Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection

Immortal Beauty: Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection
Immortal Beauty, made possible through the generous support of the Richard C. Von Hess Foundation, is the first large-scale exhibition featuring the holdings of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection (FHCC). This retrospective serves as the formal debut of the FHCC and is an opportunity to share its rich holdings with the public.

Dress worn à la polonaise
c. 1780

This gown is the oldest complete garment in the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection. Dating from around 1780, the elegant silk brocade dress is worn à la polonaise. The term polonaise refers to the tripartite looping of the overskirt, which was believed to reference traditional Polish dress. The brocaded silk is typical of the early neoclassic period and is likely to have been produced in England.

c. 1883

This mantle was created during the third bustle period, when the fashionable silhouette centered on a dramatically draped and accentuated posterior. Constructed from a sumptuous voided velvet, the ornament is concentrated on the back and shoulders to draw attention to the fashionable bustle silhouette. Charles Frederick Worth, the maker of this mantle, is widely acknowledged as the founder of the French Couture.

Furnishing Fabric

This textile of printed linen is one of the first objects acquired by the Museum of the Drexel Institute. These early acquisitions reflect the anti-industrial bias of the 19th century and included historic textiles, handmade lace, and examples of non-western and traditional dress. The exception to this bias was the purchase of several contemporary Arts & Crafts textiles from Morris & Co. and Thomas Wardle & Co. in the 1890s. Wardle and Morris were famed for their artistic textiles handcrafted and colored using natural dyes. It is surely this reputation as innovators and "true artists” of the British Arts & Crafts Movement that allowed for the inclusion of modern textiles in the early days of the Museum of Drexel Institute.

c. 1900

This parasol, with its enamel, gold, diamond, and rock crystal handle is a very cosmopolitan object. Purchased at La Esmerelda, a specialty jewelry shop located in Mexico City, it features an extremely elaborate handle created by the House of Fabergé.

Day Dress

This dress bears the label of Augustine Martin and was purchased at the Philadelphia dry good emporium Darlington Runk in 1880. The success of the House of Worth paved the way for many other French couture houses such as Emile Pingat, Jacques Doucet, and Ernest Raudnitz. Even a relatively obscure maker such as Augustine Martin benefited from the success of Worth a Parisian import was prized even if from a less established name.

The House of Beer is one of the many French couture houses largely forgotten by history. In the early years of the twentieth century, Beer was known for luxurious, if somewhat conservative styles. The house was successful and the label inside this dress indicates they had branches in Paris as well as Monte Carlo and Nice. This afternoon dress, with its layers of lace and chiffon, is stylish for the period but not particularly fashion forward.

Evening Gown
c. 1926

M. d. C. Crawford, editor of Women’s Wear Daily, recalled “the leader of the world of fashion from around 1900 until after World War I was the Maison Callot.” Founded by three sisters in 1895, the house was famous for richness of color and intricacy and originality of cut. Although, the house was no longer innovative by the later 1920's, this evening dress still magnificent in its use of color and rich Moorish style embellishment.

Evening Gown
c. 1932

Jessie Franklin Turner was one of the first American designers promoted under her own name. She was revered for her unusual textiles and independence from Parisian styles. On her singularity she remarked, “I try to design costumes that are individual and that will give an enduring artistic satisfaction.” She commanded high prices for her exclusive custom designs and they are difficult to come by today.

Evening Gown

Elsa Schiaparelli is credited with launching the fashion for padded shoulders in the early 1930's.

Her eveningwear was typically covered-up and enlivened by surrealistic embellishments and unexpected materials. While this evening ensemble does not incorporate her dark humor, the unusual textile and shocking pink closure are typical of her designs.

c. 1947

After more than a decade as the head costume designer for MGM studios, Adrian launched his couture house and ready to wear collection in 1941. This suit is an exemplary example of his intricately tailored suits referred to by the New York Times as “fabric mosaics that defy fabric shortages.”

Evening Gown

James Galanos shot to fashion stardom in 1954 when he became the youngest recipient of the Coty American Fashion Critics Award after just three short years designing under his own name. This dress, donated by the designer’s sister, was featured prominently in the editorial coverage of his award.

Evening Gown

During his career apex in the late 1940's and early 1950's, Charles James was famous for his grand evening gowns and had a dedicated society clientele. The "Bustle" gown was originally designed for Standard Oil heiress Millicent Rogers in 1947. The name refers to the form-fitting and heavily-swagged garments of the 1870's and 1880's. This particular version is believed to have been made for Babe Paley in 1948.

Evening Shoes

Roger Vivier designed some of the most iconic shoes the mid-20th century and was celebrated for his inventive heel shapes. These candy pink taffeta shoes were made to coordinate with an elaborately embroidered evening gown designed by Hubert de Givenchy.

Evening Gown
c. 1964

This gown was donated by Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco, in 1969. Weighing nearly 15 pounds, the lace gown, designed by French couturier Hubert de Givenchy, was further embellished by raffia embroidery and tiny branches of genuine coral. The gown is by far the most be-loved object in the FHCC due to its royal provenance.

Day Ensemble
c. 1978

Issey Miyake rejected the traditional Western approach to fashion and the body. He drew inspiration from the traditional dress of Japan and advocated an oversized, slouchy aesthetic.

Evening Ensemble
c. 1978

Halston defined the new standard of luxury in the 1970's. His designs were known for superb materials and construction coupled with the comfort and ease of sportswear. This can be seen in the simplicity of this jersey tunic and pants enlivened by all-over sequins.

Cocktail Dress

This cocktail dress by Emanuel Ungaro is an example the exaggerated silhouettes and sumptuous textiles of the 1980's. This decade saw a return to more traditional notions of luxury after the sportswear based fashions of the 1970's and Haute Couture, once dismissed as antiquated, was embraced with renewed vigor. Paris was arguably re-established as the center of high fashion and designers such as Emmanuel Ungaro and Christian Lacroix flourished.

Evening Ensemble

Todd Oldham represented a new youthful energy in fashion during the early 1990's. This evening ensemble is from a collection inspired by interiors, complete with wallpaper- patterned skirt and picture frame belt buckle. The New York Times reviewed this collection and commented- “Some were pretty… All were loud. In fact, everything in the collection was more than a bit much. But its muchness was its magic.”

Knit Tunic

Shima Seiki’s revolutionary WHOLEGARMENT® knitting machines produce entire garments in one piece. The pattern is created using the SDS-ONE APEX3 3D design system and then input into the Shima Seiki WHOLEGARMENT® knitting machine. Hundreds of needles are then directed to create and connect multiple tubular forms. This process allows the clothing manufacturer to bypass the costly labor-intensive process required for traditional cut and sewn knitwear.

Evening Gown
c. 1980

This elaborately pleated and fluted silk gown by Madame Grès deliberately recalls the draperies of ancient Greek sculpture. Widely praised as masterpieces of construction, these gowns were a specialty of the designer for more than sixty years.

Ball Gown

This gown by Philadelphia-born designer Ralph Rucci is the penultimate expression of the art of fashion design. The ball gown, with its grand layered skirt, is a traditional form and has been crafted utilizing the sumptuous materials and impeccable techniques of couture.

It has been embellished with scattered paillettes and hand-torn appliqué inspired by the work of Louise Nevelson.


These printed pony skin bootees are emblematic of the heelless trend that dominated the runways and red carpet in 2012. The heelless look was introduced by Antonio Berardi in his collection for fall 2007 and most associated with Victoria Beckham, Daphne Guinness, and Lady Gaga.

Credits: Story

Curatorial Content
Clare Sauro with Cara Fry

Michael J Shepherd

This exhibition was made possible through the generous support of the Richard C. Von Hess Foundation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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