Founding Fashion: The FIDM Museum

”An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Benjamin Franklin, 1706–1790

Afternoon Dress (1935/1939) by Gabrielle “Coco” ChanelFIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising

FIDM was founded by current President Tonian Hohberg in downtown Los Angeles in 1969. The concept of a FIDM Museum dates from 1973, when the Fashion Design Department insisted that students studying clothing design and construction examine garments firsthand in order to fully understand textile drape, pattern structure, and finishing techniques. Staff and faculty responded by raiding their personal closets to assemble the fledgling museum’s first collection. 

“FIDM Museum exhibitions are our gift to students and the community. Additionally, we want to acknowledge the generosity of all of our donors and supporters—past, present, and future—for their assistance in helping us to provide students, researchers, designers, and the public with resources to examine the role of historic fashion”
Barbara Bundy, Museum Director

Mission Statement
The FIDM Museum and Library, Inc. collects, preserves, and interprets fashion objects and support materials with outstanding design merit. It fosters student learning, public engagement, and recognition of the creative arts and entertainment industries by providing access to the collections through exhibitions, publications, and other research opportunities.

Evening Gown (1985) by Marc BohanFIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

1978: The Beginning

When formally established in 1978, the nonprofit FIDM Museum and Library, Inc. was met with immediate enthusiasm, its initial holdings enhanced by a splendid gift from founding donor Betsy Bloomingdale: the collection’s first French haute couture ensembles.

Unisex Caftan Textile DetailFIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

Rudi Gernreich Archive

As the years passed, the FIDM Museum grew in proportion to the size of the college. In 1985, the Rudi Gernreich Archive was magnanimously bequeathed to the museum by the designer’s estate. Five years later, a new Los Angeles campus was built, including designated storage space for the museum’s 5,000-piece collection.

Evening Jacket Front ViewFIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

1993: The FIDM Gallery

Community outreach—always important to the museum—attracted new donors, as did various displays of the collection’s pieces on FIDM campuses. The FIDM Gallery opened in 1993, providing a permanent space for presenting the growing collection. The museum mounted exhibitions ranging from California sportswear to Hollywood costumes—exhibitions that were always free to the public in appreciation of the community’s longstanding, generous support.

Mourning Gown (1895/1899)FIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

1997: 10,000 Objects

By 1997, the collection numbered over 10,000 objects. A curatorial department was established to oversee the museum’s care and direction; the FIDM Gallery was expanded to 8,000 square feet with a dedicated gallery staff; and the Museum Shop was opened to support the museum, selling alumni work and merchandise complimenting the exhibition themes.

Lipstick Presentations (1935/1950) by Lucien LelongFIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

1998: Permanent Collection and the Hands-On Study Collection

In 1998, the collection was divided into the research-oriented Permanent Collection and the hands-on Study Collection. The museum then began to convert its hardcopy object records into a multifunctional digital database, constructed three state-of-the-art compact storage areas, and acquired the Annette Green Fragrance Archive, expanding the scope of its collections to mirror the multiple disciplines taught at FIDM.

The size, caliber, and awareness of the collections have increased, and the museum has branched out into documentary productions, catalogue publications, and social media activities.



The FIDM Museum has attracted more than 1,000 donors over the past thirty-three years. These generous patrons have contributed seventy percent of the current collections, which now include approximately 15,000 objects covering more than 200 years of history, 1800 to the present.


The Collection

Fashion does not stand still, and neither does the FIDM Museum. Adding new treasures can be challenging, since many of them are sought after by other institutions. Top among the museum’s current priorities for acquisition are women’s dress from the first half of the nineteenth century and nineteenth-century accessories.

Evening Gown (1969) by Geoffrey BeeneFIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

Collecting Policy

The museum focuses on the strong design merits of high fashion, most of the collections are dedicated to fashionable women’s dress, and acquisitions are determined primarily by how well an object represents its time period, exceptionally unique design, and a designer’s oeuvre.

The past decade of collecting—2000 through 2010—has transformed the FIDM Museum. Not only have extraordinary, often rare objects been entrusted to the museum’s care but individuals and corporations have offered funding to purchase select pieces.


Accessory Collection

Though many fine examples of female millinery line the museum’s storage cabinets, there are fewer shoes, fans, parasols, and handbags.

Man's Frock Suit (1858/1862)FIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

Menswear Collection

Menswear, particularly before the twentieth century, is desired, but remains elusive because it is much in demand by world museums. The FIDM Museum also actively pursues high-quality men’s and women’s fashions from the past thirty years.


Nonetheless, unknown dressmakers share archival storage space with famous designers. Rounding out the collections are folk dress and non-Western garments valued as sources of comparison with European and American fashion. Accessories are also a vital component, exhibited individually or as part of a head-to-toe look.

Runway Photograph of Chloé, Spring/Summer 1984 Collection (1984/1984) by Karl LagerfeldFIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

Photography Collection

Photographs and fashion plates depicting real and ideal versions of dress are sought as valuable exhibition pieces in their own right, but also to help the curators style historic ensembles on mannequins. In museum displays, all of these materials work together to illuminate the cyclical nature of design history.

Blouse (1947/1947) by Salvador DalíFIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

20th - 21st Century Collection

American designers Gilbert Adrian, Claire McCardell, and Norman Norell are now more fully represented, along with international designers Issey Miyake, Vivienne Westwood, and Alexander McQueen. The Gianni Versace Menswear Archive is a standout acquisition, as is the Michel Arnaud Photography Archive housed in Special Collections.

Evening Dress Front ViewFIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

The Collection Today

The collections now include exemplary nineteenth-century Parisian haute couture gowns by Merlot-Larchevêque, Charles Frederick Worth, and Félix Poussineau. Twentieth-century garments by luminaries such as Madeleine Vionnet, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Yves Saint Laurent have been acquired.

Photographic Stereograph (1856/1860)FIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

The Ephemera Collection

Ephemera such as periodicals, patterns, and photographs support the study of design by illuminating historical contexts. Additionally, interior textiles, swatch books, and embroidery samples complement the fashion holdings and provide a rich understanding of related disciplines.

Man's Court Suit DetailFIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

The Exhibition Galleries

The museum’s collections attract students, researchers, interns, and volunteers from around the world. Its objects travel worldwide both in FIDM Museum-curated exhibitions and as loans to peer institutions. The FIDM Museum & Galleries continues to evolve because of the strong foundations for growth laid by past leaders and staff. It acquires new fashions as they are created and rare masterpieces as they are discovered. 

ManMode: Dressing the Male Ego Exhibition

10th Annual Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design Exhibition


Research, Events and Workshops

The museum’s collections attract students, researchers, interns, and volunteers from around the world. Educational and community-oriented events have become a hallmark of the FIDM Museum in Downtown Los Angeles. Admission to the exhibitions is always free.

Evening Dress Detail ViewFIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

Future Planning

Plans for the future include a conservation laboratory in Los Angeles and expanded gallery space on the FIDM Orange County campus. Eventually, a graduate program for the curatorial study of fashion history will bring full circle the original mission decreed at the founding of the FIDM Museum: to provide students, researchers, designers, and the public with resources to examine the role of historic fashion, accessories, textiles, jewelry, fragrance, and related ephemera in their relationship to society, history, art, and technology.

Logo Ensemble Front ViewFIDM MUSEUM & GALLERIES

The Study Collection

Though all of the collections are accessible for research, the Study Collection is particularly valuable for FIDM students, who have unlimited opportunities to examine the garments and accessories for classroom projects or personal inspiration.

Credits: Story

© FIDM Museum & Library, Inc.

Kevin L. Jones and Christina M Johnson. FABULOUS! Ten Years of FIDM Museum Acquisitions, 2000-2010. Los Angeles: FIDM Museum Publications, 2010.

Photography by Brian Sanderson.

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