On Sensory fashion

Ricardo O' Nascimento
4 min readDec 10, 2020

On the 9th December of 2020, the London College of Fashion organised an online debate entitled “ Sensory Fashion Roundtable: a discussion about emerging research that prioritises sensory engagement with clothing.” Sara Chong Kwan (LCF) moderated the discussion. It counted with the participation of Danielle Bruggemen (Professor of Fashion at the ArtEZ University of Arts, NL), Otto Von Busch (Parsons, NYC), and Mila Burcikova (LCF Centre for Sustainable Fashion).

This text looks at the main points and insights from the discussion from my perspective. The main topic being ‘sensory fashion’ was an invitation to think about how we can explore fashion practice and research from a sensorial perspective. Fashion is frequently related to vision or how the clothes look. However, the human perceptual system involves other sensory modalities other than sight. Vision is only a small fraction of the story. Touch, smell, hearing and taste, for example, are part of a classical division of senses that frequently are put in an underprivileged status when compared with sight. This observation is correct not only for fashion, but it can find an echo in many aspects of western culture.

What is at stake with this approach is that vision reduces identity to appearance, leaving aside regards of embodied subjectivity, which is also related to pleasure and the emotions it might elicit. When focusing on the visual, fashion studies risk not to consciously and actively invest the body, its feelings and emotions, in the construction of subjectivity. It is paramount to look at biosocial features of fashion and make it evident that fashion is part of the sensory experience as a whole. For example, a type of underwear one is wearing. Despite not being visible, it might alter the way one feels about themselves and might have an impact on their interpersonal relationships. This idea can be expanded if we look at fashion as a type of “sensory organ”. Fashion indeed can deflect or attract attention in a similar way that a sensory system would. For example, a particular fashion choice might detect a specific type of people or behaviour by attracting their attention. This view poses manifold ethical questions, adding complexity to the simplistic discourse of fashion as the sole outcome of individual and personal choices.

Ricardo O' Nascimento

Ricardo is a Postdoctoral researcher in human and material experiences at the Materials Science Research Centre.