Category Archives: Collection Peek

Iris Van Herpen!! What? You’ve never heard of her?

The depth of Van Herpen’s handwork is astounding. Those sheets of water are actually a part of the dress, and they are plastic manipulated by hand to create the look of splashing water. The rolled leather and metal chains are also created by hand.

I’m learning a lot about Iris Van Herpen right now, in preparation for the incredible fashion exhibit (Iris Van Herpen: Transforming Fashion) opening at my new workplace, the Carnegie Museum of Art, in February.

Believe it or not, this fabric is made from metal gauze! Van Herpen collaborates with textile manufacturers and other artists to create the materials for her designs.

This is a traveling show, curated by the High Museum in Atlanta and the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands so the dresses are already selected and the text is already written, but there are always tasks along the way that require even the curatorial assistant to become knowledgeable about the details of an exhibit.

Of course glass bubbles, coated in silicone are a perfect dress material 🙂

I’m so excited to get the chance to see a gallery space get prepped from the bottom up and installed with 45 couture dresses and all of the fancy lighting to show them off to their fullest!! January is going to be a dream.

This is Iris Van Herpen (Source:

Iris Van Herpen is a young, dutch fashion designer who has an incredible eye for unusual materials, the use of cutting edge technology (like 3-D printing a dress!) and painstakingly beautiful handwork. She’s dressed Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Bjork!

A little more wearable—Van Herpen has created a ready-to-wear line since 2013. This pulls technical elements and materials from her couture collection and uses them in slightly more practical ways.


The Manus X Machina at the Met over the summer featured several of Van Herpen’s designs. This post is just an appetizer.  I’m going to write more about Van Herpen here— as I learn about her. We’ll learn about her work together, and I’ll squeeze in as many gorgeous dress pictures as I can find.

Collection Peek: The Royal Collection Trust (UK)

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Wedding Gown for (Princess) Elizabeth by Norman Hartnell, 1947

If you have a chance to make it over to London before January, there’s  an amazing exhibit of Queen Elizabeth II’s fashions at the Royal Collection Trust. Norman Hartnell’s work is featured heavily–he was the official couturier for the queen for many years (AND A DESIGNER FOR AKSARBEN, TOO!)

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Coronation Gown for Queen Elizabeth II. Norman Hartnell, 1953.




These shoes were given to the princesses (Margaret and Elizabeth) in 1938 by the children of France
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Norman Hartnell, 1960
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State gown. Norman Hartnell, 1962.

Along with Queen Elizabeth’s clothing, the Royal Collection Trust has a wide range of clothing worn by other members of the Royal Family. You can continue to explore these beautiful costume pieces at their online collections website. 243044-1327058632

243052-1327058716There are some sweet doll clothes that are a must see! And an entire group of millinery.

A Peek into a Costume Collection: Ann Lowe dresses at the Museum of the City of New York

If you aren’t from New York, The Museum of the City of New York may sound like an unlikely place to find couture gowns. Think about it for another moment though, and it makes sense. The museum collects garments that were worn by residents of New York City— and some New York City residents with old debut gowns and wedding gowns taking up space in their closets have donated their dresses to this collection. I’m not familiar with their institution’s collection guidelines—-some museum’s rarely purchase items at auction or from collectors and they build their collections through donations (of objects or funds with which to go out and purchase objects).  MCNY is probably large enough to acquire objects through donations and targeted purchases of high quality examples of designers who worked in New York.

This video is a bit of a treat! A fashion history contact passed it along to me a little while ago, and I thought it would be fun to share.

It’s not a long video, but we’ll see the curatorial staff  (Phyllis Magidson—who was a very helpful contact when I had some email questions about their group of Ann Lowe dresses when I was in grad school) at the MCNY as they prepare a number of couture dresses in their collection for professional photography—and there’s a small segment about Ann Lowe.



Phyllis Magidson, Fashion Curator

An ostrich-feathered coat, BALENCIAGA's Peacock gown, a set of dresses designed by Ann Lowe, the first prominent African-American designer (whose works included Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress). Elizabeth Farran Tozer Curator of Costumes & Textiles Phyllis Magidson—whose been with the City Museum for 35 years—shows off some midcentury gems from our #DressingRoomNY project, on view through April 30. #PeopleMW #MuseumWeek

Posted by Museum of the City of New York on Tuesday, March 29, 2016

More Fairy Tale Fashion

Drowning my (mild) sorrows a bit this morning because I’m headed to New York City in early April—-but it’s a day trip for a very neat conference—- 10 blocks away from FIT—so I don’t think—-although I may try—but I don’t think I’ll be able to get over there. 🙁

I wonder how long lunch will be??  😉

To soothe my disappointment, I think this would be a good time for some more brochure!


I work with dresses like this (and fabric originally used in these 18th century dresses) at work, it is so nice to see on on a mannequin, instead of struggling to unpack it (and repack it---which takes three times as long!!) from a storage box!! Such gorgeous silk!
I work with dresses like this (and fabric originally used in these 18th century dresses) at work, but it is so nice to be able to enjoy this dress on on a mannequin, instead of being the cataloguer who is struggling to unpack it (and repack it—which takes three times as long!!) from a storage box so I can take a closer look and photograph it!! Such gorgeous silk!


I haven't stopped to count, but this dress has made it onto this website at least four times? I would wear it everywhere. To work, to Starbucks, out to the curb to get the mail...just simply everywhere. :)
I haven’t stopped to count, but this dress has made it to this website at least four times?  But you don’t mind, right? I *LOVE* this dress. I would wear it everywhere. To work, to Starbucks, out to the curb to get the mail…to Target to pick up laundry detergent…just simply everywhere. And with the fancy bodice? You don’t even need to figure out jewelry.
Practical Prada! This would probably be better for running that errand at Target. The colorful print on this is just lovely! This would definitely be for a fairy who is trying not to call attention to herself—and who is annoyed to have to  run errands with her sister, the idiot looking for the laundry detergent aisle who won’t stop swirling in that  flowing Marchesa gown! This is actually something that I could imagine happening in Target with my own big sister…she’d be the practical one in Prada, of course.

A convertible high heel shoe from the 18th century? I don’t want to wear this—but I do kind of WANT this to still exist

Leather shoe and patten, 1700s V&A Museum T.442-1920

The first time I held a shoe from the 18th century, it was a little silk slipper being passed around my costume history class. Yes, my amazing costumer instructor regularly brought dozens of objects from her personal collection to the Smithsonian Castle (home base for my grad program)  and we handled them and viewed them up close during lectures.

Silk from Spitalfields (England), 1749 Designed by Anna Marie Garthwaite (a very well known fabric designer of that time period). This is a typical Spitalfields silk damask pattern, and the more you see them, the easier it will get to identify them

The little silk slipper was a “straight” which means that it was not shaped especially for a left or right foot and the fabric was a creamy silk damask with a colorful floral design—-probably made from Spitalfields silk. I was actually amazed to see that it was designed to match a dress, and not just a white kid leather slipper,  but matching fabric shoes were actually very common.

An English shoe from the 1730s-1740s in our collection at Winterthur. That’s one of my working photos before it’s cropped and ready for the database.

I’ve never known very much about shoes, but I’m cataloguing some at work right now, I picked them as a plan B one day because the room large enough to lay out full length garments for photography was being used by someone else, so I needed to work with something small.

Pair of Leather and silk Pattens from 1730s-1740s,
Leather and silk pattens with iron bases V&A Museum. The iron ring raises your foot over the mud and muck of an 18th century road. Your pretty silk shoes would remain pristine
Yes, these shoes and pattens were not taking long strolls through the streets of London, but to step out of a carriage and into an opera house? It will do.

I’ve been working with silk and leather ankle boots, children’s boots, silk slippers with very low heels, silk heeled shoes and something kind of amazing. A heeled shoe that fits and ties into a flat leather base. The base is called a patten and it looks sort of like a sandal when it is empty. Add a shoe and you’ve got a high heel shoe that operates more like a flat.

Wouldn’t that be a great idea when you are in heels and it is raining and you are trying to get to the metro or catch a bus or something? 🙂

Women only wore pattens outside, and some were even raised to help navigate through muddy streets—or to at least get you from your carriage to the front door of the opera house, I think.

I couldn’t get enough of these shoes on Thursday, but that patten that impressed me so much actually isn’t original to the shoe—the colorful silk trim doesn’t match and the shoe is too big for it.

Our pair has a patten that doesn’t exactly fit the shoe. Not knowing a whole lot about shoes from this period, I didn’t realize this until I dug into some books and looked for some other examples. That’s one really interesting thing about my line of work. You can think you know SO much about something, and then you can turn a page or two and and realize that you, my dear, are just at the tip of the iceberg and thank goodness you didn’t finish writing this object’s description before you actually did some more digging to see what experts already thought about this design. These two objects are in our collection together to show their function—but they weren’t worn together and now I know that.

Imagine what Nike could have done with this concept! Too bad it fell out of favor before the 1800s.

I STILL didn’t get to Fairy Tale Fashion…but I’ve got the Brochure!!

I don’t think I’m getting to New York in time for Fairy Tale Fashion. Sigh. However, the giveaway FIT brochure has MANY MANY pages. Fifteen objects are represented! So, how about if we take a peek at a few objects every couple of days until we’ve finished?

Some of these were already shown when our fashion correspondent/my big sister shared her visit but now we have the curator Colleen Hill’s descriptions! If you ARE so lucky to be in the NYC area before mid April, don’t let the brochure be enough…head to this exhibit and drool over these beautiful pieces in person!!

A MILLION thanks to our little birdie and informal fashion correspondent! She ALSO happens to be an extraordinarily talented Embroiderix (I think I just made the variation of that word up!) Anyway, you can follow that link and check out her very cool Instagram

I think this one is my favorite!
And can we talk about color on this cloak!? 18th century and SO very bright. A lot of the 18th century silk I work with is still brightly colored, but I don’t know if I’ve seen any wool broadcloth or silk velvet in Winterthur’s collection from this period that is as bright!
And this? Well, I just love this. It reminds me of an early Gunne Sax dress (that is a copy of a 19th century indigo resist pattern–in an 18th century inspired dress style with a faux corset and way too much going on lace and ribbon-wise) that I own that is SO extreme and so bohemian—I wouldn’t be able to wear it anywhere. I look at this and just see a hem that would drag on every piece of city dirt in a NYC street—impractical, but I do love this.


A Peek into a Costume Collection (part one): From bronze ducks to Silk Kimonos—BOSTON edition

In Boston Common: The mystery knitters truly outdid themselves with this—the hats even had pom pons


I was in Boston this week!  It was still freezing there! The bronze ducks in the “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture on Boston Common were well prepared—- they’d been ‘yarn bombed’ with a set of hats and scarves for each little duck.  Too clever to not share.


But this trip reminded me of a beautiful Kimono collection at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and I thought that would be a fun thing to share this week.

Noh costume (nuihaku) Kimono Japanese Edo period 18th or 19th century
Noh costume (atsuita) Kimono Japanese Edo period 18th century (overpainted in late 19th)


This collection is especially interesting because it includes a number of examples from the Meiji period (1868 – 1912). The Meiji period is the first time period where you’ll see a number of synthetic dyes being used in Kimono fabric. I used a number of examples from the MFA’s collection in a grad school research paper about the use of Aniline dyes during the Meiji period—so I thought this would be fun to revisit.

Kimono (uchikake) Japanese Meiji era 1868–80 Synthetic dyes are used in this kimono
Kimono (uchikake)
Meiji era
Synthetic dyes are used in this kimono

But, an unexpected complication popped up while I was browsing for additional information about the MFA’s Kimono collection. Last summer, the MFA introduced an event called “Kimono Wednesday”, which was intended to be a series to share objects in MFA’s fine art collection  with related Japanese textiles from their decorative arts collection.

This didn’t go over very well—or at least, it would be fair to say that the response the museum received about this programming series surprised MFA Boston staff.

An article from the Boston Globe explains more from the protester’s point of view:  And this article may be a more helpful description of the situation.

Cultural appropriation is an incredibly important topic in the museum field. And the protests around this exhibit (from both sides) make some valid points that are worthy for some additional exploration.

So, instead of a light, pretty article about Kimonos at the MFA Boston, I’m going to hold up on my synthetic dye chat and take some time this week and work on a follow up post for next week that will look into the issue of Kimono Wednesday (and the way the museum responded and shifted their programming)  with some more depth.

Kimono (uchikake) Japanese Meiji era late 19th century
Kimono (uchikake)
Meiji era
late 19th century


A peek into a Costume Collection (part two): I didn’t get to Fairy Tale Fashion yet, but a little birdie did…

Marchesa, 2012 Source (for all photos in this article): Charlene Fossum

We don’t exactly have a fashion correspondent here at Hidden Fashion History, but we DO have a helpful little birdie in New York City who can come help out when a wonderful exhibit pops up, and I just can’t make my way to New York. She’s the same connection who can come in handy when an Ann Lowe dress you’ve just bought is WAY too small for your own waist and you’d like to see it on a person—everyone needs a big sister!

So, my big sis took the pictures, and along with that, there’s this article from Women’s Wear Daily — that’s a help because it will fill in one important thing you’ll be missing here—exhibit text–my apologies to the curator, Colleen Hill, because objects are just one part of an exhibit—exhibit labels are everything— and as a museum professional I know how much work it takes to shape and present an exhibit’s story.  But I think we’ll all enjoy getting a closer look at some of the 80 objects in this exhibit, and if you are lucky enough to get to FIT before the show closes in April, drop me a line and let me know what it was like in person!


Snow white’s apple????
Dress in the center: Alexander McQueen, Spring 2010


The 3-D printed Cinderella slipper in real life...
The 3-D printed Cinderella slipper in real life…right in front of Giorgio di Sant’Angelo, dress, The Summer of Jane and Cinderella collection, 1971.


A Peek into a Costume Collection: Run, do not walk to the Fairy Tale Fashion exhibit at FIT

Alexander McQueen…interpreting Rapunzel—I want to wear this!! (Source: The Museum at FIT)
Not a couture cape—-an 18th century cape! (Source: The Museum at FIT)

An exhibit opened at FIT last month that looks AMAZING!

The Museum at FIT’s Fairy Tale Fashion exhibition.

Noritaka Tatehana, Cinderella slipper, 2014. 3-D printed? How cool is this?? (Source: Museum at FIT

It is only up for a few months—and I’m hoping that I can get to it —but I’m also hoping that YOU can get to it if you are close to NYC. My big sister is going this weekend—and also going to a related lecture and tour—she lives in NYC and gets to go to everything all of the time and you may be able to tell that I am typical little sister jealous about this!

At the Museum at FIT, Associate Curator, Colleen Hill selected 80 objects to interpret classic fairytales and in the process she created an astounding scene of color, sparkle and texture.

NOT in the FIT exhibit, so I’m cheating a bit here, but wouldn’t this be a perfect little dress (from around 1815) for Little Red Riding Hood to wear under her cape? This sweet printed cotton dress is in the collection of Winterthur Museum and I photographed this during my current costume catalog assignment—-It closes in the back with two sets of drawstrings and has an adorable apron (or pinafore) and cap I’m a Cataloguer at Winterthur and having an absolute blast working with our costume collection. (Source: Winterthur Museum)

Just from the preview on the FIT website, you can find an interesting mix of couture, historic costume and cutting edge fashion (Cinderella’s slipper with a 3 D printed twist!). I work with historic costumes at work, so it’s especially fun to see that they’ve selected some garments from the 18th century—these are the types of pieces that you do not get to see displayed very often. And the color of this cape is stunning! If you have never taken a close look at 18th century velvet, you are in for a treat!

If you’ve poked around my blog a bit, you’ve seen some Charles James—-this Swan dress is being used in the exhibit to interpret The Swan Maidens.

Because of the fragile nature of textiles, fashion exhibits can have very short exhibition windows.  I am hoping to get to this before it closes in April.

(I will report back if I make my way to see this!)

Fairy Tale Fashion is only up until April 16th—but there will also be a book and I just might let my sister borrow it…


Slightly off topic, but if I’m going to mention the apron/pinafore and cap, it’s only fair to show it to you. The cap is linen, the apron has that same shark tooth trim at the hem and it closes at the back with silk ribbons. (Source: Winterthur Museum)