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Monday, March 31, 2014

Zandra Rhodes, Cinderella, and the Goldstein



Fiber into Fantasy14.jpgZandra Rhodes' dresses on display in the GMD exhibition Fiber Into Fantasy (1999), curated by Marilyn DeLong.


by Natasha Thoreson

In 1991, Zandra Rhodes was commissioned to create the Chicago Marshall Field's flagship store holiday extravaganza display. The year's theme was Cinderella, so the London-based designer crafted 12 larger-than-life sparkling ball gowns that were then mounted on custom-made gold mannequins to tell the famous rags-to-riches story. After the holidays, the dresses eventually made their way - via Marshall Field's, Dayton's, and Target - to the Goldstein Museum of Design.


Fiber into Fastasy7.jpgRhodes' dresses on display in the GMD exhibition Fiber Into Fantasy (1999), curated by Marilyn DeLong.

Twenty-three years later, the unique dresses were introduced to me and four of my classmates in Dr. Marilyn DeLong's Material Culture and Design course. For the next year, Dr. DeLong, Mary Alice Casto, Seoha Min, Harini Ramaswamy, Meghan McKinney, and I worked together to research the dresses and the department store holiday display phenomenon. Our work will be published in an upcoming issue of Fashion, Style & Popular Culture. Here are some of the group's reflections on the process of working on this project at the Goldstein.


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FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Dr. DeLong: I first encountered the Zandra Rhodes dresses when they were donated to the GMD. They were fantasy dresses with historic references - not the usual donation. They offered insight into the theater involved in department store displays with their exuberant materials, frills, and glitter.

Mary Alice: Upon first seeing the dresses, they seemed quite costume-like though hard to determine where such a costume might be worn, they were so over the top.... the detail work for the painted designs on the fabric I always thought was spectacular.


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GROUP EFFORT
Dr. DeLong: The opportunity to research the dresses came when I taught the Material Culture and Design class. They offered an interesting comparison with the Zandra Rhodes artifacts already in the GMD historic costume collection and, as it turned out, the research completed by the students was worthy of publication.

Seoha: We had intense discussions regarding the objects and everything about the objects. It was really helpful because it is important to have different people's perspectives to analyze the hidden meaning of one object. Moreover, it was really an opportunity to learn how to collaborate with classmates.

Harini: This gave me the opportunity to analyze the different cultural influences, surprise elements and "the Zandra oomph" that manifested in her clothes. Zandra's dresses simply reflected her identity - a fun loving, expressive, one-of-a-kind designer with a vivid imagination. Her dresses also reflect that she is bold and adventuresome. She often breaks the rules and is unafraid to embrace the unconventional.


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CHALLENGES
Meghan: Finding photographs of the original Zandra Rhodes display proved to be next to impossible! It predates the widespread use of the Internet by enough years to make it difficult to find photographs online, but it didn't take place so long ago that people are beginning to scan photos as nostalgic items from their pasts.


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FINAL REFLECTIONS
Harini: Putting myself in the shoes of a child, I would be really enchanted and fascinated to witness the original display. As a child, I remember being drawn to fairy tales and this would definitely be something memorable.

Mary Alice: I think the original display must have been the stuff of fairytales and fantasy as they were intended, everything to make a little girl smile.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Welcome to New Team Digi Photographer!



Thanks to ongoing financial support from people like you, we are able to continue to digitize the GMD's extensive collection of over 30,000 items of apparel, textiles, furniture, decorative arts, and more. The digitization team (fondly known in-house as "Team Digi") makes it possible for you to see the collection online, no matter where you are. This March we have the pleasure of welcoming a brand new photographer, Ellen Skoro, to the team.


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Until it closed last summer, Ellen was a photography instructor and administrator at the College of Visual Arts in Saint Paul. With a Masters degree from Minneapolis College of Art and Design and a Bachelors degree from Columbus College of Art and Design, Ellen has extensive experience as a freelance photographer. Her personal work, which can be seen at ellenskoro.com, focuses on portraiture. She was recently awarded a Minnesota State Arts Board (MSAB) Artist Initiative grant to finish a six-year portrait project. Her other work has revolved around capturing still lifes of objects, experience that will translate directly to photographing the GMD collection.


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Currently, Team Digi is photographing a variety of textiles from the collection. In order to create the illusion that the pieces are lying flat or magically floating in a void, the team must create an elaborate setup consisting of black panels and fabric-covered bars propped against the wall at just the right angle. Following the same protocol that has been in place for the objects that have been photographed in the past, the team meticulously calibrates the camera and shoots with powerful strobes in soft boxes. Undaunted by the complexity of this challenge, Ellen instead is exhilarated. "This museum is so cool! I'm really excited to be here!" she tells us. We couldn't agree more.


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To date, 6,000 objects (or 20% of the collection) have been photographed and can be viewed online. You can now contribute directly to the continuation of this project. Visit http://goldstein.design.umn.edu/support/sponsor/ to help make our collection accessible anywhere in the world.


Visit http://goldstein.design.umn.edu/ to search the collection.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

GMD Inspires Volunteer and Blogger to Get Things Sewn



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by Paula DeGrand

I've been volunteering in the Goldstein Museum of Design Research Center most Tuesday mornings for a year and a half. I recently finished working with a couple thousand donor files. The files I saw each week contain the paperwork – deeds of gift, acknowledgment letters, and inventories of donations – involved in changing the ownership of property. What an interesting way to learn about a collection!

Over the months, I found not only deeds of gift and acknowledgment letters, but yellowed newspaper clippings of wedding announcements, faded portraits of wearers in their finery, fabric swatches, receipts for a suit tailored in Shanghai a century ago and for lingerie from Deco-era Paris. As I worked my way through these files, I couldn't resist seeing whether certain donations had been photographed and were included in GMD's online collection database. When they had, I could count on properly prepared and lighted garments and accessories that had been photographed in beautiful detail. I construct clothes from 1930s, '40s, and '50s patterns and am always excited to find and share documentation of aesthetic choices and technical solutions from those periods. GMD's photographs are simply great ways to see these details.

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The photographs are so inspiring and instructive that when I started my blog, Getting Things Sewn, a year ago, I created a feature, "Backstage at the Goldstein," to showcase garments I'd discovered during this project. Using these photographs, I have brought to my readers' attention curved welt pockets, bound buttonholes, and a whimsical yet sophisticated use of polka dots. Invited to look closely, even my readers who don't sew have responded with surprise, enjoyment, and curiosity.

It puts a smile on my face to remember walking into the Research Center and seeing, close-up, clothing and accessories not only by the best-known designers but also by skilled dressmakers and home sewers whose names are unknown to us today. Thank you, Goldstein staff, for preserving these precious items.


Visit http://gettingthingssewn.com/tag/goldstein-museum-of-design/ to read more about Paula's explorations of the GMD collection and to see the projects it has inspired.