The Michel Arnaud Fashion Photography Archive

Today’s post comes from Registrar Meghan Hansen, who has been working diligently to organize and catalog the FIDM Museum’s Michel Arnaud Fashion Photography Archive. Read her account of digitizing the collection in advance of her Summer 2018 exhibition Capturing the Catwalk: Runway Photography from the Michel Arnaud Archive!

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The FIDM Museum is home to a little-known treasure-trove of haute couture and prêt-a-porter runway photographs, which until recently was rarely seen and never exhibited. The Michel Arnaud Fashion Photography Archive was established with a single donation by Arnaud Associates, the business founded and still maintained by photographer Michel Arnaud. In 2000, the FIDM Museum received two shipments of 35mm slides, totaling over 180,000 photographs. The Archive spans over twenty years (1974-1997) of international fashion shows from Paris, New York, London and Milan.

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Vivienne Westwood, S/S 1991

The FIDM Museum is digitizing the entire collection of slides with the goal of making the photographs available to students, instructors, and researchers for educational purposes. In addition, we plan to bring the images to the general public through an online database on the Museum’s website. Not only does scanning the slides help increase access to an under-utilized collection, it also helps preserve the images for posterity. 35mm slides have an unstable structure, which will eventually degrade, changing the color and turning the image into something quite different from the original.[1] While this process can be slowed down by carefully controlled environmental conditions, the digitization project gives the images a virtually limitless lifetime, as long as the Museum continues to migrate the digital media to new file formats and updated storage devices. It is a long-term investment, which we hope will pay off in increased access and preservation.

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Each slide arrived with a printed label indicating the designer, season, year, and retail collection type. This information adds substantial value to the collection as a resource for researchers, since the garments featured on the runway are accurately identified by artist and date. While physical garments in a museum collection often have a label attached to them, it is rare to find a date, except on some haute couture or tailors’ labels. A fashion historian seeks out primary source material to assist in dating a garment, and runway images are among the most prized sources. As a museum professional dating garments from the 1970s through the 1990s on a regular basis, I look through fashion magazines, clipping files, and books to find images of the same or similar-looking garments—but of course digital resources are far more convenient and efficient. While I am fortunate to have access to Condé Nast’s Vogue Archive as well as several Proquest newspaper databases at the FIDM Library, the available digital resources for runway photographs only go back to the late 1990s or early 2000s. The Arnaud Fashion Photography Archive fills a hole in the timeline of available runway photographs, and I hope that by making it available on the FIDM Museum website, the public will find it an invaluable resource.

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Gianni Versace, S/S 1994

We look forward to having this vast resource available to the public in the near future. Look for our upcoming exhibition, Capturing the Catwalk: Runway Photography from the Michel Arnaud Archive, which will be on view in Summer 2018.

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Dolce & Gabbana, F/W 1993-1994

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Issey Miyake, S/S 1995

[1] Library of Congress, “Care, Handling, and Storage of Photographs,” http://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/photolea.html [Accessed on 9/8/2914].

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