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Thursday 13 March 2014

Excellent Women: Amber Butchart

Photo by Catalin Plesa

Excellent women. We all know them and yet they often miss out on the credit and attention they deserve. It's hard to believe that just this year, in 2014, Debbie Harry was the first woman to receive the NME's Godlike Genius award. Surely we should be way past these sort of 'firsts' by now? In an attempt to redress this balance I'm going to be featuring an amazing and inspiring woman each week. We'll be showcasing figures from history and women who are alive and kicking and doing it for themselves today.

Feminism is tricky sometimes. It can be a challenge to reconcile a strong feminist stance with something traditionally feminine like a love of dressing up. Someone who manages to do just this is Amber Butchart, who, in her own words, 'has had a lifelong love affair with dressing up, and is lucky enough to have turned this obsession into a career.' Proving that she's far from just a pretty face (with excellent hair), Amber is a writer, broadcaster, historian and lecturer. She's got an MA in History and Culture of Fashion and hosts the 'In Conversation' series at the V&A, examining everything from the origins of gothic fashion to the legend that is David Bowie. What a job, eh?

photo by Jo Duck

Amber shares her knowledge of fashion history on her blog called Theatre of Fashion - some of my favourite posts include her unofficial history of fancy dress which features these wonderful vintage pictures of Amber's mum in Robin Hood and Catwoman costumes made for her by HER mother.

Theatre of Fashion is packed full of amazing women - Biba fans should check out the vintage items Amber inherited from her mum, as well as her meeting with fashion legend Barbara Hulanicki.

Her blog is also the best place to hear about what Amber's up to at the moment- she's been busy speaking about the representation of age and ageing in the media and the use of a more diverse range of body types in the fashion industry.

Amber is also one half of the Broken Hearts DJ duo, hailed all over the world as fashion icons and queens of the decks. Together they've DJ'd for the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Marc Jacobs, and have even designed their own clothing range (their cape was featured on the site back here) and these Ruby Shorts are named after Ruby Keeler, the Ziegfeld star and queen of early Hollywood.

They also present vintage music show Peppermint Candy on Jazz FM - you can currently listen to their most recent episode on the 'on demand' site; it's a corker that discusses one of the most amazing women ever, the Marchesa Luisa Casati.

Amber's just written a Fashion Miscellany which she describes as 'a small compilation of vestimentary oddities ' and is already working on her next book looking at the enduring appeal of nautical style and tracking the trend of maritime inspired clothing through history.

Whilst she's obviously a big fan of all things nautical, how would Amber describe her own style?
According to her, it's 6th form drama teacher meets Ghostworld meets Pat Butcher. Genius.

Amber also has strong opinions about fashion and feminism:

"There was a brilliant quote from Nigella Lawson about cooking - 'I feel that to denigrate any activity because it has traditionally been associated with the female sphere is in itself anti-feminist,' - and I think this holds true with fashion as well.

People tend to view fashion as frivolous, as superficial and even as irrelevant - especially if you dare to read below the line on Guardian articles. And some of these accusations can be true, when levied at the fashion INDUSTRY, which, let's be honest, is far from unproblematic in many respects. But dress practices across the globe and throughout history tell us a very different story - historically clothes have been used to communicate status, religion, cultural beliefs, gender - all of these aspects of our identity. And as an economic force fashion is - and always has been - huge."

Photo by Anthony Lycett

Well said indeed. You can catch Amber talking about 'Putting on the Glitz' at The British Library on 28 March, exploring fashion on the big screen during the 1920s and 30s, from Joan Crawford and Ginger Rogers to the costume designers who became celebrities in their own right.

Know an excellent woman? Tell us about her in the comments!


  1. Please go and check out francesca forcolini of labour of love.
    Nik Hamilton, bike mechanic from the lookmumnohands cafe

    1. Thanks- will definitely look them up, I love Look Mum No Hands!

  2. Loved this! Amber is indeed most excellent :-)

    Another woman you should check out for this series in Amanda Leon-Joyce, founder of Irreverent Dance and one of the team behind the recent feminist fringe event Wowzers. She is awesome.

    1. Amanda sounds great- thanks Lori! Wowzers looked incredible. x

  3. Fantastic series :) That comment is so perfect to introduce this feature to Domestic Sluttery - why can't I wear lippie and a girdle and still hold my own against anyone else, regardless of gender? Nice one, DS, and Happy Birthday!


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