International Library of Fashion Research Wants People to Think About Future of Paper

Don’t sound the death knell on paper just yet.

With this week’s debut of the “Paper Afore Press” exhibition, the International Library of Fashion Research explores the possibilities and conundrums that paper presents to the fashion industry and a fashion library at this point in time. Beyond considering the environmental ramifications of using paper, the show poses all kinds of questions but not just in a scholarly or by-the-letter way.

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“We really see this resurfacing interest in paper objects especially among young people. It has to do with this being a new lifeline, a different attention span and pace. People are increasingly interested in consuming their information in that way whether it be [in relation to] fashion and other disciplines in wider culture,” said ILFR director Elise By Olsen, who created the institution last year in Oslo.

The library is evaluating modern issues, such as ongoing societal discussions about news consumption, the shifting media landscape and the perils and pluses of AI — in relation to archiving and collecting digital outputs. Olsen noted how there are many file types from the early 2000s that are no longer supported on modern devices. “Is the solution to print these things out? I’m not sure. We would need cassette players, VHS players and so much tech to do this,” she said.

Developed in collaboration with the National Museum of Norway, the show features multisensory elements from the French audio artist and composer Frédéric Sanchez, the Italian artist Alia Mascia and the Dutch artist collective Amsterdam Warehouse.

A glimpse of the new exhibition at the International Library for Fashion Research.

Working with the National Museum’s textile department and conservators, the ILFR used X-rays, scans and microscopic tools including a Hirox machine to examine printed objects and ephemera from its collection. State-of-the-art machinery that has been used to conserve and repair dresses from the 1600s and other relics proved eye-opening when applied to the paper products. Olsen said, “It’s very nerdy, but at the same time it’s visually so beautiful to see these textures and fibers so up close.”

Visitors will be reminded how paper can be considered as integral to the fashion system, starting with the fact that garments and collections stem from paper patterns. Although magazines, books and ephemera might not have the material heft that they once relayed, they continue to have resonance. They “are all intended as a form of assemblage of paper materials through which designers can enter someone’s life in a tangible way,” according to press material for the new show.

Key takeaways include the questions, “what is worth cutting down trees for” and “How can we publish more intentionally?” Olsen said. “This is the same thing with textile and material production in general.”

On view through Aug. 20, the show’s themes will be discussed via talks, panel discussions and other special events.

From patterns to paper garments, paper surfaces in fashion in different ways.

The ILFR’s newly installed head of spatial design Vésma Kontere McQuillan, who is a practicing architect and a professor at Kristiania University College in Oslo, oversaw the exhibition’s layout. She previously researched the collaboration between OMA/AMO and Prada for her 2020 book, “Fashion Spaces: A Theoretical View,” and Prada sent over the corrugated cardboard front-row seats from its spring 2023 menswear and womenswear fashion shows. The lightweight and removable seating will go to good use in the exhibition and for special events hosted at the Oslo library.

The Rotterdam office of OMA/AMO had designed a space for the show with walls made from rolls of regular white paper that unspooled from the 10-meter ceiling, The corrugated cardboard seats coordinated with the color of the brown paper that had been used to line the floors.

On Thursday, the fifth edition of the Printing Fashion festival, a gathering of industry leaders organized by Parsons Paris, will address “Resistance” in the practices of criticism, the relationship between print and politics, and emerging formats springing from new challenges in publishing among other subjects. That discussion will be livestreamed from the library, where guests will sit in the Prada-donated cardboard seats.

With McQuillan’s appointment, the ILFR plans to extend its collecting beyond printed objects to larger ephemera and objects, like this type of furniture. Prada’s offer dovetailed into the show’s paper theme. The irony that “some famous and powerful people were sitting on these kind of lousy cardboard boxes for the spring 2023 show” added to the appeal, Olsen said.

Another new hire is head librarian Ilaria Trame whose graduate thesis at Parsons Paris outpost was “Beyond the Library: A Study of Fashion Documents’ Archival Spaces.” She will develop the library’s collection, interact with students and lead tours among other acts of engagement. To hire her, the library received funding from the Norwegian bank DNB’s foundation “Sparebankstiftelsen,” which supports cultural initiatives.

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