I met Colleen, September 2016, in one of my Fashion Trips to NYC . We were introduced then, by Mrs Valerie Steele Chief Curator at FIT, and who I deeply respect both personally and professionally. With Colleen, the connection was very professional, and yet so relaxed. She introduced Marina ( fashion student) and me to Fairy Tale Fashion Exhibition which she had curated, and was taking place at FIT at that point, and gave us both a beautiful exhibition book as a gift. She also invited us to enjoy an exclusive preview of her Paris exhibition, which took place some time later, at the Museum.
Today, I would love to share with you my recent interview, where she introduces us to her new projects, and recommends very intresting books on Fashion Curating.
FLOR: What is a fashion curator? The most basic definition of a fashion curator is someone who researches, writes about, and exhibits clothing. Ideally, that work also has a point of view, and is able to demonstrate the sociocultural significance of fashion throughout time.
F: When and how did you start with your career at FIT? I interned at The Museum at FIT when I was still a graduate student, while I was in the college’s master’s program entitled Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice. When I was in my second year of the program I was lucky enough to have the museum’s deputy director, Patricia Mears, as one of my professors. When a part-time administrative job opened up at the museum shortly after I graduated, Patricia suggested that I apply. I worked at that job for about a year before I was able to make the transition into full-time curatorial work.
F: Name 3 of your most challenging projects so far and a little history about them… Fairy Tale Fashion (2016) was one of my most challenging, because it was so imaginative. I was telling well-known stories using fashionable dress, and I wanted to be sure my selections had some foundation in literary fairy tales. Rather than simply selecting any fabulous white dress to represent the Snow Queen, for example, I found a description of the queen wearing a dress made from starry snowflakes. I then represented that using a snowflake dress by Alexander McQueen. The exhibition took a lot of reading, writing, and interpretation, and I was afraid people wouldn’t get it. Thankfully, they did! My very first solo show, Seduction (2008) was also a big challenge, simply because I was so new to the job of curating. There is a lot that goes into putting an exhibition together at any museum, but especially a small museum where the curator is part of every aspect of exhibition planning and promotion. It’s a steep learning curve. I am currently working on a big exhibition and book about shoes, which will be based solely on the museum’s collection of about 4,000 pairs of shoes. This work has provided its own unique challenge. Although I’m well versed in the history of footwear, I had to begin by looking at thousands of shoes –in life, since the database photos are really only for quick reference — and setting aside about 400 that I thought would be best for show. I then had to manage a checklist to get the selected shoes into our photo studio, decide which photos were best, order them for the publisher, etc. My exhibitions usually include about 100 objects, so simply managing a checklist that’s about four times that has been really tricky! It’s always great to get to know the collection better, though.
F: What are you preparing for later this year? ( if the museum and universities don´t open, are you planning to do something online?) I am working with guest curator Amy de la Haye on an exhibition entitled Ravishing: The Rose in Fashion, which will explore the significance of the rose motif to the fashionable appearance over the past 300 years. It is going to be really beautiful. We’re still moving forward with planning the exhibition, and the book with Yale University Press has gone to print, but we’re waiting to see when it is safe to open to the public. It was originally scheduled for September 2020. It gives us all something to look forward to! We are also working on some online initiatives, particularly in regard to our popular series of public programs.
F: Please share with us some bibliography recommended, regarding fashion curating.
There aren’t yet a lot of books about fashion curating specifically, but those that do exist are great. I recommend Fashion Installation: Body, Space and Performance by Adam Geczy and Vicki Karaminas, Fashion, History, Museums by Julia Petrov, Exhibiting Fashion: Before and After 1971 by Judith Clark and Amy de la Haye, Fashion Curating, edited by Hazel Clark and Annamari Vänskä, and Fashion and Museums, edited by Marie Riegels Melchior and Birgitta Svensson. The Museum at FIT also published a book last year with Skira entitled Exhibitionism: 50 Years of The Museum at FIT, which included images and text about 33 of our most important exhibitions from the 1970s to the present.
F: Fashion has found a place in museums, thats a fact, and drives many people to watch it every time a new exhibition is opened, therefore can we say fashion has become art? I have to admit that I’m not bothered by the debate about fashion as art. I think fashion is important enough to stand on its own. It doesn’t need to be classified as art to receive the attention and respect it deserves.