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Vanessa Brown

Vanessa Brown

Senior Lecturer

Nottingham School of Art & Design

Staff Group(s)
Academic Division Fashion, knitwear and textile design


Vanessa is part of the Design, Culture, and Context team in the department of Fashion, Knit and Textiles and Course Leader of MA Culture, Style and Fashion. She is an active researcher in the field of visual and material culture with an emphasis on cool and fashionability. She currently has two PhD students – one working on the culture of modernity and the swimsuit of the 1920s and 1930s and another working on relationships between fast fashion products and more sustainable lifestyles.

Career overview

Having started as a designer with a passion for writing, a first class honours degree in printed textiles and a strong interest in graphics; Vanessa secured a British Academy award to funded her MA in Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds. Her masters thesis about contemporary understandings of the image of the 1950s housewife, studied through the lens of ‘Tupperware’, was published in Polkey and O’Donnell, ‘Representing Lives’ (2000). The fascination with the relationships between people and things, and the potential for design to shape the world for better or worse has underpinned her career ever since.

Vanessa worked as a freelance designer, then editor of a teaching and learning publication at the University of Wolverhampton; before taking a post as a lecturer at NTU and becoming committed to teaching undergraduate students, eventually leading the team delivering an innovative contextual studies programme with numerous innovations in teaching and assessment, including the annual Visual & Material Delights Symposium which began in 2007.

She continued to write, in a variety of forms including a children’s book (Rufferella, 2000), works of cultural journalism and song lyrics’. Alongside working full time, she studied for a PhD, which was awarded in 2010, and later became a book  Cool Shades – the History and Meaning of Sunglasses which was published by Bloomsbury in 2015.

In 2016, she, along with her team, wrote the MA in Culture, Style & Fashion which takes an innovative approach to the study of style cultures and its application for a variety of audiences and careers.

Research areas

Vanessa is interested in the cultural significance of fashions, styles, looks, objects and materials across numerous visual and material fields; products, interiors, graphics, advertising, clothing and accessories, film set, costume, titles and promotion. I am especially interested in the way visual and material style is used to narrate identity - both individual and corporate - and the cultural politics of taste and fashion.

She is currently working on projects about coolness, hoping to expand its study and resolve some of the conceptual difficulties this theme presents. Coolness and Fashionability, Coolness and Sustainability, and Modern Cool and the Aesthetic of Impermeability. Most recently she worked on surveying the field of cool studies and  and re-evaluating it in relation to development in culture since the early phase of cool theory in the late 1990s and early 2000s. From this basis, she hopes to build a larger multi-disciplinary collaborative project involving art and design practitioners as well as historical and theoretical research.

External activity

Vanessa has held external roles in examining and validating courses with the University of Bolton and the London College of Communication (UAL), also as a speaker at MIDO, the international optical industry trade (Milan). She is an occasional journalist for The Conversation and a regular interview guest on cultural radio shows locally, nationally and internationally

Press expertise

  • Fashion theory
  • Visual Culture
  • What is "cool"
  • Popular Culture
  • Interior trends