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Exclusive Interview with FIDM Museum Curator Kevin Jones – High Low Vintage

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DEPARTURES MAGAZINE recently ranked the FIDM Museum & Galleries as one of the
top 10 fashion museums in the world. That’s quite an honor and well deserved. What
aspects of the museum do you think bring this kind of recognition?

It’s our connection with Hollywood and that we do the Hollywood exhibition every
year. It brings a great deal of recognition, both nationally and internationally. And
it’s a great thing since so many of our students come to FIDM to specifically study
costume design for movies, television and theater. To be able to rely on seeing
another crop of great designs and have them right in front of you – they aren’t
reproductions, they’re the costumes actually worn in those films. And for a student
to compare them in person vs. what they look like on film is great because they
often look different.

FIDM also does other exhibitions from our own collection or on loan to us because
we don’t just have a gallery space but
we also have a fully functioning museum
with 15,000 pieces that spans 200 years. Also, they’re looking at us online via the

FIDM Blog which is considered one of the best out there. We publish also: we just
produced our first acquisition exhibition which covered pieces we acquired from
2000 to 2010. To accompany it we published a huge 380 page catalogue that
covers fashion for 210 years from 1800 to 2010. It includes
men’s, women’s and
children’s fashion. Not a lot of institutions have the ability to bring out a catalogue
like that based on their own collection.

-Your current exhibition, “The Art of Motion Picture Costume Design,” includes
over 100 costumes from this year’s Oscar nominated films…and it’s free to the
public. What was its genesis and is it a challenge every year to top the last exhibit?

It’s not that we try to top it every year, but that it tops itself. And the reason is
that we always have a new crop of great movies that come out and the exhibition
is always different. We don’t always know which movies will be represented. Like
for this current exhibit we were anticipating having THE GREAT GATSBY but the
film was delayed and is now coming out next month so we’ll have that film
represented at next year’s exhibition. There’s always a surprise.

-Could you speak a bit about the museum’s overall collection and how it started?

It started in 1973 as, basically, a closet. The fashion design department at FIDM
needed something physical to show examples to students of what it was they
would be working on. If they’re working on dolman sleeves they need
an example.
So the fashion design department started to ransack their own closets and bring
things in. And then it grew and in 1977 they thought they should establish an
actual collection and museum and in 1978 it became the non-profit FIDM
Museum Foundation.

Betsy Bloomingdale and Rudi Gernreich were early supporters of the museum
and donated sizable collections. 

Betsy was actually one of the founding donors that first year. And she’s
continued to give to us over the years all the way up to last year. She’s been
very, very generous. And, of course, we did a huge exhibition on her plus a
catalogue and documentary on her haute couture.

Rudi was based here in Los Angeles. And the administration at FIDM knew
him so there was a connection. He passed away in ’85 and his estate was
then donated to the museum. And then later in 90/91 his partner passed
away and the remainder of the collection came here as well. It’s a
extraordinary collection. There are materials here that are nowhere else.

-Does the Museum purchase items at auction and from collectors or
is everything donated?

It’s like any museum with historical dress: maybe 1% is on exhibit at
any one time. And that’s simply because the pieces can easily be damaged.
Light is the worst thing and over time there’s nothing you can do about it
so you have to be very protective of the garments.

As to purchasing, absolutely. There are pieces out there that are just not
going to walk in the door. And if they do it’s a extraordinarily rare occurrence.
Particularly older objects going back to the 18
th and 19th centuries – those
are items that generally don’t get donated very often.

-What is the rarest item in your permanent collection?

That’s so hard to answer since we have so many rare pieces. I mean, you
look at the Rudi Gernreich pieces…we have the first topless bathing suit.
Not the topless bathing suit you’re thinking of but we have one even earlier
and it was the only one that was created. Very few people know about it.
The one that everyone knows about is from 1964 with Peggy Moffit wearing
it…ours was produced the same year but earlier. And we have extraordinarily rare
haute couture pieces. We commissioned the
Alexander McQueen Peacock Dress and that’s
unbelievably rare. We have the
Madame Olympe dress from 1866 that’s
incredibly rare; the only other one that’s survived is in the Metropolitan Museum
in New York. And these two dresses are the earliest American labeled dresses known.

-This year’s Film Costume exhibit ends April 27th….so anyone that lives
in or is visiting Southern California needs to visit soon! FIDM’s next big
event is the 7th Annual Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design…
opening in July of this year. Make plans now to visit this exhibit that
focuses on costumes of some of the most popular television series of 2012.