Deep in the back of the Texas Fashion Collection, near a row of 18th century court suits -- the sort of pieces men would have worn while visiting King George -- there's a curious black garment hanging upside down. It looks more like a sculpture than a dress.
"I'm pretty sure this piece retailed for more than our annual budget," says Annette Becker, director of the Texas Fashion Collection. "Without our donor support, the collection wouldn't exist."
The innovative garment was created by Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo and came to the Texas Fashion Collection as part of a recent gift from Forty Five Ten, a Dallas-based boutique that merges contemporary fashion and art.
"We want to support education and programs that inspire and nurture the next generation of talent," says Kristen Cole, Forty Five Ten's president and chief creative officer. "UNT has a fantastic creative reputation, so selecting the Texas Fashion Collection was an easy decision."
Forty Five Ten's donation of 13 ensembles from seven influential designers has been transformative for the Texas Fashion Collection, which originated in 1938 as the Neiman Marcus Collection and merged with the Dallas Museum of Fashion in the 1960s before being placed under UNT's care in 1972. Today, the growing collection houses nearly 20,000 garments and accessories spanning 250 years of fashion history. While a majority of the pieces are 20th century women's wear from Europe and America, the collection boasts items from six continents. Near a familiar Coco Chanel suit, visitors will find a dress with design credit given, simply, to "Grandma," and clothing from nomadic tribes -- people who wear their culture on their bodies.
"It's important that we provide pieces our students can learn from, which requires us to be responsive in our collecting and add garments that both complement and challenge traditional ideas of fashion," Becker says.
Along with augmenting the Texas Fashion Collection in critical ways, the ensembles from Forty Five Ten give access to avant-garde pieces for hands-on, object-based research and archival work. The collection offers UNT students something rare -- an invitation to touch textiles, examine embroidery and work with historic and high-design garments they would otherwise see only in textbooks.
Thanks to the Gloria and Bruzzy Westheimer Digital Archives -- named for alumnus Jerome "Bruzzy" Westheimer Jr. ('65) and his wife -- at the Texas Fashion Collection, UNT's College of Visual Arts and Design is extending its reach to scholars all over the world. As part of the digital archive project, undergraduate interns prep and mount garments for graduate students and employees to photograph and catalog in a revamped, public database.
"Bruzzy and Gloria's gift has been instrumental in keeping our collection safe and showcasing what we have to enhance the student experience," Becker says. "And those are the two main things we should be doing: preserving and presenting."
The UNT community and public are invited to view the Forty Five Ten donation to the Texas Fashion Collection during the College of Visual Arts and Design Building Preview and Open House Oct. 12.