The Concise Dictionary of Dress

Judith Clark / Adam Phillips

Victoria and Albert Museum archives, Blythe House, London
27 April 2010 - 27 June 2010

Located within Blythe House – the V&A’s vast reserve collections of furniture, ceramics, glass, jewellery, textiles, fashion and fine arts, The Concise Dictionary of Dress began as you navigated a turnstile, crossed a corridor and took the industrial goods lift up to the floor. A wrought iron staircase led you out onto the roof towards an exposed cupola containing the first of a sequence of intriguing definitions in a walk-through dictionary of dress.

Cast objects and photographs, tableaux of clothing and accessories were arranged amongst the rolling racks and wrapped objects stored at Blythe House, the former headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank in Olympia, west London. The anatomy of the building revealed surreal and evocative interventions in unexpected places; metaphors of repression and ceremony; fragments of the clothed body briefly glimpsed.

The Concise Dictionary of Dress re-described clothing in terms of anxiety, wish and desire, as a series of definitions created by psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and accompanying installations designed and assembled by fashion curator Judith Clark.

Video: Conformist: Story of a Definition

Judith Clark and Adam Phillips discuss The Concise Dictionary of Dress with additional footage of the exhibition. Filmed and edited by O Productions

Also available to view on Vimeo and YouTube.

Image: Armoured 14, part of The Concise Dictionary of Dress, 2010. Photograph: Tas Kyprianou

Audio: Interview with Adam Phillips

23 minutes 46 seconds
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Audio: Interview with Adam Phillips

Adam Phillips discusses a number of topics related to The Concise Dictionary of Dress including his process as a writer, the authority of dictionary definitions, the significance of clothes and how he came to work and collaborate on this Artangel project.

Available to listen to on Soundcloud.

Image: Measured 2, Part of The Concise Dictionary of Dress, 2010. Photograph: Julian Abrams

Writing: The Seductiveness of Archives

and other essays
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By Brian Dillon, 2010

Among the many ancillary enigmas and citations that make The Concise Dictionary of Dress such a richly conceived and executed installation, there is hidden in plain sight a reference that tells us much about the seductiveness of archives and their tendency to undo their own ordering principles. Under the rubric ‘Essential’, a constellation of images deliberately recalls the Mnemosyne Atlas: an idiosyncratic archive amassed by the art historian Aby Warburg between 1924 and 1929, the year of his death. Warburg’s ‘atlas’ was composed of 79 wooden panels covered with black fabric, on which were pinned some 2,000 photographs from the scholar’s collection. These amounted to an anatomy of human gesture as recorded in the history of western art: a ‘ghost story for adults’ (as Warburg put it) that showed not so much static imagery as a kind of cinematic frieze – art history in motion.

Read the rest.

Other selected essays: 

The Beauty of Not Knowing by Bronwyn Cosgrave

Blythe Mirrors the Museum by Claire Wilcox 

Refused Presences by Rebecca Arnold 

Illusions of distance by Calum Storrie

Image: Loose 1, part of Judith Clark and Adam Phillips's The Concise Dictionary of Dress installation at Blythe House, London, 2010. Photograph: Tas Kyprianou.


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Due to the multi-sensory applications of this installation you are immersed from the very beginning – taking you both physically and mentally to a new dimension. — Aesthetica Magazine Blog

Selected Press

The project challenges accepted notions of fashion through encounters with new "definitions" commissioned by Artangel from fashion curator Judith Clark and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips Kate Jazwinski — ​V&A Magazine, Issue 21, Spring 2010.
On the A5-sized cards we are duly handed, we read that this work is called Armoured. We are offered various definitions for "armoured". Some of them appear contradictory: "Hardened for the elements; soft-centred." Others, once unwrapped, reveal a beautifully articulated truth: "Inviting attack by being prepared for it, provocative." And like much of Phillips's writing, this one is teasing: "The need to make undressing a new kind of pleasure. Fisun Güner — New Statesman, 16 May 2010​.
The most successful intervention is, perhaps not coincidentally, also the simplest: it is plain, set in the extraordinary textiles store, a hangar-sized room with hundreds of rows of fabrics wrapped in Tyvek, the material used by conservators to preserve textile goods. Here Clark has wrapped seven dresses in the same material, and set them out as though ready for exhibition. — Judith Flanders, The Arts Desk, 27 April 2010.

Book: The Concise Dictionary of Dress

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The Concise Dictionary of Dress

£25 from Amazon

The installations in The Concise Dictionary of Dress, like the definitions of the key words, serve to loosen, or to set off in several directions, the issues worth advancing, which are very much to do with the idolatry of words and the advertising of dress (dress advertises the body, definitions pay tribute to the word). — Adam Phillips 

Read excerpts from Adam Phillips' essay (as seen above).

Published in parallel with the Artangel commission at Blythe House, location of the V&A’s vast reserve collections, The Concise Dictionary of Dress examines the nature of dictionaries, archives and dress curation and adds stunning photographs recording two overnight tours through Blythe House by renowned photographer Norbert Schoerner.

Phillips’ definitions for words commonly associated with fashion and appearance – such as armoured, conformist, essential, provocative – were paired with eleven installations created by Clark on a walk through this vast building, from its rooftop to an underground coal bunker. Here in print, extending beyond the works at Blythe House, Phillips adds more words, more definitions and a covering essay asking broader questions about what dictionaries are, how we use them and why they matter.

Judith Clark also presents a written analysis of the Dictionary in response to questions posed anonymously by authorities in fields as varied as cultural theory, fashion history, arts curation and architecture, as well as a comprehensive illustrated catalogue of references used in creating the installations.

  • Hardcover
  • 136 pages
  • Colour
  • Published by Violette Editions
  • ISBN-10: 1900828359
  • ISBN-13: 978-1900828352

Download selected PDF excerpts. 

About the artists

Judith Clark and Adam Phillips
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Judith Clark

Judith Clark is a freelance curator of dress and exhibition-maker. She is Reader in the field of Fashion and Museology at London College of Fashion, where she is Director (with Amy de la Haye) of MA Fashion Curation. She is also on the faculty at IUAV (Venice University). She opened the first independent gallery of dress (Judith Clark Costume Gallery) in 1998, and has since curated major exhibitions at the V&A (Spectres; Anna Piaggi: Fashion-ology); ModeMuseum, Antwerp (Malign Muses) , Palazzo Pitti, Florence (Simonetta: La Prima donna della Moda Italiana) and Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam (The Art of Fashion: Installing Allusions). Forthcoming exhibitions include The Eye Has to Travel on Diana Vreeland, at the Museo Fortuny in Venice.

Adam Phillips

Adam Phillips, formerly Principal Child Psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital in London, is a psychoanalyst and writer. He is the author of 14 acclaimed books, most recently Side Effects, and On Kindness written with the historian Barbara Taylor. He is the Editor of the New Penguin Freud translations, and a regular reviewer for the London Review of Books.

Images: (left) Judith Clark and Adam Phillips in The Concise Dictionary of Dress installation at Blythe House, London, 2010. Photograph: Julian Abrams; (above) Judith Clark in The Concise Dictionary of Dress installation at Blythe House, London, 2010; photograph: Julian Abrams and (below) Adam Phillips in The Concise Dictionary of Dress installation at Blythe House, London, 2010. Photograph: Julian Abrams.


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Who made this possible?


The Concise Dictionary of Dress was produced by Artangel in collaboration with the Victoria & Albert Museum. It was supported by Arts Council England, Artangel International Circle, Special AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels. Artangel is also grateful to the London College of Fashion for their support of this project.