual and cultural aspects of the fashion industry in a critical way.

If you were to give any piece of advice to young fashion students, what would it be?

Read, study, watch, research. Working in a creative industry is all about research, about diving deep into the area you are passionate about, whether it’s to create a piece of writing or an item of clothing. Research is really the key to creativity.

Cover photo: Amber Butchart photographed by Fanni Williams