Interview and text by Arlene Waghalter
June 2019 Dallas Fashion Field Trip
In preparation for the upcoming trip Dallas Fashion Field Trip, we interviewed Annette Becker, Director of the Texas Fashion Collection. She talked about this one-of-a-kind collection, some background on her path, and insights into the legacy of Stanley Marcus and Carrie Neiman on the region.
1. Can you tell us about your background? What led you to this kind of work?
I have an unexpected and unlikely background to find myself working in a fashion collection such as this: I grew up on a farm in a small town in Kansas! Population: 250! I was supposed to become an engineer but grew bored with it as it seemed un-relatable. I was seeking ways to connect humanity to itself and signed up for an Art History course to finds ways of relating to my classmates. Most of them were repeatedly exposed to the arts growing up in more urban areas than I did, so I had a little trouble relating to them at first. The Art History course helped and I fell in love with the subject.
Everyone should care about fashion history: it connects our material culture and design to the every day world. I enjoy finding relatable inroads for the wide audience we attract at the Collection.
2. In your words, how would you describe the Texas Fashion Collection?
The Texas Fashion Collection is an archive of nearly 20,000 historical garments spanning 250 years of fashion history with representations from 5 continents. Currently the collection is focused on European and American designers from the 1930s to the 1990s and represents the tastes of individuals from the north Texas region. The collection really ties the region to the international fashion industry. The entire collection is housed at the University of North Texas and is a public repository for study.
3. Discuss your current role at the Collection and what you see the as the future potential of the Collection?
I have been Director of the Texas Fashion Collection for 2 1/2 years, we're in a transitional period. Not only was the previous Director a part of the faculty with a course load, but she was also here for several decades focusing on the physical storage needs of the Collection. My position is dedicated to the Collection and I have 2 big goals to accomplish while I'm here: 1. Research the history of the collection in order to frame its historical significance and 2. Improve accessibility by digitizing images of the collection into our new online database. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/explore/collections/TXFC/)
The Collection belongs to the State of Texas and is held in public trust and while it's not feasible for everyone to visit physically, it's important to have this database available for everyone. We're interested in taking the lead in this kind of online digitizing of our collection.
Currently and in the future, we are seeking more partnerships with cultural institutions like North Park Center - they receive 29 million people a year through their doors, provide some funding, security for our exhibits and marketing. This has been very successful for us and we are now seeking partnerships with the Bob Bullock TX State History Museum and the San Antonio Museum of Art.
4. Tell us about the legacy of Stanley Marcus and Carrie Neiman on the region, Dallas, (and maybe the state).
The Texas Fashion Collection ties our region to the international fashion industry. The effect of the store itself and its legendary leaders on the daily lives of north Texans is still influencing us today. The Neiman-Marcus founders and family were brilliant retailers and brought international fashion to the newly rich oil and commerce families Dallas is famous for. One of their concepts, the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award, was established in 1938 as a way to lure fashion notables to Dallas. Recipients were required to come to Dallas to get the award and have included: Elizabeth Arden, Elsa Schiaparelli, Norman Norell, Christian Dior, Salvatorre Ferragamo, Jaques Fath, and James Galanos to name a few! The Dallas Museum of Art would also coordinate their shows to celebrate the culture of the award recipients. In this way, Dallas was increasingly exposed to the world outside the city limits and Dallas could show off her commercial successes to the world.
5. We are taking the tour to the Dior exhibit at the DMA, can you tell us about some of the Dior pieces in the Collection? Can you give us some insights on the Dior exhibit as well?
Some of my favorite Dior pieces from the Collection are of course, his haute couture pieces. When you can understand the construction of a gown that has complex under-dressing and is covered in a way that looks natural and stunning at the same time, you see why he was such an important figure to the fashion world. What I appreciate about the Collection is being able to see inside the garment for the design details we often don't get to see.
Dior was clever in his understanding of price points and the need to meet the needs of a larger audience. He had several lines in addition to his haute couture designs, one being on the Neiman-Marcus couture floor where customers could order their dresses from the Paris showroom and have them tailored in the Dallas store. He also did a pret-a-porter line called Christian Dior NY, and even sold his patterns to home sewers with his label, so they could claim their own piece of Dior. This is one of early versions of market segmentation that has overtaken the design world these days.
We want to thank you for taking the time to speak with us today, Annette! We look forward to hearing you in person and to seeing some of these incredible designs!