Larson Collection FAQs

FAQ

Who was Helen Larson?

Helen Larson was a wife, mother, and successful entrepreneur from Whittier, California who deeply appreciated the cultural importance of fashion history. A passionate collector, she amassed an unparalleled compilation of rare historical clothing over a 50-year period, from the 1940s until her death in 1998. Larson’s frequent trips to Europe allowed her to acquire important royal garments. In order to fund her collecting, Larson started a costume rental business for Hollywood studios; the costumes she provided can be seen in movies such as My Fair Lady (1960) and The Great Gatsby (1970). Larson was truly a remarkable woman: self-trained historian, collector, business owner, and homemaker.

What pieces are in her collection?

The collection encompasses more than 400 years of fashion, including women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing and accessories from the United States and Europe. The earliest piece is a rare 17th-century man’s jerkin. Among the notable objects are garments associated with Queens Victoria, Alexandra, and Mary of England; Czarina Marie of Russia; and Empress Eugenie of France. Major haute couture designers including Worth, Doucet, Pingat, Fortuny, Paquin, Poiret, and Chanel are represented

Why does the FIDM Museum want her collection?

Acquiring the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection will launch the FIDM Museum into the international realm of European fashion studies. It will double the chronological scope of the museum’s collection. Additionally, the collection comes with Helen’s collecting archive: photographs, letters, inventories, and purchase receipts that trace the provenance of the garments, making the collection all the more valuable to fashion historians.

What will the FIDM Museum do with her collection?

In the four years the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection has been in the FIDM Museum’s care, we have curated 14 rotating exhibitions that shared these awe-inspiring pieces with museum visitors. The FIDM Museum staff and visiting scholars have used the collection for extensive research disseminated at academic conferences in the United States and abroad, in addition to local lectures. Our curators plan a major exhibition with an accompanying catalog as well as a book series to further showcase the collection. The possibilities for future projects are endless.

What is the FIDM Museum?

The FIDM Museum & Galleries was established as a nonprofit in 1978 to provide a research facility for students, scholars, designers, and the public. Housed within the Los Angeles campus of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, the 15,000-piece collection spans 200 years of fashion history, including couture and ready-to-wear, non-western dress, film costumes, textiles, jewelry, fragrance, and accessories. The Museum mounts two major exhibitions each year, in addition to smaller installations, conferences, lectures, and special events. The FIDM Museum is committed to the development of educational exhibitions that explore the relationship of fashion with the arts, history, society, and technology.

Are these items real clothing or “costumes”?

All of the pieces in this collection are authentic, historic clothing worn by real people. Helen did operate a movie costume rental business; however, those costumes are not in this collection.

Where will my donation go?

Your tax-deductible donation to the FIDM Museum will go directly toward the Larson Collection acquisition fund. Should we fail to buy the Larson collection, your donation will be used to purchase new acquisitions for the FIDM Museum Permanent Collection.

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