In 1923, Stewart Culin, then Curator of Ethnology at the Brooklyn Museum, put on an exhibit titled European Costumes, Textiles and Ceramics. The exhibit featured costumes, dolls, ceramics, and other decorative arts from Eastern Europe. Culin’s correspondence indicates that he personally collected the hundreds of objects in the exhibits from dealers, professors, and aristocrats in then Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania over the course of many trips to the region.
Culin, along with M.D.C Crawford (editor at Women’s Wear Daily) were proponents of the “Designed in America” campaign of 1916-1922. Both thought that museum collections should be utilized by students of design to stimulate original clothing designs in the United States. Around this time Brooklyn founded its costume & textile collection—intended to serve the garment industry in NYC.
The exhibit set the foundations for how the Lab was meant to be used. The exhibit catalogue lists the hundreds of objects in the show, and then goes on to describe how they can be used as design inspiration. At the end of the exhibit were several examples of laces, embroideries, and costumes created by New York City designers (including a dress by Jessie Franklin Turner).
I’ve been pondering the dresses pictured above, which I saw at an auction last year, in light of this exhibit. The two dresses were part of the Brooklyn Collection and auctioned last March. As I recall, the dress on the left (of cream linen) was dated 1922. I wonder if the dresses were part of the exhibit, or at least inspired by it. Unfortunately we may never know where they ended up.