Avenir Museum dedicates time to building professional catalog of collection pieces

Mannequins lined up waiting to get photographed in Avenir Museum large gallery.In November, the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising partnered with Colorado State University Creative Services to professionally photograph and document one of their extensive collections from designer, Arnold Scaasi. Scaasi was prominent in the 80s and 90s having designed outfits for first ladies and famous A-listers at the time. The Avenir Museum is fortunate to have 43 stunning pieces as part of their permanent collection.

Why digitize?

In wake of the pandemic, the Avenir Museum’s regular exhibit schedule was impacted, moving the planned Arnold Scaasi exhibit to a later date. However, with the pieces having already been staged for exhibition there was a great opportunity that emerged despite the unfortunate nature of having to postpone an exhibit. A long term goal for the Avenir Museum is to professionally photograph and digitize the collection pieces. The vision of Katie Knowles, museum curator, is to create a digital catalog of our items that can provide access to our incredible collection worldwide. Photographing the 43 Arnold Scaasi pieces brings that vision one step closer to becoming a reality.

Photography process and planning

Our incredible partners in CSU’s Creative Services have worked with us for years to develop a process to help us professionally photograph and catalog artifacts in the collection. As common care principles for museum textile collections, there are some basic work-arounds the museum has to adhere to in order to protect the artifacts – one of which is that the artifacts cannot leave the safe humidified environment of the museum walls. For this reason Creative Services has to bring their studio equipment over to the museum and set up for the photoshoot. Typically the photoshoot space is set up in our classroom, but due to the pandemic, the tables and chairs measure exactly six feet apart to ensure proper social distancing for the increased number of classes for the Department of Design and Merchandising that are being taught in the space. Fortunately and sadly, since there is not currently an exhibit set up in the large gallery, the museum and Creative Services were able to utilize that space as its set.

Dressing and staging the garmentsDr. Knowles dressing a Scaasi outfit on photography set.

Prepping for 43 garments to be photographed is quite a process. Each garment needs to be placed on a mannequin that appropriately fits the size of the garment. The Avenir Museum has three different sized mannequins that are used to ensure a good fit for the garment can be achieved. Sometimes, the garment still needs to be padded out to make sure the photos show the artifact dressed as realistically as it would be on a human body. In addition, each mannequin size comes with a variety of legs, arms and hands posed in different ways so the dresser can style each garment uniquely.

For nearly a month, the Avenir Museum’s student worker, Miles Harrison, worked to stage the collection pieces on the different mannequins to ensure a good fit was achieved for photography day. Harrison mentioned to Katie Knowles, museum curator, that having this as a project really helped him in his other Design and Merchandising courses because it allowed him to see firsthand some of the unique construction techniques he has learned about in the Scaasi collection pieces. In addition to his personal learning, another benefit to having Harrison stage these garments was to have as many pieces staged and ready for photography as possible, giving Knowles and Heather Short, visitor services and venue coordinator, time to dress other pieces while those already staged could be photographed.

professional photograph of Arnold Scassi Tartan coatThe overall experience

For Short, the experience was a new and incredibly interesting one to be a part of.

“There is a lot of moving parts to prep for a day of photography for museum artifacts that you don’t realize how much goes into it,” Short said. “From the hauling of many, many mannequins from museum storage, to the setting up of the final dressed piece on the backdrop and assisting the clothes to lay flat took a lot of team work to ensure this vision becomes a reality.”

The museum prepped for two days of photography with creative services photographer, Joe Mendoza, and used nearly the entire time to get all 43 pieces photographed. Short went on to describe the day, “It is a truly special moment when you get to experience these priceless artifacts get dressed. You can see the personality of the garment come to life as the designer intended, in a way it has not in a very long time. My personal favorite was the tartan coat and matching dress with floral embellishment. The construction detail of matching the tartan fabric up perfectly is so beautiful.”Tartan collar close up of the Arnold Scaasi wool coat

As the museum collection continues to grow and virtual experiences become more and more commonplace due to the pandemic, the museum hopes to capture more of the collection pieces to further facilitate bringing the collection to life in a virtual space. For now, keep an eye open for the Scaasi exhibit the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising will host in the near future.

The Department of Design and Merchandising is in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.