Exhibit: Showstoppers! Spectacular Costumes from Stage and Screen

What: Showstoppers! Spectacular Costumes from Stage and Screen

Where: 234 W 42nd St New York, NY 10036

When: Now through through September 26, 2021

Details: An immersive maze featuring more than 100 of the industry’s most beautiful and complex garments. As guests make their way through the exhibit, they will get to see up close the detail and craftsmanship typically only seen far away on stage or screen. The exhibit will include pieces from the The Lion King, The Marvelous Ms.Maisel, Wicked, Moulin Rouge! The Musical and much more. Costume makers and experts will be on-site demonstrating their techniques and skills and interacting with guests, and multimedia elements will provide a rare opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the process. All proceeds from the exhibition will raise money for the Costume Industry Coalition Recovery Fund, which continues to support one of the hardest hit sectors of the entertainment industry.

The Nudie archive

Perhaps you don’t know his name, but you likely know his work. Nudie Cohn (1902-1984), born Nuta Kotlyarenko into a family of bootmakers in imperial Kyiv, emigrated to America at the age of 11. Trained as a tailor in his youth, Cohn’s first foray into fashion was as a designer for New York burlesque dancers. Later, Cohn moved to Los Angeles and made a name for himself as a western-wear designer and is responsible for the literal eye-catching rhinestone cowboy aesthetic.

It’s better to be looked over than overlooked
Nudie Cohn

The Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors Archive is held by the Autry Museum of the American West and consists of 28 linear feet (65 boxes) of materials including customer clothing files, correspondence, boot patterns, financial records, photographs and publications, spanning the years 1950-1994. The Online Archive of California offers the finding aid online and breaks down the contents of 64 of those boxes.

From catalog record there is no direct link to or suggestion that any part of the collection is online, but there is a link to the museum’s online resource catalog. A search of “Nudie” returns 96 records. A very helpful note notes that of these 96 records: 37 are categorised as art and artifacts, 36 photographs and visual imagery, one sound and video record, four manuscript records, 14 Books and Serials and four are subject heading records. Hyperlinks allow the user to easily access these catalog categories. Users are also able delimit by returning only records with images.

Forty-five of the online records are visual resources, and most are not enlargeable due to copyright restrictions, like this photo of Elvis Presley modeling Cohn’s famous gold lamé suit. (More info about Cohn and Elvis can be found at this blog.)

Other interesting visual resources include scans of boot patterns for the likes of Paul Newman and Hank Williams Jr.—just two examples of the archive’s holding of more than 400 folders of boot pattern templates, which according to the scope notes include those of Gene Autry, Jackson Brown, Glen Campbell, Linda Carter, Cher, Bob Dylan, Clint Eastwood, Jerry Garcia, Billy Gibbons, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Robert Redford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others.

The Nudie collection is held at the LEED-certified 100,000-square-foot Resources Center of the Autry, located in Burbank, Calif., just north of Los Angeles. According to their website, the “Library and Archives at the Autry hold unique, rare and significant primary and secondary resources focusing on the peoples and cultures of the American West. The collections contain rare books, serials, maps, photographs, artwork, sound recordings, and manuscript collections.”

Header photo by Mike Salisbury

The Commercial Pattern Archive at the University of Rhode Island

The Commercial Pattern Archive, part of the Distinctive Collections at the University of Rhode Island, encompasses an extensive collection of commercial clothing paper patterns. The archive contains more than 60,000 patterns from the mid-19th century to the present and are described and available via a free database that includes images of clothing and pattern schematics.

The primary access point is the pattern number, but users can also submit an advanced search by year, garment, occasion, needlework, gender, age, keyword, pattern company or collection. There are about 50,000 images in the database, some of them full size, and schematics can be printed for personal and academic use.

Along with the patterns collection, the collection also includes books, pamphlets, journals, and ephemera on the subjects related to tailoring, textiles, fashions and the commercial pattern industry. All print material in Distinctive Collections is catalogued in the URI Library Catalog.

The archive is also available for in-person visits by appointment.

Some Digital Fashion Archives

Here is a handful of interesting, perhaps lesser-known archives of interest to fashion researchers.

Barnett Hook Papers and Needlework, Ohio University.

“Many people viewed master needleworker Barnett A. Hook of rural McArthur, Ohio as a curiosity during his lifetime—in fact, he sometimes made his living highlighting his status as one of “only four men in the United States who teach embroidery.” Ohio U has digitized his papers and needlework samples. (Ok, a little local promo here.)

Needlework by Barnett Hook in the collection of Ohio University Libraries

Pantograph Negative Collection, 1940-1945, Illinois Digital Archives

“This collection of images from the Pantagraph, a Bloomington, Illinois newspaper dating back to 1846, records the history of Central Illinois through the work of Pantagraph photographer-reporters between 1940 and 1945. The Pantagraph was known for its coverage of agricultural concerns as well as local sports and social events in 10 counties surrounding McLean County. ”

A search on “fashion” or “apparel” yields a set of black and white photographs with styles from the era. “Campus Fads, Illlinois State Normal University,” shows off jump suits, cuff bracelets, plain pumps, and an alligator clutch bag.

From the “Fashion” subject set of the Pantograph negative collection, 1940-1945

Europeana: Fashion Collections

“Europeana works with thousands of European archives, libraries and museums to share cultural heritage for enjoyment, education and research.”

You probably already know about Europeana: catwalks, individual designers, costumes, jewelry items… nearly 800,000 items.

But I enjoyed discovering their “Fashion Stories”: having all these digital objects to choose from means they can create digital collections such as Masks and Head Coverings, which seems apropos of the moment, and Corsets, a popular research topic among undergraduates I work with.

Phillip Lim, S/S 2009, from Europeana.eu

Los Angeles Public Library Digital Collection: Fashion AND Los Angeles Public Library Digital Collection: Clothing

” The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection contains images from the 1850s to the present, documenting all aspects of life in Southern California, with an emphasis on Los Angeles.”

Subsets of a larger collection of photographs, circa 1930-1964.

A Los Angeles fashion show, about 1930.

3-D Tour of the Museum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

This “Street View” tour from the Museum’s Google Culture pages lets you walk through the museum and look at the exhibits. Zoom in to see more details in each display case. Included are outfits, jewelry, shoes, and even weaving looms.

Textile resources at the American Philatelic Research Library

The American Philatelic Research Library, a special library located in Bellefonte, Penn., focuses on the study of postage stamps and postal history. According to their website, the library “has one of the world’s largest and most accessible collections of philatelic literature. The collection includes books and journals about stamps and postal history, as well as the history of philately and related subjects like transportation and geography.”

One of the journals that the library carries is Textile-Rama, the quarterly bulletin of the (now defunct) Textile Study Unit of the American Topical Association. The Textile Study Unit studied everything “from fibers to finished fashions including processes and decorative arts” on stamps from around the world.

The catalog entry from the Rocky Mountain Philatelic Library notes that Textile -Rama ran from 1977-2009 in 33 volumes, but the APRL only carries the 1995-2003 issues. Each issues is about ten pages long and is illustrated from March 2000, full color from December 2000.

Articles include examples such as French tapestries in Polish philately, Halas lace stamps of Hungary, Kilssam: the traditional domestic handweaving carried out in Korea, Nanduti lace of Paraguay, among many other fascinating topics. Each issue also includes topical collecting checklists and those of newly-issued stamps that focus on fashion, textile and costume topics.

The APRL offers photocopy and scanning services as well as reference assistance by phone and email. American Philatelic Society and library members may borrow books directly by mail and non-members may borrow books through interlibrary loan. The collection may be searched via the Union Philatelic Catalog.