A Step Ahead of the Competition


As we've discussed here, here and here, many of the objects in our collection are donated. Our donors are extremely generous, and we've been gifted with many wonderful pieces over the years. To round out our collections, we also purchase objects. In this post, FIDM Museum curator Kevin Jones describes this process and reveals how his extraordinary patience helped bring an unusual pair of 1959 Roger Vivier evening shoes into our collection. These shoes are featured in both FABULOUS! and the companion catalogue.

2009550abEvening shoes
Paris, France, 1959
Roger Vivier for Christian Dior
Kingfisher feathers & leather
Museum purchase

As a curator, one of my many activities is to collect fashion-related objects for the FIDM Museum. This is a time-consuming, but exciting job that puts me in contact with all sorts of interesting people: donors with family heirlooms, auction houses, dealers, and private collectors with treasures to sell. The current FIDM Museum exhibition FABULOUS! Ten Years of FIDM Museum Acquisitions, 2000-2010 is our first show displaying the complete range of object types that we collect: men’s, women’s, and children’s garments; accessories; jewelry; textiles; fragrance packaging; Hollywood-related costumes; and ephemera. The museum staff is currently completing an inventory of our holdings, which we estimate to be about 15,000 objects.

One question I’m often asked is how do I find the objects the museum purchases? The answer is complicated. Unless an evening gown or pair of shoes comes up in a public auction that is easily accessible through the Internet, or geographically close enough for me to attend, it takes a lot of sleuthing and plain good luck to find desirable objects. At auction, it is easier to purchase here in the United States than in Europe. It’s very risky to buy something that can’t be previewed and examined in-person. Hidden damage or alterations are easily masked in a photograph or left out of a description. I rely on a network of colleagues in the vintage clothing market to help with my quests. If I can’t make it to the East Coast for an auction, I often ask a trusted friend to examine an object of interest and report back to me. Over time, I have gotten to know many dealers and they have learned of the types of pieces I’m looking for to use in an exhibition or to fill a hole within the museum’s collection. There is a great deal of competition with other museums and collectors to acquire rare objects, particularly early-nineteenth-century women’s clothing, menswear, and dynamic accessories. Sometimes an object of desire is found and it is offered to the FIDM Museum first, before other collectors or institutions, because of the strong relationship that exists with the owner.

2009550ab-22009.5.50AB heel detail

A case in point is this pair of Roger Vivier (1907-1998) shoes created in 1959 for the house of Dior. They were featured in L’Officiel de la Couture, along with a number of other Vivier creations. This particular pair is iconic because of their extreme silhouette and material decoration. Vivier was known for inventing sculptural heels for his shoes, such as the “Choc” or “shocking” heels on these pumps. Also, the blue/green iridescent kingfisher feathers decorating the exteriors are highly unusual and would be illegal to use today. All in all, a very desirable pair of shoes of which only one other pair is known at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So how did I find them? This is where the luck I mentioned earlier comes in.

I was invited to examine a private collection in Los Angeles where I first saw the shoes displayed in a glass vitrine. Instantly, my “I want it” mode kicked in. I let the collector know that I was very interested in the shoes and that should they be available for purchase someday, I would appreciate first right of refusal. Eight years later, I was able to acquire the Vivier shoes. Curators must have a lot of patience! There are many objects of desire, but they don’t always become available at opportune times or when there is funding. Happily, in this instance, patience (and payment) paid off.

I’m always on the lookout for FABULOUS! fashions, and I keep a tally in my mind of objects that I’m tracking in hopes of acquiring for the FIDM Museum someday. Do you have anything to tempt me?!

DSC_4315This photo appeared in the December 1959 issue of L'Officiel de la Couture t de la Mode de Paris. A single Roger Vivier kingfisher choc shoe rests inside the shoebox.
Philippe Pottier, Photographer
©L’Officiel de la Couture et la Mode de Paris


3 responses to “A Step Ahead of the Competition

  1. Great post and great find! Any idea how much the shoes cost back then?

    Question: Would cost be a factor when the museum decide what and how much to purchase? i.e. operation budget only allows the museum to buy 6 items instead of 10.

    I have also seen eBay auctions with sellers purporting that they are selling on behalf of museums clothing that are deemed not special enough to remain in the collection. Does the FIDM have similar practice in editing your museum collection?

  2. Rachel,

    Thank you for your detailed answers!
    It’s nice to learn something new.


  3. Connie Fischer says:

    Those shoes are gorgeous. What fun it would be just to try them on. So happy to see how well-preserved they are.

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