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V&A/RCA History of Design (MA)

Aaron Sobetski

Aaron Sobetski is an American artist, fashion designer, historian, and storyteller living and working out of London.

I’ve used these tobacciana in the making of several garments during my undergrad and design career. I started using the cigar felts in 2018, after my grandpa gave me his collection of them. I archived and catalogued over 400 felt flags, and used the repeated flags to make a kimono jacket and trouser set. They were printed from the 1880s-1914 for American tobacco to slide into cigar boxes(felts) and cigarette packs(silks) until the rationing of fabric started the use of cards. They were the original baseball cards in a way. In pretty much every art museum and World War I museum in America you can find a quilt made out of the felts, and you can find doll house blankets and couch pillows using the silks. They came in many different themes like animals, flowers, fruit, etc., but most commonly flags. At the beginning of covid I started making cigarette silk masks using florals and ceramic silks I had acquired for my collection. I also made a denim workwear coat made out of the silks as well.

To be honest, the silks and felts are what got me interested in History of Design and museum collections. If it weren't for the practice and multiple internships I got to learn how to keep control of them, I wouldn't have gone into this programme. 

Image: 1880s cigarette silks and heraldry(Private Collection, Photo by Aaron Sobetski).

Aaron Sobetski at the concrete beaches of Chicago.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, his work derives a great deal of inspiration from the landscape of 20th century America, representation of patriotism, and tradition in a modernising world.

In his design practice he often utilises extant textiles and historical construction techniques while pulling from primary source research. By giving these textiles a new chapter in their life, he strives to bring back individual identity in each garment. Similarly in his scholarly work, he looks to shed light on forgotten and overlooked themes in overly covered trends. He received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2020 with an emphasis in Historic Fashion Design and Art History. He then got his MA from the Victoria & Albert Museum/Royal College of Art History of Design Programme in 2023 where his research branched between the historic landscape of London, 18th-19th century mens fashion shown in British satirical prints, and British royal ceremonial dress. 

The Coronation of King Charles III: Agendas of Soft Power Through Ceremonial Garments

Functioning as a case study of the ceremonial vestments used in the 2023 coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, this dissertation investigates the monarchy’s use of powers to control media narratives, and thereby public perception. This is accentuated by a certain statement political scientist Joseph Nye chronicles as soft power, which heavily relies “on positive attraction in the sense of ‘alluring.’” As he then goes to argue, “‘beauty’ or ‘charisma’… tends to produce inspiration and adherence.” This idea of ‘attraction’ and ‘adherence,’ though, is only successful if it is able to capture the minds if the masses (and the court), keeping their eyes occupied long enough so those in power can do what they need to do. The coronation is no exception to this argument and, albeit statement of power.

King Charles III and Queen Camilla in the Golden State Carriage
King Charles III and Queen Camilla in the Golden State Carriage WESTMINSTER — 6 May, 2023: King Charles III and Queen Camilla riding in the Golden State Coach for the procession out of the coronation at Westminster Abbey. You can see the ermine of the King and Queen’s Robes of Estate, the King wearing the Imperial State Crown, and the Queen Consort in Queen Mary’s Crown. (Photo by Aaron Sobetski)
Embroidery Gifted to Princess Margret by Norman Hartnell 1953
Embroidery Gifted to Princess Margret by Norman Hartnell 1953HAMPTON COURT PALACE — 18 May, 2023: This framed embroidery was made by Norman Hartnell's embroiders utilising the motifs from the coronation gown of Queen Elizabeth II(centre) and the gown of Princess Margret(surrounding). Queen Elizabeth II's portion identifies all the national flowers of the commonwealth. Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. (Photo by Aaron Sobetski)

Heritage, Sustainability, & Celebrity

This research was achieved by examining the designed ceremonial dressings most notable for use in the British coronation ceremony. Specifically, I argue that the inherent inauthenticity of heritage in the form of St. Edward’s Regalia, coronation robes, and vestments, compared to coronations when these inherited traditions were conceived does not show a necessity for an otherwise excessive ceremony.

I look at aspects of sustainability that were pushed out in multiple news articles and royal statements before and after the coronation to deduce how necessary the coronation vestments were in the ceremony, as well as how often they are reused.

Finally I look at King Charles and his family’s use of celebrity as soft power to draw attention to the green agenda, thrusting the Royal Family into the limelight.

I have observed how all three of these topics keep the notion of remembrance and vitality contently lingering in news cycles related to the monarchy. The ways in which royals are able to show this remembrance without outwardly speaking on hot button political issues is through dress and distinction. The soft power of fashion has been a loophole in the political neutrality of the monarchy for many generations. Soft powers such as fashion and values-led speeches are used to persuade the general public to a sovereign’s view; while hard powers, such as law, are reserved for His Majesty’s Government to distribute. The medieval notion of wearing garments that are loaded with immense soft power, designed for demanding respect and adoration, is not the way to win over the public of the twenty-first century; the ploy of using a fashion trend, especially by the World’s Best Dressed Man, to gain public favour might be though.

Detail of a golden lion from 1821 tabard
Detail of a Golden Lion from an 1821 TabardHAMPTON COURT PALACE — 18 May, 2023: Detail of a tabard from the procession of the coronation of King George IV in 1821. Contains gold and silverware embroideries of Scottish lion, Irish harps, unicorns, and the golden lions, as well as the crown. Done in the styles of George III. The golden lion represents the ancient Kingdom of England. Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. (Photo by Aaron Sobetski)
1649 Inventories and Valuations of the Crown Jewels
1649 Inventories and Valuations of the Crown JewelsSOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES — 16 June, 2023: Page from the 1649 Inventories and Valuations of the Crown Jewels by parliament. The third passage is the description of ‘King Alfred’s Crowne,’ also known as the original St. Edward’s Crown. These pages were the last records taken of the original coronation regalia before being destroyed following the Civil Wars. This is the only description of St. Edward's Crown. Society of Antiquaries, London. MSS/0108 (Photo by Aaron Sobetski)