Capturing Imagination: Europeana Fashion Thesaurus

written by Beth on January 16, 2013 in Behind the scenes and News with 4 comments

Today, Nacha Van Steen at Europeana Fashion partner Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels, tells us about one of the technical challenges the project is facing – how to represent the world of fashion digitally so that you can explore it easily.

What springs to mind when I say ‘fashion’? Exactly, an immense variety of images, clothes, shoes, magazines, lifestyle choices, as diverse and complex as your own imagination. Now imagine trying to capture all of that in words, and worse still, structure…

And yet, that is exactly what the Europeana Fashion project has set out to do in creating a thesaurus on fashion, a reference that assembles all things fashion in a controlled, structured hierarchy, including synonyms and antonyms. The result will be a tree-like structure with branches for every topic within the world of fashion, ready to be discovered, explored and used for research or entertainment.

What is a dress? A dress is..  a main garment for the body.. or costume. Or can it be a nightgown? Or an underdress perhaps? Image by Europeana Fashion, CC0.

What is a dress? A dress is.. a main garment for the body.. or costume. Or can it be a nightgown? Or an underdress perhaps? Image by Europeana Fashion, CC0.

The thesaurus will be used to enrich metadata (information about digitised objects) within the Europeana Fashion project and to provide high quality disclosure of fashion-related content within Europeana itself. Moreover, the thesaurus will be made publicly available on the project’s own website, ready to be used by all interested.

Because it will exist as a digital reference only, it can serve as a starting point for fashion researchers, can be expanded as the need arises and will hopefully encompass the richness and complexity that the fashion industry, from creator to manufacturer to buyer and collector, has to offer.

The benefits are numerous: the vocabulary is controlled, can be translated (the Europeana Fashion Project offers 10 languages!), and the information can be retrieved in a fast, complete and orderly manner. Relationships become clear, data entry is simplified and a vast amount of knowledge is gathered in a logical, structured, organised way.

Travelling exhibition from Finland, Marimekko: Fab, Slovenian National E-content Aggregator, CC-BY-ND

Travelling exhibition from Finland, Marimekko: Fab, Slovenian National E-content Aggregator, CC-BY-ND

For you, as a Europeana user, Europeana Fashion’s thesaurus will give you the opportunity to search for fashion-related content in each of the 10 represented languages – English, Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Greek, Swedish and Serbian.

Nevertheless, creativity – the base, the building block of fashion – always comes up with new takes on existing concepts. This means that any thesaurus, especially one on fashion, will need to be looked after and updated or become outdated.

This is why we base our thesaurus on existing international standards, such as the Getty Research Institute’s Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), and we strive to add new concepts in this existing structure where possible.

We aim to provide users with a myriad of search options, to help you find what you need, to keep you informed, interested and curious, and to help the fashion domain to publish its work.

To find out more about the project, the thesaurus and the developments, please visit our Europeana Fashion project website.