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One Month Left to See Immortal Beauty Exhibition of Rare Artifacts from Three Centuries of Fashion History

November 05, 2015

Photo by Michael J. Shepherd.
A coral-encrusted Hubert de Givenchy couture gown (front and center) worn by Grace Kelly, then Princess Grace of Monaco, in the 1960's is a highlight of the Immortal Beauty exhibition on display at Drexel University through Dec. 12. Photo by Michael J. Shepherd.

“Like the kiss that awakens Sleeping Beauty, the exhibition ‘Immortal Beauty’ is reintroducing the Fox Historic Costume Collection to the world.” – Wall Street Journal

The 78-piece display at Drexel University's Leonard Pearlstein Gallery through Dec. 12 – featuring work by some of the industry's most revered designers, such as Hubert de Givenchy, Halston, Coco Chanel and Ralph Rucci – is a brilliant account of the university's historic costume collection.” – Philadelphia Inquirer

Only one month remains to see Immortal Beauty: Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection, the first large-scale, retrospective exhibition of highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection (FHCC) in Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design.

Tracing the arc of fashion history over the course of more than three centuries – from a fragment of 16th century Italian brocade to an evening dress by New York designer Alexander Wang from 2012 – Immortal Beauty features select artifacts from Drexel’s museum-quality collection of more than 14,000 notable garments, accessories and textiles. One of the finest and oldest research collections in the nation, it was called a “world-class collection of fashion and textiles” by the Wall Street Journal.

The exhibition will be on display through Dec. 12 in the Westphal College’s Leonard Pearlstein Gallery (3401 Filbert St.). The gallery is free and open to the public, Tuesday – Sunday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. More information is available on the exhibition website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter via the hashtag #ImmortalBeautyFHCC.

The exhibition of more than 75 items largely focuses on international high style of the 20th century. Examples include garments by Charles James, Gabrielle Chanel, Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Christian Dior, Mary Quant and Elsa Schiaparelli. Other notable pieces include couture by Philadelphia natives James Galanos and Ralph Rucci and garments worn by women of style such as American socialite Babe Paley and Princess Grace of Monaco. 

The Collection has especially strong holdings in the 1800s. Photo by Kelly & Massa Photography.

A symposium on the role of costume collections in the 21st century will take place on Nov. 13 and 14, in conjunction with the current exhibition. The symposium will feature keynote speaker Sarah Scaturro, head conservator at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a panel of scholars representing universities from around the country will discuss the role of fashion in academic study, including whether fashion should be considered art or material culture; how technology can assist in preservation and accessibility for items of dress; and whether the physical object is still relevant in the age of social media. The symposium is open to the public and free to Drexel students and faculty. For more information, click here.

Immortal Beauty also showcases the Collection’s historic ties to the University. Formed in the late 1890s by A.J. Drexel, the founder of Drexel University, the Collection has always served as an educational resource for Drexel students, and some of the most exquisite items came from the estate of Drexel’s granddaughter, Minnie Drexel Fell Cassatt. Four of her couture garments, by makers such as Callot Soeurs and Jacques Doucet, are on display.

Even the title of the exhibit was inspired by Drexel: the phrase “immortal beauty” comes from a speech given by Drexel’s first president, James A. MacAlister (1891-1913), during the dedication of the then Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry, referencing the artwork purchased for what was then referred to as the Museum of the Drexel Institute.

Immortal Beauty was organized by Clare Sauro, curator of the Fox Historic Costume Collection, with curatorial support from Cara Fry.

“The items were selected both for their historical significance and aesthetic beauty,” said Sauro. “They reflect the breadth of the Collection and demonstrate its strengths, while giving a remarkable overview of more than 250 years of fashion change.”

The mission of the Collection is to educate and inspire through the documentation, exhibition and preservation of historic costume. Previously open by appointment only, the Collection has recently been made available to the public through educational events. These “Fashion Friday” and “Style Saturday” viewings each include an in-depth presentation on a particular aspect of fashion history, such as the legacy of 1920s fashion, and a private viewing of the Collection.

This teal Callot Soeurs evening dress c. 1926 (center) was a gift of Mr. Alexander J. Cassatt. Photo by Kelly & Massa Photography.

This spring, Sauro will co-curate Philadelphia in Style: A Century in Fashion at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa. The exhibition celebrates Philadelphia’s role as a design center, an incubator for leading fashion design talent and a home to stylish women. It will feature approximately 30 mannequins featuring fashion worn by Philadelphia women in the 20th century, on loan from the Fox Historic Costume Collection, from March 12 through June 26, 2016. For more information, visit

Immortal Beauty: Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection is made possible by a generous grant from the Richard C. von Hess Foundation. The Foundation provides support to a wide variety of major museums and cultural organizations for conservation, exhibitions and publications and awards the prestigious von Hess Travel Scholarship to an outstanding fine arts student each year at both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the University of the Arts.

“The FHCC is a collection of enormous historic and aesthetic significance, but has only been seen by a select few,” said Sauro. “Thanks to the generosity of the Richard C. von Hess Foundation, we will be able to share this important collection with a much larger audience.”

Sauro joined Drexel in 2008 and has more than 15 years of experience in the field of historic costume and museums. She previously served as an assistant curator of costume at the Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) one of the only specialized museums of fashion in the world. 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 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 Westphal College. Sauro’s current research includes fashion from 1919 to 1939, and the role of the artifact in education.


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