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Exhibition displays rare artifacts from three centuries of fashion history for the first time
Callot Soeurs, Detail of Evening Dress c. 1926, French, Gift of Mr. Alexander J. Cassatt.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- From a fragment of 16th century Italian velvet to an evening dress by New York designer Alexander Wang from 2012, the first large-scale, retrospective exhibition of highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection (FHCC) in Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design traces the arc of fashion history over the course of more than three centuries.

Immortal Beauty: Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection features select artifacts from the museum-quality collection of more than 14,000 notable garments, accessories and textiles, one of the finest and oldest research collections in the nation.

The exhibition is on display from Oct. 2 – Dec. 12 in the Westphal College’s Leonard Pearlstein Gallery (3401 Filbert St.). The gallery is free and open to the public, Tuesday – Sunday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

The exhibition of more than 75 items largely focuses on international high style of the 20th century. Examples include garments by Charles James, Gabrielle Chanel, Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Christian Dior, Mary Quant and Elsa Schiaparelli. Other notable pieces include couture by Philadelphia natives James Galanos and Ralph Rucci, and garments worn by women of style such as American socialite Babe Paley and Princess Grace of Monaco.

Immortal Beauty also showcases the Collection’s historic ties to the University. Formed in the late 1890s by A.J. Drexel, the founder of Drexel University, the Collection has always served as an educational resource for Drexel students, and some of the most exquisite items came from the estate of Drexel’s granddaughter, Minnie Drexel Fell Cassatt. Four of her couture garments, by makers such as Callot Soeurs and Jacques Doucet, are on display.

Even the title of the exhibit was inspired by Drexel: the phrase “immortal beauty” comes from a speech given by Drexel’s first president, James A. MacAlister (1891-1913), during the dedication of the then Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry, referencing the artwork purchased for what was then referred to as the Museum of the Drexel Institute.

Immortal Beauty is organized by Clare Sauro, curator of the Fox Historic Costume Collection.

“The items were selected both for their historical significance and aesthetic beauty,” said Sauro. “They reflect the breadth of the Collection and demonstrate its strengths, while giving a remarkable overview of more than 250 years of fashion change.”

The mission of the Collection is to educate and inspire through the documentation, exhibition and preservation of historic costume. Previously open by appointment only, the Collection has recently been made available to the public through educational events. These “Fashion Friday” and “Style Saturday” viewings each include an in-depth presentation on a particular aspect of fashion history, such as the legacy of 1920s fashion, and a private viewing of the Collection.

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