Interview on a Collection and Collecting, Part II

Rudi Gernreich. Maxi Dress. 1970-72. FIDM Museum Purchase. FIDM Museum Collection. Copyright FIDM Museum.

Here is the next installment of my interview (from November 2008) with Christina Johnson, Collection Manager of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. In the last post, Christina explained the history and scope of the collection. Now, we get into some of the details of what the Museum has:

Heather: What other kinds of sub-collections do you have?

Christina: We have the Rudi Gernrich Archive, which was given to us just after his death in 1985. It is a few thousand pieces, which include samples from the 1950s to the 1980s – right before he died.

Heather: I know I’m jumping ahead a bit, but how do you acquire most of your new objects?

Christina: Mostly, we rely on donations. We will take a look at anything. You never know what is going to walk through the door. We do have a small budget to purchase items. FIDM College also purchases items.

Heather: I know that a good number of institutions have support organizations to help with the acquisitions of new objects. – such as the de Young Museum has the Textile Arts Council or the Costume Council for LACMA.

Christina: No we don’t have anything like that yet, but we are working on establishing a costume acquisition endowement fund.

Heather: So getting back to the Gernrich collection.

Christina: The collection includes patterns and samples, notions and fastenings he never used, many examples of knitwear, and many specialty pieces. One is an art piece made up of bicycle parts, including bicycle chains, handlebars and the reflectors that went on the bust. It’s a great piece.

We just recently, in 2006, obtained a Gianni Versace menswear archive worn by one man. It consists of about 2000 pieces from the early eighties up to 1997, the year of Versace’s death. It has all the printed silks, all of the suits, underwear, socks, bathing suits – all worn by a Los Angeles man. He died in 1998, the year after Versace died.

Portion of Gianni Versace archive in storage. Gift of Joan Worth in Memory of Marvin Worth. FIDM Museum Collection. Copyright FIDM Museum.

Heather: What can you tell me about that donor?

Christina: He was a producer here in Los Angeles who only wore Versace, from the first collection, right through to the last. All the studded jackets – all of it. The donation also included photographs of the donor wearing the items. He passed away and his wife put it away for about 10 years, and she really wanted it to go to a museum. Most museums couldn’t accept such a large donation, but she wanted it to stay together. It was actually this collection that was the impetus for our recent purchase of our Compact Storage system, because we really wanted it but didn’t have room for it. Compact Storage will allow us to fit about 30% more in our storage rooms.

Heather: Can you tell me a little bit more about your experience with getting the Versace collection?

Christina: When we went into the closets, they had not been touched since his death. His jewelry was still laid out. It was a beautiful cedar-lined closet. The door was locked because he and his wife had separate closets, and after he died she just locked the door and that’s it. She had an appraiser come to look at a few things, but other than that she hadn’t touched anything. And we got it all! We had an art handler come to help with moving the collection. It was amazing.

Heather: So what else can you tell me about the FIDM Museum collection as a whole?

Christina: Our collection is very strong from 1900 to about 1960. Very strong. We have amazing designer pieces.

Heather: Not just California pieces, yes?

Christina: No, not just California pieces. We are strong in California designers to be sure but overall we have a very high-level collection of couture, upscale designers, childrenswear and we also have menswear.

Gilbert Adrian. Evening gown.1948. Gift of Bob Diamond. FIDM Museum Collection. Photo by Brian Sanderson. Copyright FIDM Museum.

Heather: What can you tell me about your new acquisitions? The ones you are really excited about.

Christina: We do buy on eBay, usually from dealers we’ve purchased from in the past – either through their websites or at vintage shows and I found this amazing feather pelerine cape from the 1820s/30s.

Heather: Wow.

Christina: It’s a short cape, so it would have been called a pelerine and it is covered with iridescent peacock feathers and then spotted pheasant feathers. The entire cape is just covered in rows of these feathers. It’s a burlap base and the feathers are hand sewn onto this burlap. The lining is swan’s down. I had recognized it because the V & A museum has a similar one, except their piece has two long lappets down the front. It’s the same shape though, with the same kind of feathers. It’s reproduced in their Fashion in Detail. So when I saw it on eBay, my jaw dropped. I was so excited, and we were able to buy it at a reasonable price. It’s the kind of a piece that could really make an outfit. The 1820s and 30s were all about accessories. There were a lot of white or light colored dresses, so when you add a belt or a pair of shoes or that cape — that’s when it all snaps into place. And we really need things from that era. It’s so hard to find things like that out here on the west coast, settled so recently.

Pelerine. c.1830. Museum Purchase. FIDM Museum Collection. Copyright FIDM Museum.

Pelerine. c.1830. Museum Purchase. FIDM Museum Collection. Copyright FIDM Museum.

Heather: So what other pieces have been excited about?

Christina: We recently acquired a Rudi Gernrich dress that was not represented in the original Gernreich donation. There are still a few pieces that we don’t have and that we’re always looking for. So we purchased a “Japanese Schoolgirl” outfit from Fall 1967. It is a black double-knit wool mini-dress with a white peter-pan style collar and a red tie down the center front.

Rudi Gernreich. “Japanese Schoolgirl” dress. Fall 1967. Purchase. FIDM Museum Collection. Photo by Brian Sanderson. Copyright FIDM Museum.

Rudi Gernreich. “Japanese Schoolgirl” dress. Fall 1967. Purchase. FIDM Museum Collection. Photo by Brian Sanderson. Copyright FIDM Museum.

Heather: Is it children’s wear?

Christina: No, it’s a woman’s dress, modeled after a Japanese schoolgirl’s uniform. He also made one in a check pattern, but we have the black one. We also acquired the hat. The hat is extremely rare – only about four or five were made and we got one of them. It’s a very large black wool, toque type hat. Our hat was made for Carol Channing.

That’s it for this weeks installment of our interview, but there will be more next time!

P.S.: FIDM Museum Curator Kevin Jones and the current exhibition, the 17th Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design, were featured in a Threadbanger Video (released yesterday).

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