1960s shoes in compact storage. Photograph by Michael J. Shepherd.
Drexel University’s museum-quality collection of more than 12,000 garments, textiles and accessories has been renamed The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection in recognition of a $1 million commitment from Robert (Hon. ’13) and Penny Fox (Hon.’13). A ribbon-cutting event and reception will take place in early May.
Housed in the URBN Center (3501 Market St.), the home of the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, the collection spans several hundred years. Its holdings range 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.
As one of the oldest university collections in the United States, it is internationally recognized for the exceptional quality of its holdings and has lent objects to exhibitions in Paris and Milan. The oldest documented objects are a man’s waistcoat dating from the 1750s and a group of 16th century velvets. The most recent acquisitions date from fall 2013.
“Making this remarkable collection more available to Drexel students as well as historians, scholars, artists and designers requires considerable resources,” said Drexel University President John A. Fry. “Thanks to Bob and Penny’s incredible generosity, the collection will continue to educate and inspire for generations to come.”
The collection, which was previously open by appointment only, has recently been made available to the public through educational events which each include an in-depth presentation on a particular aspect of fashion history and a private viewing of the collection. The first event, held in Oct. 2013, explored the history of 1920’s fashion, and the second event in March 2014 focused on floral motifs in fashion.
“Bob and I are pleased to support this truly unique asset of Drexel University,” said Penny Fox. “We invested in the Historic Costume Collection, in part, to help it become more accessible and open to the public than it has been in the past. In addition to preserving thousands of objects of great beauty, the collection can be an even greater source of inspiration for students, faculty and others who value timeless, elegant design and cultural history.
Robert Fox is the chairman and CEO of R.A.F. Industries Inc., a private investment company that acquires and manages a diversified group of middle market companies located across the United States. Penny Fox serves on the boards of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Moore College of Art and Design and the Pennsylvania Ballet. Mr. and Mrs. Fox are notable philanthropists who have previously made major investments in organizations such as the University of Pennsylvania, Wistar Institute and Moore College of Art, to name a few. In 2013, Mr. and Mrs. Fox received honorary degrees from Drexel University in recognition of their civic leadership.
According to a recent feature story on the collection in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Walking into the 3,000-square-foot space is like entering a chilly (the clothes need to be kept at 65 degrees), sterile science lab…Yet the moment Sauro opens one of the massive units filled with 256 years of dresses, cloaks, undergarments, hats, gloves, shoes, and purses, the space comes alive.”
University founder A.J. Drexel formed the Drexel Collection, out of which the Drexel Historic Costume Collection was later formed, in the late 1890s to serve as an educational resource for the students. Through the remarkable generosity of donors, the collection has become one of the finest research collections in the United States. The mission of the collection is to educate and inspire, while providing a significant resource for an ever-expanding community of historians, scholars, artists and designers.
In January 2013, the collection was relocated into new facilities in the Westphal College’s new URBN Center, which has greatly improved the accessibility and visibility of the collection while preserving it for future generations of researchers and admirers. The Fox donation ensures the future growth and preservation of the collection and will support efforts for greater accessibility and educational outreach.
Plans are already underway for a full survey exhibition of the collection in fall 2015, including a detailed catalog and an academic symposium.
Clare Sauro, curator of the collection, joined Drexel in 2008 and has more than 15 years of experience in the field of historic costume and museum environments. She previously served as an associate curator for the historic collection at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. During her tenure at Drexel, Sauro has contributed to the exhibitions “Rest Your Feet” (2008) and “A Legacy of Art, Science & Industry: Highlights from the Collections” (2013.) In 2011, she curated the exhibition “Brave New World: Fashion & Freedom, 1911-1919,” in conjunction with the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA).
Sauro is a frequent lecturer on the history of fashion and research collections, and is regularly interviewed and consulted by journalists and scholars. In addition to her role as curator, she teaches courses in the history of fashion to students in Drexel’s nationally ranked fashion program. Sauro’s current research includes fashion from 1919 to 1939, and the role of the artifact in education.