Craft, fashion, costume and naturism: research revives the aesthetics of British social movements
Professor Annebella Pollen’s research has explored the historical aesthetics of creative oppositional cultures, mystical beliefs and alternative spiritualities. Locating her work at the interface of dress history and social history, her work on the British Woodcraft Movement, with a particular focus on the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift (1920 – 1951), undertook an exploration of art, craft, design and dress as contributing to identities through radical strategies of resistance and reform.
She located and analysed largely un-exhibited and unpublished public and private collections of Kibbo Kift artefacts, uncovering a largely forgotten aspect of British art, design and social and cultural history. Through detailed historical analysis of designed artefacts and a focus on symbolism in dress and design, Annebella Pollen’s research offered new insights and interpretations that connect the Kibbo Kift and their practices with contemporary popular public discourse on youth culture, design activism and radical resistance. This underpinned the exhibition she co-curated, Intellectual Barbarians: The Kibbo Kift Kindred.
The reconstruction of this history brought the context and cultural life of this group into the present, attracting diverse audiences with reviews published in specialist craft, fashion, costume, popular culture and design blogs and journals, as well as mainstream press. Response to the research moved public perceptions of the Kibbo Kift from the idea of an isolated group to one connected to history, society and modern culture. Annebella Pollen’s book and Whitechapel exhibition also led to new forms of artistic expression in the fashion industry, and Sadie Williams, a London-born Young British Designer, cites this as the main source of inspiration for her Spring/Summer 2018 collection.
Annebella Pollen's interests in dress (and undress) as utopian and countercultural practices has continued into research on historical practices of social nudism, or naturism. Bringing naturists' ideas and images to light, Pollen's 2021 book, Nudism in a Cold Climate: The Visual Culture of Naturists in Mid-20th-Century Britain draws on extensive naturist archival sources and has reached naturist communities internationally. The book's examination of popular photographic publishing also continues her interests in photographic genres that have not traditionally been considered worthy of academic scrutiny but which engage large numbers of participants, from photographic competitions to camera clubs.