Curator Kevin Jones and Associate Curator Christina Johnson recently returned from a conference in Florence, Italy. In today's post, Christina recounts their trip, including museum visits, and highlights from her presentation.
Kevin and I traveled to Florence, Italy, last month for Costume Colloquium III. My paper, “Doris Langley Moore: Ultimate ‘Woman in Fashion’” had been accepted to the bi-annual colloquium. Every other year, the organizers of the Costume Colloquium select a thematic focus and solicit research on the topic; this year’s theme was ‘Past Dress Future Fashion.'
I was honored to participate, and so excited to present some of my new research on Doris Langley Moore, a remarkable British woman who was one of the most important costume historians and dealers of the 20th century. I have been fascinated by her for years; I discovered her 1949 book on the history of fashion, The Woman in Fashion, in high school.
When I learned The Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection contained garments purchased from Doris Langley Moore that had been worn in her book, and that the Helen Larson Archive contained over 700 letters written between Moore and Larson, I almost hyperventilated due to fashion history overload! I couldn’t wait to start reading the letters and making connections with the objects.
Here you see me giving my paper at the colloquium. And here is a tidbit from what I spoke about: In The Woman in Fashion, Doris mentioned the first dress to enter her collection was this one—given to her by her mother-in-law after a game of charades in the 1920—modeled by Vivien Leigh (which just happens to have always been my favorite photograph in the book).
In the course of reading over the archival letters, I discovered Doris sold this long-cherished gown to Helen in 1964, and Helen hand-carried it in her luggage as she flew home to Southern California.
The other speakers were fabulous. Papers ranged from overviews of fashion collections and collecting principles such as that presented by Caroline Bellios and Michal Lynn Shumate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Fashion Resource Center, to conservation issues and historic research topics. One of my favorite papers was given by Deirdre Murphy, Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, who spoke on Queen Victoria’s fancy dress balls. Her exhibition, Victoria Revealed, at Kensington Palace, was one of the highlights of Kevin’s and my trip to London this past summer.
Our Museum Director Barbara Bundy joined us in Florence for the colloquium and we had a lot of fun. In addition to the papers, there were museum visits and events planned every evening. Some highlights included seeing the Gucci handkerchief silk-covered mannequins at the Gucci Museo and having a private tour of the Pucci Archive in the Palazzo Pucci.
Disclosure: I have had an obsession with the Medici Family of Florence since I was a little girl. The conserved burial gown of Eleonora di Toledo (wife of Cosimio I de’ Medici) is on permanent display at the Palazzo Pitti. I am proud to announce I can officially check off seeing this marvelous ensemble from my “Fashion History Pilgrimage” bucket list. We were fortunate to have a tour of the Medici burial clothing gallery with one of the gown’s conservators, Mary Westerman Bulgarella. She described the poor state Eleonora’s gown was in when the tomb was first opened, what it was like to work with renowned dress historian and conservator Janet Arnold on the project, and how laborious the process of turning what was essentially a ball of discolored, shredded fabric into a conserved, stable garment.