We're so fortunate to work with talented, curious, and motivated interns! Today's post, by intern Rachel Panella, dives into a unique area of our collection: the Gianni Versace Menswear Archive. Consisting of donor Marvin Worth's extensive Versace wardrobe, the Archive offers an incredible overview of the designer's work. During her time with us, Rachel formulated some thoughtful suggestions regarding how we can effectively exhibit this unique archive. Thanks for your insight Rachel!
“Versace, Worth admits, is one of his obsessions.”1
Hollywood producer Marvin Worth (1925–1998) was not only well known for his movies, such as Malcolm X (1992), Lenny (1974), and Gia (1998), but also for his eccentric style. Several years after his death, the FIDM Museum gained possession of his complete closet of over 1300 pieces featuring over 100 pairs of shoes, 200 shirts, 80 suits, and 140 pairs of pants. My job this summer was to work in conjunction with another intern, Soquel Filice, to organize this archive. As I am currently finishing up my Master's degree in Information Science, I have been intimately acquainted with archives, but this internship provided me with a unique opportunity to work with an archival collection within a museum setting, which I personally feel comes with a different mission and needs. Unlike an archive, which tends to focus on the donor or creator of the collection as a whole, the museum tends to focus on the individual artifacts themselves. This collection seems to have two possible points of focus: the collector, Marvin Worth, or the designer, Gianni Versace (1946-1997), and a focus on either could make for an interesting show. While working with the Versace Collection, I have thought of four very different ways to display these garments, each with varying focus on the archival aspect of the collection.
Directly after Worth's death in 1998, his closet was closed and not opened again for almost 15 years. The closet became a time capsule, an actual frozen moment in time and essentially the perfect archive. Rather than the typical collections that come in trash bags and boxes with an indecipherable original order, this collection had a clear original order. One could simply recreate Worth’s closet, thus recreating a moment in time and an archeological place of study. This method of exhibition is comparable to archeological exhibitions, and even more interestingly, decorative furniture exhibitions, both of which recreate the context in which the object was originally found. This is one way the collection could be utilized—as a way to better understand Marvin Worth and his personal organization system.
Another way to keep the focus on the donor would be to recreate the actual outfits that we know Worth wore as seen in the following photos. This would be an easy way to exhibit these garments and better understand the collector. Through this method, Marvin Worth's personal curation of his clothing and self can be seen and the clothes become anthropological artifacts. These two options are often utilized in an archival atmosphere where the focus is on the donor or collector.
To call Worth a collector of Versace is to put it mildly. Over 95% of this vast collection is Versace, but what makes this archival collection unique compared to other archives is that it is a story not only of one man, but two: Marvin Worth and Gianni Versace. Through the avid collecting of Marvin Worth, we are able to see the entire expanse of Versace's career with pieces dating from the early 1980s until his death in 1997. Anyone can come in and see the evolution of this designer's work. One idea would be to focus on a particular type of garment, such as a suit, and exhibit different suits from the course of Versace's career, effectively creating a timeline of Versace's career and the evolution of his aesthetic over time.
Three white Versace suits owned by Worth demonstrate the depth of his commitment to wearing and collecting Versace. (L to R) Man's three-piece off-white wool suit, Undated, Wool/Rayon/Plastic, V2006.890.160A-C, Man's two-piece off-white wool suit, Spring/Summer 1994, Wool/Rayon/Plastic/Metal, V2006.890.161AB, Man's two-piece off-white wool suit, Undated, Wool/Rayon/Plastic, V2006.890.162AB. All Gift of Joan Worth in memory of Marvin Worth.
The Museum also owns a collection of Versace catalogs, which have been a great resource these past weeks and I believe, will be a great resource for future exhibitions. One way to utilize these catalogs would be to exhibit the garments as seen in the catalogs. The catalogs are highly stylized and are the resource to not only understand Versace as a creator of clothing, but also a curator.
My work with this collection has challenged me to think of the function of both individual artifacts and collections as a whole in the museum. What does it mean to be part of an archival collection within a museum, how does it differ from other collections? To understand this, we first must understand the goals of the collection and the institution itself. These proposals function as a way to think more deeply about these goals and what sets this apart from the objects in permanent storage. I, for one, think that this collection demands to be thought of as more than simple aesthetics, leading us to ask, “How can we make these objects talk and once we get them talking, what do we actually want them to say?”
1 Pristin, Terry. “By All Necessary Means: It took producer Marvin Worth 25 years to turn Malcolm X's story into a movie. Why didn't he give up and what made it happen (Besides Spike, of course)” November 15, 1992, http://articles.latimes.com/1992-11-15/entertainment/ca-648_1_marvin-worth.