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August 30 – October 15, 2018

Cornell Costume & Textile Collection–Level T, Level 1, Human Ecology Building, Cornell University

Curator's Introduction

An eclectic exhibition, indeed. It grew out of a simple and (intentionally) vague prompt: texture. What resulted was a group of students and staff members selecting some of the most visually stunning and beloved items hidden in the corners of our costume and textile collection. TEXTURE is about how fashion and textile objects can ask questions beyond their selvedges and seams.

Different moments in fashion history prefer particular surfaces and materials giving rise to trends. Here, I sought to display how these surfaces and materials might transcend moments. Take for instance the selection of linens: a gown embellished with a Soutache braid; the cut hem of an undergarment; an old pillow case. Together they tell a story about about social status, intimacy, and domesticity. As I began categorizing the surfaces of various objects, I was surprised to find that they were also displaying new relationships between region, time, and technique. In this exhibition, one can see a handwoven Igbo cloth in conversation with the Furkini; or, a Givenchy jumpsuit standing next to a 1980s Fortuny revival ensemble. Looking for texture brought a wide array of contexts together. More so, geopolitical shifts are embodied in the objects on display. There is the story of Mirrha, a woman enslaved in New Spain whose refusal to assimilate her clothing is now a symbol of Mexican nationalism. There is the Armenian quilt, originally constructed in present day Turkey, that was likely tucked in the suitcases of a family fleeing genocide. Objects like these, emerging out of violence and border crossing feel particularly salient today. These objects remind us that little has changed. After all, it is only the names of these places that are different. You see, this show is about far more than a textured surface. The initial theme brought these items together, of course, but once they were installed their proximity gave rise to much more complex questions than even I had anticipated.

-Amanda Denham, MA ‘17 Research Assistant, Cornell Costume & Textile Collection

The Exhibit

Faculty Advisor’s Introduction

TEXTURE explores the tenuous, textured, tactile interface between the clothed body and the social world in a display of 12 looks and 22 items in the Human Ecology Display Cases. Texture is an element of design, which is simultaneously tactile and visual. We highlight the diverse and dialectical array of textured materials found in world dress, high fashion, and home textiles: from paper dresses of the late 1960s to the gratuitous surfaces of Arnold Scaasi’s gowns to the decorative splendor of the late 19th century and the diversity of textile production and dress practices across the globe. Our human relationship with the textures that live atop the body boundary are complex and often full of tension: something soft can quickly turn into an itch, and something scratchy can bother, while something smooth might soothe. Layered on top of these sensory experiences are social ones. Fashion studies scholar Elizabeth Wilson reminds us that dress is “uneasy territory” because it “links the biological body to the social being [...] it forces us to recognize that the human body is more than a biological entity. It is an organism in culture, a cultural artifact, event, and its own boundaries are unclear.” TEXTURE exploits these boundaries, and therefore simultaneously entices and aggravates.

As the faculty advisor, I presented the concept of this exhibition to the chief curator, Amanda Denham MA ‘17, and the undergraduate research assistants in the Cornell Costume & Textile Collection in spring 2018. From there, they each selected a number of different garments, textiles, and accessories from the collection and began working to find themes for the cases. Ms. Denham selected from these possibilities, created textural themes for each case, and added some of her favorite pieces as well. This is certainly an eclectic exhibition because the theme of texture cuts across time and space, and is an integral part of fashion everywhere. Texture is not temporally or spatially bound, but exists in all materials. After all, everything has texture.

-Denise Nicole Green, ‘07, Director, Cornell Costume & Textile Collection


We begin by acknowledging that Cornell University is located in the traditional homelands of the Gayogohó:no (Cayuga Nation), one of the six Haudenosaunee nations. This exhibition was funded in part by the Cornell Council for the Arts, the Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design, and through generous financial gifts from donors and alumni. Amanda Denham MA ‘17 served as chief curator, and assistant curators included Amanda Dubin ‘18, Jacqueline Fogarty ‘18, Jacklyn DeVito ‘18, Tuyen Nguyen ‘20, Alexandra Malakoff ‘20, Livia Caligor, ‘21, and Nora Cowett, with graphic design by Hannah Mackey, ‘18 and Yvonne Schichtel ‘21. Special thanks to our collection manager, Helen McLallen, for her assistance throughout the curatorial process.