The three Fall 2022 exhibits in Colorado State University’s Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising celebrate the fashion and fragility of clothing and the process the museum undertakes to become keepers of such objects. They also take inspiration from a designer who became better known as the author of an annual list of “worst dressed” female celebrities that was published for more than 40 years and skewered rich and famous funny fashion fails.
The three exhibitions — The Ravages of Time, In The Public Trust and Mr. Blackwell: From Inspiration to Innovation — are open to the public and will be on view through Dec. 17, 2022. See the museum’s website for the Avenir’s hours and location.
The Avenir Museum houses more than 25,000 objects of historic apparel and textiles.
The Ravages of Time, curated by museum volunteers Jan Alexander and Marcella Wells, includes items from an 1830 wool sheet to a 1980s nylon jacket. The collection invites speculation about the people and times connected with the items.
“For me, one of the special garments in the exhibit is a 1917-18 black-beaded dress,” Wells said. “Some of the beads on this dress are made from jet — ancient fossilized wood. As these beads age, they turn milky gray, mostly from oxidization over the decades.
“To view this exquisite century-old beaded dress which was once a favorite of some young lady, stimulates the imagination as to where she wore that dress and what memories are stored in those milky gray beads.”
‘One can only imagine’
For Alexander, a 1915 three-piece silk suit that came from the Brooklyn Museum and the wool sheet both sparked her imagination.
“I have come to realize that objects have stories,” she said. “Not all of what comes to mind when examining a piece can be proven scientifically. One can only imagine.
“What fascinates me is the unusually large waistline the skirt has, especially as compared to the tiny waistlines of so many other pieces in our collection and of that era. I believe that it is 38 inches in diameter. The suit is exquisitely detailed both inside and out and custom-fitted to the woman that wore it. I can’t help but imagine that this woman was important and commanded attention when she entered a room.”
Conversely, Alexander said the 78-inch square wool sheet made in 1830s England made her wonder about its production.
The shape and size are “unusual for a woven piece of the suspected time period that it is from,” she said. “The wool threads are also hand spun. To produce this article was very laborious. What comes to mind for me is, what were the conditions under which this piece was produced?”
Perils faced by historic garments
Wells said the museum’s volunteers are honored to view, inventory and handle items for teaching, exhibition and preservation.
“We see pristine items that show very little evidence of wear or degradation, but we also see fragile items that sometimes have serious issues with staining, rips/tears/fabric stress, creasing, and other forms of aging,” she said. “We wanted to showcase some of the items in the collection that exemplify how objects age and how the museum cares for these items.
“This is an aspect of the collection that visitors seldom see, and it is relevant for each of us who purchase and wear clothing every day to contemplate what the afterlife of these objects might be.”
Megan Osborne, assistant curator and collections manager at the Avenir, said the items in Ravages of Time are used in various courses and have come from various donors during the past 40 years.
“The primary goal of this exhibition is to explore how objects have changed or been damaged over time,” Osborne said. “The hope is to educate visitors about the many perils faced by historic garments and how the museum cares for these objects in order to extend their life and share them with CSU students and the community.”
Research and interpretation
In the Public Trust is an examination of the accession process by which objects become a legal part of the museum’s collection, according to Brooklyn Benjamin, an M.S. student in the Department of Design and Merchandising, who also is a graduate teaching assistant and graduate collections assistant.
Benjamin completed the independent study in her second year in the graduate program. “The exhibit connects the material aspects of the objects on display with museum processes that happen in the back workspaces,” she said. “One of the goals of the exhibit is to highlight the limitless potential that clothing and textile objects have in terms of research and interpretation.”
Benjamin said the exhibit will be accompanied by a two-part event series called “Collector Conversations” that pairs a museum professional from a campus collecting institution and one museum professional from a community collecting institution for a moderated discussion.
The dates for these museum events funded by the Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment Fund are 7 p.m. Nov. 10 and 7 p.m. Dec. 8. They are free to attend and will take place in the Linda L. Carlson Classroom – Room 157 at the Avenir.
Other Avenir programming includes a welcoming of assistant professor Paula Alaszkiewicz, the museum’s new curator. At 7 p.m. Sept. 15, Alaszkiewicz will introduce herself with a fascinating presentation on her research interests in apparel history. In addition, on Oct. 6, the Avenir Museum will host a ticketed cocktail event in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of fashion designer Mr. Blackwell.
In celebration of Mr. Blackwell’s 100th birthday
Osborne said the Avenir Museum is home to the largest publicly held collection of apparel from Mr. Blackwell, a fashion designer active from the 1960s to the 1980s who died in 2008. He became more famous for his “worst-dressed” list but first impacted the industry with his work.
Osborne said the museum engages students in using and learning from the historic apparel and textile collection when possible, collaborating with DM faculty and other campus departments to access and incorporate the collection into academic coursework.
“The project recognizes Mr. Blackwell’s longtime support and contributions to CSU and celebrates his passion for fostering the next generation of designers,” Osborne said. “This interdisciplinary project allowed students to learn specific fashion-related technologies across three different apparel design courses.”
Join us for a celebration honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of fashion designer Mr. Blackwell. Hear stories of the legendary designer from those of us at CSU who knew him best and from the Apparel Design students who have been inspired by his legacy.
When: 6-8:30 p.m. Oct. 6; program begins at 6:45 p.m.
Food/drink: Heavy hors d’oeuvres; Wine-Beer-Signature Cocktail
Ticket price: $50; Registration and ticket purchasing information coming soon
Attire: Will you make the best dressed list? Formal ‘Black(well) Tie’ attire encouraged
A major goal of the project was to digitize 42 master flat patterns created by Mr. Blackwell’s design company, which are now part of the Blackwell Archive in the Avenir Museum’s permanent collection.
Students studied the collection’s color, textile design and surface embellishment to create a collection of textile prints and finished garments inspired by Blackwell designs.
The Blackwell exhibition features 11 original Blackwell garments alongside 22 garments created by Department of Design and Merchandising students that were inspired by the original Blackwell pieces.
Osborne said the end result is the celebratory culmination of students’ academic inquiry, collaboration, creativity and use of new technologies to create modern silhouettes inspired by a popular culture-fashion-icon of the mid-20th century.
The Department of Design and Merchandising is part of the College of Health and Human Sciences.