Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An unexpected gem in the heart of Northwest Ohio

This afternoon, I visited a place I never thought could exist in this area, the Kent State Fashion Museum. I've mostly known the school for a tragic event that took place there 40 years ago, but the university does boast a notable fashion design program.

The museum itself started when costume designer Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman donated nearly 4,000 costumes (including many period pieces) and an extensive collection of decorative pieces to the school in 1985. Shannon Rodgers had designed costumes for the Star Wars films and was a native of Ohio.

I was able to see a number of impressive pieces, including many period pieces, mainly from the 18th century; beautiful Indian textiles, including saris; and even a collection of personal clothing and movie costumes that once belonged to Katharine Hepburn.

What was most surprising was that the museum actually owned the Katharine Hepburn collection, which consisted of her entire wardrobe, gifted to them by her estate. There's a pretty good story of how the museum ended up with her wardrobe (paraphrased):

When Katharine died in 2003, her family divvied up most of her possessions, but did not want her clothing. She had wanted her clothing to go to a teaching institution, so her estate first tried to give the collection to some schools around Hollywood, but none of them wanted it. They then tried New York to appeal to the Broadway scene, as Hepburn did a lot of theater in her career. But none of them wanted the collection either. At one point, the director of the Kent State Museum had the opportunity to speak with the owners of the clothing and requested that it go there. After doing some research into the school and museum, they decided that it would be a good fit and gifted the museum.

Few of the pieces, however, were labeled, so museum staff and to sit and watch all of her movies to place some of the pieces. Despite this, a great deal of what they were given remains uncategorized and subsequent attempts to place them, even a visit from the Katharine Hepburn Society, haven't gotten them anywhere.

Now, of course, some of those museums who initially turned down the collection are now asking Kent State to lend them so that they can put them on display.
Some of her costumes they had on display:

The Iron Petticoat
From The Iron Petticoat

Adam's Rib
From Adam's Rib

The Little Minister
From The Little Minister

Stage Door
From Stage Door

The museum also had costumes from The Lion in Winter, Suddenly, Last Summer, The Ultimate Solution of Grace Quimby, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Long Day's Journey into the Night and A Delicate Balance. In addition, they had a large number of her television and Broadway costumes and at least eight pairs of her slacks.

In addition to the Hepburn collection were a number of fairly contemporary pieces by major designers, including Chanel, Balenciaga, Oscar de la Renta and Yves Saint-Laurent.

Saint LaurentRodgersMackieBeene and de la Renta

The museum really was amazing. I know I'll be going back in April for the sustainable clothing collection. If you're ever in the Cleveland area, swing by Kent State, you won't be disappointed!

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