Out & About: FIDM Museum at the Costume Colloquium III

Curator Kevin Jones and Associate Curator Christina Johnson recently returned from a conference in Florence, Italy. In today's post, Christina recounts their trip, including museum visits, and highlights from her presentation.


Kevin and I traveled to Florence, Italy, last month for Costume
Colloquium III
. My paper, “Doris Langley Moore: Ultimate ‘Woman in Fashion’” had been accepted to the bi-annual colloquium. Every other year, the organizers of the Costume Colloquium select a thematic focus and solicit research on the topic; this year’s theme was ‘Past Dress Future Fashion.'

ChristinaChristina by the Arno River.

I was honored to participate, and so excited to present some of my new research on Doris Langley Moore, a remarkable British woman who was one of the most important costume historians and dealers of the 20th century. I have been fascinated by her for years; I discovered her 1949 book on the history of fashion, The Woman in Fashion, in high school.

2001.31.7 coverCover, The Woman in Fashion. This visual exploration of fashion history was published in 1949.


When I learned The Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection contained garments purchased from Doris Langley Moore that had been worn in her book, and that the Helen Larson Archive contained over 700 letters written between Moore and Larson, I almost hyperventilated due to fashion history overload! I couldn’t wait to start reading the letters and making connections with the objects.

CJ on stageHere you see me giving my paper at the colloquium. And here is a tidbit from what I spoke about: In The Woman in Fashion, Doris mentioned the first dress to enter her collection was this one—given to her by her
mother-in-law after a game of charades in the 1920—modeled by Vivien Leigh (which
just happens to have always been my favorite photograph in the book).

Vivian Leigh  c. 1876 gown worn by Vivien
Leigh in The Woman in Fashion

In the course of reading over the archival letters, I discovered Doris sold
this long-cherished gown to Helen in 1964, and Helen hand-carried it in her
luggage as she flew home to Southern California.

Exhibit15-13Dress, Great Britain, c. 1876. Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection. L2020.7.2

The other speakers were fabulous. Papers ranged from overviews of fashion collections and collecting principles such as that presented by Caroline Bellios and Michal Lynn Shumate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Fashion Resource Center, to conservation issues and historic research topics. One of my favorite papers was given by Deirdre Murphy, Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, who spoke on Queen Victoria’s fancy dress balls. Her exhibition, Victoria Revealed, at Kensington Palace, was one of the highlights of Kevin’s and my trip to London this past summer.

BBBarbara Bundy, Kevin Jones, Christina Johnson at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi

Our Museum Director Barbara Bundy joined us in Florence for the colloquium and we had a lot of fun. In addition to the papers, there were museum visits and events planned every evening. Some highlights included seeing the Gucci handkerchief silk-covered mannequins at the Gucci Museo and having a private tour of the Pucci Archive in the Palazzo Pucci.

Disclosure: I have had an obsession with the Medici Family of Florence since I was a little girl. The conserved burial gown of Eleonora di Toledo (wife of Cosimio I de’ Medici) is on permanent display at the Palazzo Pitti. I am proud to announce I can officially check off seeing this marvelous ensemble from my “Fashion History Pilgrimage” bucket list. We were fortunate to have a tour of the Medici burial clothing gallery with one of the gown’s conservators, Mary Westerman Bulgarella. She described the poor state Eleonora’s gown was in when the tomb was first opened, what it was like to work with renowned dress historian and conservator Janet Arnold on the project, and how laborious the process of turning what was essentially a ball of discolored, shredded fabric into a conserved, stable garment.

In ending this blog entry, I need to say Kevin and I may have eaten more than our fair share of gelato!


4 responses to “Out & About: FIDM Museum at the Costume Colloquium III

  1. Daniel Milford-Cottam says:

    Lovely to know what’s happened to the Vivien Leigh dress from the Langley Moore book – the Fashion Museum in Bath acquired a group of ten dresses from the book a few years ago, which amazed me as I had assumed all DLM’s collection would already be in their collection, but I guess she, like all collectors, bought/resold/rotated/upgraded… although I don’t think I could sell the first ever antique garment I purchased!

    Actually, now I see the Art Fund link, at http://www.artfund.org/what-we-do/art-weve-helped-buy/artwork/9435/ten-dresses , I see that those dresses were also from the Helen Larsson collection, so does the collection own the remaining pieces from the book?

  2. Daniel says:

    Thank you so much for your response! It fascinates me very much too. Amazing to think that so much of it is now in the United States.

  3. Liz Tregenza says:

    Wow. I am so interested in the video that you have posted from Costume Colloquim. I am a bit of a D.L.M addict, and it was so interesting to find out a little bit more about where some of her pieces ended up.

    Whilst studying for my undergraduate degree I wrote my dissertation about wearing historical dress, so understandably D.L.M and the use of her costume collection for both Woman in fashion and her tv series was hugely important to me. Whilst I was doing this I was hunting for the pieces in her collection that were used in the Woman in fashion, but didn’t get all that far (I found a few of the pieces that had been sold at auction). It is great to know where so many pieces from the collection ended up.

    I think D.L.M has to be one of the most important mid 20th century fashion historians, I love her approach and her scholarly position. Unlike Laver and Cunnington her views were not clouded by psychological theory (I’m just re-reading Laver’s Taste and Fashion now, for my masters.)

    I was particularly interested that you mention writing a book about D.L.M I REALLY hope this happens. There is so much to be said about Moore, not just as a collector and historian, but how she used her position in society to her advantage. I am also fascinated by the variety of models she had in Woman In Fashion in particular.

    Kind regards,

    (A fellow DLM obsessive) Liz Tregenza

  4. Bert Hamelin says:

    I work in theater costuming and had the great good fortune to work with Lynn Redgrave several years before her death. I had purchased The Woman in Fashion book from an antique book dealer in New Haven, CT and mentioned it to Lynn at one of our fittings. she hadn’t seen the book in many, many years and when I brought it in to show her, she told me a delightful story about the wax doll she is holding in her hand in the her photo. It had been a very hot day and the doll was made of wax and melted, much to her disappointment. She told me I needed to find The Child in Fashion as her brother appears in it along with Lynn and her sister, Vanessa and he was not happy about being recruited for the job.

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