Guest Post: Immortal Beauty: Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume

Worn Through is happy to present this guest post from Clare Sauro. Clare Sauro, curator of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume collection, joined Drexel in 2008 and has more than 15 years of experience in the field of historic costume and museum environments. She previously served as an assistant curator for the historic collection at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. In addition to her role as curator, she teaches courses in the history of fashion to students in Drexel’s nationally ranked fashion program.

detail

I am pleased to announce that Drexel University will host a retrospective exhibition of rare artifacts from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection (FHCC), the very first exhibition of its kind here at Drexel.

Immortal Beauty: Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection will feature a selection of objects from Drexel’s exceptional collection of more than 14,000 garments, accessories and textiles. It is one of the finest and oldest research collections in the nation, but has only been open to the public on a few, select occasions until now.

55.3.12 Elsa Schiaparelli ‘Zodiac Collection’ Evening Dress Winter 1938-39, French Gift of Mrs. Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee

55.3.12
Elsa Schiaparelli
‘Zodiac Collection’ Evening Dress
Winter 1938-39, French
Gift of Mrs. Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee

Chanel

78.1.22 Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel Suit c. 1959, French Gift from the Estate of Mrs. Charlotte Dorrance Wright

I envisioned Immortal Beauty as a formalized version of the countless tours I have given of the collection since moving into our new storage facility in 2013. As such, it is intended to be a dazzling overview of the history of fashion, ranging from a fragment of 16th century Italian brocade to an Alexander Wang cocktail dress from 2012. The strengths of the FHCC, Parisian couture of the early 20th century and international high style of mid to late 20th century, will be at the heart of the exhibition and will include garments by Gabrielle Chanel, Halston, Charles James, Christian Dior, Mary Quant, and Elsa Schiaparelli.

Garments worn by notable women of style are also displayed, including a Charles James “bustle” gown worn by American socialite Babe Paley in 1948. Princess Grace of Monaco, who grew up in the Philadelphia area, graciously donated a red, intricately beaded evening dress designed by Hubert de Givenchy in 1963. Four examples of early French couture from the estate of Amanda “Minnie” Drexel Fell Cassatt are included in the exhibition as well.

69.11.1 Hubert de Givenchy Evening Dress c. 1964, French Gift of Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco

69.11.1
Hubert de Givenchy
Evening Dress
c. 1964, French
Gift of Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco

2518.5-2 Melanie Pascaud Dinner Dress c. 1880, French Gift of Mrs. Paul Denckla Mills

2518.5-2
Melanie Pascaud
Dinner Dress
c. 1880, French
Gift of Mrs. Paul Denckla Mills

2015.10.1 Madame Grès Evening Gown c. 1980, French Gift of Mrs. Gail Wright Goltra

2015.10.1
Madame Grès
Evening Gown
c. 1980, French
Gift of Mrs. Gail Wright Goltra

These tours are informative but also promotional, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that bragging was an important element of the exhibition. Selecting “the best” was a very difficult process and the object checklist was in flux until very recently. The FHCC is largely uncatalogued, so there is no centralized database to search for potential exhibition objects. The selection process was very physical- searching boxes, scanning aisles, and trying to remember where things were located. Once I had a good list of contenders, I had to group them thematically (by period in this case) and see how they looked together. The groups had to work intellectually but also aesthetically. If the group didn’t complement each other visually, I would return to the search.

Since this exhibition will also serve as the formal debut of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection it was important to tell our story as well. The Collection dates back to its formation in the late 1890s by A.J. Drexel, the founder of Drexel University, to serve as an educational resource for students. For decades, these beautiful pieces were only seen and used by Drexel fashion students so information about our mission and holdings has been scarce.

2012.28.1 Mary Quant Day Dress c. 1964, British FHCC Purchase

2012.28.1
Mary Quant
Day Dress
c. 1964, British
FHCC Purchase

Immortal Beauty: Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection was made possible by the financial support of the Richard C. von Hess Foundation, a Philadelphia-based non-profit organization founded by an award-winning art director, Richard C. von Hess, known for shaping the look of the architectural publication Tone Magazine for Armstrong World Industries. The Foundation provides support to a wide variety of major museums and cultural organizations for conservation, exhibitions and publications and awards the prestigious von Hess Travel Scholarship to an outstanding fine arts student each year at both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the University of the Arts.

Callot Soeur

The Fox Historic Costume Collection has lent to many prominent exhibitions around the globe, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Musée de la Mode et du Textile, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The Museum at FIT. This October, the FHCC will finally have and exhibition to call its own, one that I hope will spur more interdisciplinary research, donations, and funding for future projects.  I hope you will be able to join us here in Philadelphia.

Immortal Beauty: Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection will be on display from October 2 through December 12 in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design’s Leonard Pearlstein Gallery (3401 Filbert St.). The gallery is free and open to the public, Tuesday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.

 

Opening image caption: 54.1.260; Callot Soeurs; Detail of Evening Dress; 1926, French; Gift of Mr. Alexander J. Cassatt.

All photos by Michael J. Shepherd.

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