Feathers in Fashion Exhibit

A fun time was had at the opening of Flights of Fancy: A History of Feathers in Fashion at the Goldstein Museum of Design at the University of Minnesota. This has been my employer as a Graduate Assistant on and off for 4 years, and the final exhibit I did any work for as I’m on the road to graduation (PR/marketing this time around).

The opening was fab with attendees donning feathered attire, an array of fascinating fashion, science, and social science concepts to review in the text panels and cases, and a program by interpretive naturalists featuring live birds and discussing the history of feathers in fashion including laws and regulations regarding birds.

The show was curated by Goldstein Museum of Design Assistant Curator Jean McElvain, Ph.D. and Master’s Student/Research Assistant Angelina R. Jones. Also, in a fairly unique match-up, it was put together in conjunction with The Raptor Center and the Bell Museum of Natural History, both of the University of Minnesota. This combination added a different scientific/political slant rarely seen in fashion exhibitions that aren’t about textile science or sustainability.

Flights of Fancy invites visitors to examine the function of feathers in nature, the historical feather trade and activism against it, and the psychological appeal of wearing feathers. Feathered apparel from the late 19th through the 20th centuries from the GMD collection is on exhibit including garments designed by Bill Blass, Sonia Rykiel, Victor Costa, and Oscar de la Renta. The hats are probably the most outstanding feature, as there are plenty to admire.

The partnership with the science centers provides an ornithological foundation for the feathered apparel. Study skins of birds from the Bell’s collection are examples of birds whose feathers were commonly used in the fashion industry. Audubon prints and diagrams of feather structure illustrate the unique qualities and functions of feathers. The exhibit gets into the environmental activism sparked by the prevalent feather usage in fashion and discusses the social connotations associated with feathers in historical and contemporary dress.

It runs through September 12 so you should try to make it out if you’re in the area. Also there will be a guest lecture by Amy Scarborough Wednesday, September 8, 3:00 pm. Scarborough will present “Bird Protection and Millinery: Exploring the Role of Fashion Media in the Debate.”


Contemporary Monique Lhuillier wedding dress on loan from the designer

Two images of the live bird presentation; bottom image features Goldstein Museum Grants Writer Kathleen Campbell, Ph.D.

Curators Angelina and Jean, alongside Goldstein Museum Registrar & Materials Library
Coordinator Eunice Haugen

Me and Angelina

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1 Comment

  • Tove Hermanson June 17, 2010 08.36 am

    I saw an awesomely impressive interview between Valerie Steele (of FIT) and Sarah Abrevaya Stein about Dr. Stein’s book Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce . I’ve been meaning to sink my teeth into; from her talk she gives a ridiculously interesting, thorough catalog of the regional, religious, social, and environmental factors that contributed to the long standing success (but ultimate decline) of the feather industry.


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