Cincy Obscura: The Cincinnati Art Museum Textile Archives

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Rudi Gernreich’s topless swimsuit from 1964 is here. So is an 1870s ball gown owned by a Cincinnati woman so chic she traveled to Paris to have it made. The Doepke family visited Japan in 1900 and brought back a kimono as exquisite as any woodblock print, and some 1950s fashionista left behind what was surely a prized purchase: an ivory velvet hat fashioned to look like clasped hands. Each one is cosseted away in the costume and textile storage room at Cincinnati Art Museum until such time as it can take a turn in the spotlight.

Curator Cynthia Amneus inspects an item from the collection.
Curator Cynthia Amneus inspects an item from the collection.

Photograph by Ryan Kurtz

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Photograph by Ryan Kurtz

Amneus and her team outfit mannequins with undergarments to support various styles and silhouettes and hand-build paper hairdos.
Amneus and her team outfit mannequins with undergarments to support various styles and silhouettes and hand-build paper hairdos.

Photo: staff

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Photograph by Ryan Kurtz

The museum’s garments and accessories (there are 15,000 items, including 5,000 dresses) are sensitive to light, temperature, and humidity. So unless they’re on display, clothing and textiles sit here in the dark, dangling from highly-engineered hangers or perched on archival-quality mountings. Which is, of course, how much of the museum’s fine art is stored. And that’s what fashion is, in the view of curator Cynthia Amneus (above): “I consider it sculpture on the body.”

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