Monday, November 11, 2013

On Winning Awards

When this post goes live, I will be at Holt Renfrew about to deliver my speech at the Ryerson University School of Fashion Awards Night. I am not winning an award, but I am the guest speaker, which is typically chosen from the pool of alumni. I assumed it was my job to say some inspirational words, so I decided to share a bit of my own story.

I am not intending to read my remarks, so it might not come out exactly like this. I pre-cleared my speech with the Awards Committee and one of them suggested that maybe I should read it so I wouldn't "miss a syllable". Let's just hope that this is one of those times that my words sound golden.

Ingrid Mida with the Lanvin gown
Photo courtesy of the National Post

Here goes:

I already had a graduate degree when I signed up to do the Master of Arts degree at Ryerson.  But this is the degree I had to work the hardest for. For my MA in Fashion, I juggled the needs of my husband and two teenage boys, the responsibility for my elderly frail mother, work and many other commitments. I also had to deal with my insecurities and doubts about going back to school as a mature student. If truth be told, I almost dropped out at the end of first term, not because I couldn’t handle it, but because I wasn’t sure that it would make any difference in the end. With the encouragement of Dr. Kimberly Wahl, I stuck with it and earned a cumulative GPA of 4.220.  

Perhaps the best part of my story began on February 12, 2012 when Dr. Alison Matthews David opened an unmarked door for me on the seventh floor of the library. Behind that door was a dusty room, packed with boxes, bins, cupboards, and racks of clothing, accessories and fashion ephemera. While most of the other students were reviled by what they saw -- the dust, the mess and the smell -- I saw opportunity. I stepped forward and took on a project that was far bigger, messier, and more difficult than I ever imagined. 

This was not the first time I’d taken on a challenging project, and I’ll admit there have been more bumps in the road than I like to remember. I did not do it for thanks, for an award or for press. What drove me forward was the knowledge that most students do not have the curatorial connections that I do, or the financial means to go anywhere else to do object-based research. Behind that door in the library, there were gowns by Balenciaga, Balmain, Dior, Nina Ricci, Valentino and other designers. There were also Canadian success stories like Ruth Dukas, Claire Haddad, Alfred Sung, Marilyn Brooks and Canadian labels like Holt Renfrew, Eaton's Simpson's, and Morgan's. All of these items had been neglected and forgotten for several years. 

I think I’ve helped ensure that it will be forgotten no more. And, I’m pleased to say that the collection is now safely stored in renovated facilities in Kerr Hall West. The images that you see on the posters behind me are examples of some of my favourite pieces in the collection and I would like to acknowledge that these lovely photographs were taken by Jazmin Welch with the help of Kate O’Reilly. 

There are many more beautiful garments that were not photographed - including a stunning ruby red silk velvet jacket by Christian Dior that just today I matched to a photograph in Harper's Bazaar from September 1949.  - and I want to invite you to come and visit the Fashion Research Centre if you would like to see more. Or if you don’t have time to come in, check out the collection blog and Pinterest sites. Or follow me on twitter. My aim is to be the antithesis of the cranky curator – to make the Fashion Research Centre a welcoming and friendly place where there is no such thing as a stupid question. 

I would like to close by congratulating all of you for your achievements and awards. You should savour this moment and be proud of yourself. Celebrate and enjoy tonight.  I hope you will continue to follow your dreams and live your passions. Make your mark. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Book Review: The Wedding Dress, 300 Years of Bridal Fashion by Edwina Ehrman

Cover image of The Wedding Dress by Edwina Ehrman
Museum collections often receive many offers of evening or bridal wear, since these garments are emblems of the emotional ties that such special event clothing can have for the wearer. Wedding dresses, in particular, are loaded with symbolism and embody memories of that special day. In present times, a wedding gown is typically white and only worn once, but this wasn't always so. Unpacking the complex history of the wedding gown is a book by Edwina Ehrman, Curator of Textiles and Fashion at the Victoria & Albert Museum called: The Wedding Dress, 300 Years of Bridal Fashions.

This meticulously researched book draws on the extensive collection of wedding gowns in the Victoria & Albert Museum collection, as well as paintings, fashion plates, photographs, letters, memoirs, newspaper accounts and genealogical records. Not only does this book consider the history of the white wedding dress from 1700 to the present day, it addresses the cultural factors that have influenced and refreshed the stylistic changes over time.