A stitch from time
December 12, 2014
In the Kerr Hall West office where the Fashion Research Collection resides, Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator at the School of Fashion, pulled back a sheet to reveal three thin, colourful dresses. “One of the most common requests I get from students are to see 1920s dresses,” said Mida.
“They’re made on really flimsy chiffon fabric. The beading is so delicate, the weight of the beads usually pulls these things totally apart, and they just shred into tatters. Before this donation I only had one in the collection and now I have about 20, and can offer students the chance to look up close, study how it was made, or use the designs as inspiration to create something totally new.”
These dresses are just a small part of two major donations to the School of Fashion that will expand the depth and breadth of its Fashion Research Collection: 60 costumes from the National Ballet of Canada, and 600 garments and accessories from the Cleaver-Suddon collection, with garments dating back to the 1820s.
The National Ballet’s donations includes costumes from some of its most acclaimed productions, including The Nutracker (1964), Swan Lake (1967), Sleeping Beauty (1972), The Merry Widow (1986) and Elite Syncopations (1978 and 1990). More than just clothing, these costumes chart the history of one of Canada’s most venerable arts institutions, with dancers’ names (Jame Kudelka, Rex Harrington, Veronica Tenant, and others) sewn inside.
The Cleaver-Suddon donation is comprised of artifacts collected by the late Alan Suddon (fine arts librarian at the Toronto Reference Library) and then acquired after his death in 2001 by Professor Emeritus Katherine Cleaver. Items include an embroidered silk Holt Renfrew evening coat from the ’20s; a black silk and wool bathing suit, c. 1900-1910; an ostrich feather fan with pencil from the 1890s; and an apple green silk dress ensemble from 1860, which, after being tested in Ryerson’s physics lab, was revealed to include arsenic. Fashion professor Dr. Alison Matthew David studied the dress for her current Fashion Victims exhibit at the Bata Shoe Museum.
“Ingrid is amazing at giving access to student and faculty,” said David. “Hopefully some of the new donations will be of interest to our master’s students in particular, and will lead to major research projects.”
The donations are the culmination of the School of Fashion’s attempt to make its Fashion Research Collection more accessible for research – a process that began with its move from library storage in 2012. The donations have arrived after two years of negotiation, and Mida has already seen them spark cross-disciplinary collaboration.
“I have students come from Interior Design who want to see textile patterns,” said Mida. “These garments are also of interest to students from the English and History departments, because clothing pervades many realms of our lives. There are stories embedded in all of these garments”.
“Even if you aren’t particularly interested in a coat, but you want to research Holt Renfrew as a business enterprise, that’s one object that can enrich your study of the manufacturing process. Embedded in that one coat can be a chapter of a book.”