The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston has recently been given two major collections of 20th century fashion. This consists of 100 fashions and the complete archive of legendary American fashion designer Arnold Scaasi, plus the complete archive of original drawings by one of the most influential fashion illustrators of the 20th century, Kenneth Paul Block.
The MFA was the first general art museum in the United States to establish textiles as “fine art” when it created its department in 1930. The collection features objects from the 3rd century BC through today, including costumes, accessories, needlework, shoes, and textiles from all over the world.
The departmental library, one of the largest of its type in the country, includes rare books of the 16th century to early 20th century to contemporary fashion publications. At present, 350,000 objects of the 450,000 works housed at the Museum are online, most with images and all with curatorial notes and provenance information.
As for the new acquisition, the Arnold Scaasi collection features evening ensembles, ball gowns, cocktail dresses, day suits, and coats – all of which were given to the MFA by the designer himself.
The collection includes the infamous black tulle sequined “see-through” pants ensemble worn by Barbra Streisand when she accepted her 1969 Academy Award for Funny Girl. In addition, the Museum is purchasing all of the design drawings from Scaasi’s collections, which number over 500.
The Museum is also purchasing the designer’s archive, which includes more than half a century of scrapbooks and videotapes containing photographs and press clippings from 1955 to the present. Highlights from the acquisition include clothing worn by Streisand in the film, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, the original prototype of Barbara Bush’s sapphire velvet and satin inaugural gown, and a coat made of antique paisley shawls lined in chinchilla for artist Louise Nevelson. Also included is a white dotted net ruffled evening dress worn by recent Celebrity Apprentice winner and a personal icon of mine, Joan Rivers.
The Museum has also been chosen to receive Kenneth Paul Block’s (1924-2009) archive of original drawings. As the primary illustrator for WWD, Block documented fashion from the late 1950’s to the early 1990’s. The gift from the artist includes 1,844 original 20th century fashion illustrations and couture sketchbooks, as well as five boxes of supporting materials. The drawings included in this gift are representative of Block’s four-decade-long career and reflect the work of a wide range of designers, including Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Halston, Oscar de la Renta, and Geoffrey Beene.