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Society & Culture

A Century of Philadelphia Fashion from Drexel’s Fox Historic Costume Collection on Display at Michener Art Museum

January 26, 2016

A hat designed by Hattie Carnegie in 1960 from the Fox Historic Costume Collection.
A hat designed by Hattie Carnegie in 1960 from the Fox Historic Costume Collection.

A stunning collection of clothing and accessories created, worn and sold in Philadelphia from 1896 to 1994 will be on display from March 13 – June 26 as part of Philadelphia in Style: A Century of Fashion from the Robert & Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection, Drexel University at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa.

The special exhibition of dresses, wedding gowns, shoes, hats and other items will be drawn from Drexel University’s Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection (FHCC) in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, which will loan the items from its holdings of more than 14,000 garments, accessories and textiles from the last three centuries.

The exhibition builds on the success of Immortal Beauty, the first large-scale, retrospective exhibition of highlights from the Fox Historic Costume Collection, which was on display in Drexel’s Leonard Pearlstein Gallery from Oct. – Dec. 2015, but will feature entirely different items from the collection’s unseen riches. Immortal Beauty attracted thousands of visitors and received rave reviews from the Wall Street Journal, Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia STYLE, among others. 

Skirt suits by Chanel and Dior, and a printed silk crepe evening dress from 1929.
Skirt suits by Chanel and Dior, and a printed silk crepe evening dress from 1929.

Philadelphia in Style: A Century of Fashion from the Robert & Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection, Drexel University illuminates the rich sartorial legacy of a city that has often been overshadowed by New York, but in reality has played a significant role in American fashion: Philadelphia has long been an influential design center, an incubator for leading fashion design talent and a home to stylish women.

The exhibition chronicles the shift in the history of fashion, from the practice of employing dressmakers and tailors—with whom many women developed strong personal relationships—to the rise of ready-to-wear clothing from local department stores and other fashion retailers, leading to a new urban pastime: shopping.

“The FHCC is a collection of enormous historic and aesthetic significance, but had previously only been seen by a select few,” said Clare Sauro, curator of the Fox Historic Costume Collection. “Immortal Beauty allowed us to introduce ourselves to the world, but this exhibition will turn the spotlight on Philadelphia fashion, which – having been shaped by the great tastemakers of Philadelphia – is the foundation of our collection.”

A Strawbridge & Clothier hair comb from 1918. Gift of Anne Wright.
A Strawbridge & Clothier hair comb from 1918. Gift of Anne Wright.

Sauro will co-curate the exhibition with Kirsten M. Jensen, PhD, the Michener Art Museum’s Gerry & Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator, and Louise Feder, assistant curator at the Michener Art Museum.

“For centuries, fashion has been a leading cultural force around the globe, but every city has its own story,” said Jensen. “We wanted to tell the Philadelphia story by resurrecting in our galleries the particular glamour, elegance and shopping customs of Philadelphia ladies through the past century.”

Complementing the Philadelphia in Style exhibition will be lectures, a film series and behind-the-scenes tours of regional fashion collections. For listings and details, visit http://www.MichenerArtMuseum.org. Group tours are also welcome.

A green satin, pink velvet and lace walking dress from 1900. Gift of Mrs. James Creese.
A green satin, pink velvet and lace walking dress from 1900. Gift of Mrs. James Creese.

Heralded as a “world-class collection of fashion and textiles” by the Wall Street Journal, the FHCC is one of the finest and oldest research collections in the nation. The collection spans several hundred years, with holdings ranging from Renaissance textiles to French couture. Many garments were worn by noted women of style, including American socialite and style icon Babe Paley and Princess Grace of Monaco. It is internationally recognized for the exceptional quality of its holdings and has lent objects to exhibitions in Paris and Milan.  

Housed in the URBN Center (3501 Market St.), the collection was renamed in March 2014 in recognition of a $1 million commitment from Robert (Hon. ’13) and Penny Fox (Hon.’13). In 2016, the Foxes committed another $2 million, designated for the establishment of a Center for Historic Costume Exhibition and Research, which will consist of a permanent gallery to display items from the collection, as well as a meeting space for lectures and other public programs. The gift also will support personnel, including an archives specialist and collections manager.