Valerie Steele (Ph.D., Yale University) is director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she has organized more than 25 exhibitions since 1997, including London Fashion, Gothic: Dark Glamour; Daphne Guinness, Dance and Fashion, and Proust’s Muse, the Countess Greffulhe. She is also the author or editor of numerous books, including Paris Fashion, Women of Fashion, Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power, The Corset, and Fashion Designers A-Z: The Collection of The Museum at FIT. In addition, she is founder and editor in chief of Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture – the first peer-reviewed, scholarly journal in Fashion Studies. Described in The Washington Post as one of ‘fashion’s brainiest women’ and by Suzy Menkes as ‘The Freud of Fashion’, she was listed as one of ‘The People Shaping the Global Fashion Industry’ in the Business of Fashion 500 (since 2014).
In considering the role of designers in creating value in fashion, we are led to one of the most mysterious and critical issues in fashion – that of creativity. Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new is created – be it an idea, a work of art, or an invention. In the fashion world, creativity is usually attributed primarily to the individual fashion designer, who is popularly seen as a “genius” (or, negatively, as a “dictator”). Obviously, individual designers have their own inner lives and personal histories. However, even the greatest designers do not create new fashions in isolation.
In his groundbreaking book, Creativity, Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi writes:“The level of creativity in a given place at a given time does not only depend on the amount of individual creativity. It depends just as much on how well suited the respective domains and fields are to the recognition and diffusion of novel ideas.” If, as Allison Bancroft writes, fashion involves both “innovations in the surface decoration of the body, and the wider social and cultural responses to this innovation., then the question becomes, not just how can we foster creativity within the fashion system, but also how can we foster an e receptive environment?