Written and Photos By: Josh Zegans
The Leonard Pearlstein Gallery is one of Drexel University’s art spaces. Located at 34th and Filbert Sts., the galleries showcases artists like Bill Walton, Timmy Graham and Wangechi Mutu.
This past fall, the gallery opened up its doors to the public in order to showcase a unique costume collection. Known as the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection, selected fashion pieces have been put on display in an extensive exhibition, titled Immortal Beauty. In this exhibition, curators focused on costume-wear ranging from the late eighteenth century to present day.
Anthony Joseph Drexel, founder of the university, brought the ideals of fashion into a unique, academic setting. Creating the prestigious fashion design and merchandising programs that are accredited today, he allowed his students to gain a hands-on perspective of multiple garments throughout the history of costume design. This was achieved through a collection of fashionable items that span throughout multiple centuries.
Virginia Theerman, a curatorial assistant at Drexel, noted it as “one of the largest university collections in the United States…,” loaning out their rare finds to institutions like the Boston Museum of Fine Art.
Walking amongst the marvelous pieces makes the observer feel as though they’re walking amongst royalty. Being a museum standard collection, a walkthrough audio tour is available that brings each piece into the forefront of the viewer’s perspective. Set in chronological order, pieces ranged from contemporary garments designed by artists like Alexander Wang to late nineteenth century day dresses by Oliver and Co.
What many tend to forget about fashion is its deep roots in high society. The exhibition emphasizes a strong juxtaposition between the every-day wearer and the upper class socialite. Going from the intricate workings of a Givenchy evening dress to the sixties Youthquake movement pieces of Mary Quant brings a European flare unlike any other. This allows for any observer to clearly recognized the cross-cultural influences between European and American fashion.
One of the pieces that highlights the intricacies of fashion is a celluloid hair comb from 1918. With an accompanying story relating to the original holder and its preservation, we see that each garment had sentimentality in the eyes of the wearer. This is a common theme that one should always remember about fashion.
Whether a museum enthusiast, a fashionable trendsetter, or just an average spectator, this collection is both impressive and unique. Seeing such marvelous garments will bring light to how expressive the average garment and costume can be. Altogether, the dresses are true masterpieces, and are respected as full works of art.