KINGSTON, RI – Even though many clothing designers have become household names – Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior, for example – the average person probably knows very little about the people themselves or their work.
But anyone who wants to learn more is lucky, because an exhibit exploring fashion with a designer label in the 1900s is now on display at the Quinn Hall Textile Gallery at the University of Rhode Island.
Titled “What’s in a [Designer’s] Name? An Investigation of Twentieth-Century Fashion Labels, ”the exhibit was researched, curated and installed by graduate students of the Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design program at URI.
It consists of about 30 pieces of clothing from the university’s Historic Textile and Costume Collection, all of which have a designer label. In addition to Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, visitors can expect to see clothing designed by Hubert de Givenchy, Issey Miyake and others.
Students analyzed five pieces each for a class they took in spring 2021 – researching designers, donors, materials used and quality of their design and construction – then took another class in the past. fall, focused on making the show.
“We need to simultaneously look at the body of research and select common themes from the individual research process, and put together an exhibit to serve a wider audience,” said Rebecca Kelly, who teaches at fall class 2021 (spring class 2021 is taught by Dr. Linda Welters).
Kelly said the show includes the works of well-known and lesser-known designers, and it touches on the economic, social and political landscapes of the times in which the pieces were created.
“It’s a really nice, kind of retrospective look at a lot of different things,” Kelly said. “Fashion is just a good window into social history, and economic history, political history, so all these different things are involved in our exhibit.”
The show also explores the origins of branding and licensing in the fashion industry, as well as the transition from individual designers and fashion houses to brands, said Alyssa Opishinski, a graduate student specializing in historical costumes and fabrics.
Opishinski, who took spring and fall 2021 classes, said students in the spring class sat down at the end of the semester to find common themes among the pieces they researched, with the intent of being able to -curate the performance.
Eventually, they found a common theme: The stories behind the labels themselves.
“There are all these labels in the 20th century and it shows how the fashion business works, and how complex it is, and innovation-or how much it can bring innovation. oh, “he said.
The theme, he said, will be of interest to graduate fashion and textile students, as well as undergraduate students taking the class who are more interested in the business side of fashion, as opposed to the historical side.
“I think we ended up marrying the two, and saying,‘ Let’s look at the history of the brand, ’” Opishinski said.
The next step is to create the show itself. Kelly said students choose which pieces to include in the show among the dozens they researched, then they write brief descriptions of each work.
Now that the show has opened, the pieces and illustrations are on display. The gallery space is a circular room with a large panel that explains the show, as well as the pieces and their depictions, according to Kelly.
The pieces are arranged “somewhat in a chronology,” Kelly said, allowing visitors to see how the fashion has evolved over the years.
“We really think of the gallery space as an opportunity to educate people about the history of fashion,” Kelly said. “Anyone interested in fashion, I think, (will see) an interesting angle when they visit our exhibition.”
“What is in a [Designer’s] Name? An Investigation of Twentieth-Century Fashion Labels ”runs through December at the Quinn Hall Textile Gallery (55 Lower College Road, Kingston). It’s free and open to the public from Monday-Friday, 8:30 am-4pm