collection at the
School of Art
Professor Carrara conducts
a hands-on lesson.
hat from 1960,
sold at Saks
Gilded leather shoes
from Caovilla’s Spring
by Issey Miyake
Chicago’s most impressive fashion collection isn’t on display at one of our grand cultural institutions. Rather, it’s tucked away on the seventh floor of the unassuming building at 36 South Wabash. Helmed by professor Gillion Carrara, the School of the Art Institute’s Fashion Resource Center—which celebrates its 25th anniversary this month—is a collection of thousands of books, magazines, videos, fabric, and garments that offer an encyclopedic look at every aspect of fashion, from inspiration to presentation and every stitch in between.
“I wanted to create not a museum, not a library, but a resource center, where students could understand the existence of a garment that defines you, that you move in, pose in,” says Carrara of the project, which first began in a small closet. A quarter-century later, Carrara, with the help of colleague Caroline Bellios, has grown the Fashion Resource Center into a two-room facility where SAIC students from any discipline can drop by at any time (guests can visit the center by appointment).
The FRC houses fashion magazines from as far back as 1890, from turn-of-the-century copies of Harper’s Bazaar to present-day publications Visionaire and i-D; numerous fabric samples, from polyester to rubber to the newest sustainable fabrics; more than 3,000 books on every facet of fashion, including historical nonfiction books, instruction manuals, designer biographies, fashion sociology books, and u?ber-specific titles like Occupational Costumes of England: Eleventh Century to 1914; and a video section with runway shows, technical tapes, and designer interviews. But the crème de la crème of the FRC is its wardrobe, which holds a meticulously organized collection of contemporary avant-garde garments (with a few well-chosen vintage items).
“We want each item to be extraordinary, but it has to be beautifully made and have a great concept,” says Carrara of the pieces. Along the racks hang the most innovative works from Alexander McQueen, Rick Owens, Comme des Garçons, Azzedine Alaïa, Issey Miyake, SAIC alum Gary Graham, and many more. The FRC collection has grown in part because of Carrara’s personal relationships and sterling reputation in the fashion world. “My friendships helped me to organize the best possible collection,” she says. It’s so stellar, in fact, that the Art Institute is featuring a selection of Japanese avant-garde pieces from the FRC for an upcoming show, Material Translations, which runs from early November 2012 through April 2013.
After 25 years, the Fashion Resource Center continues to grow under Carrara’s careful guidance. In early 2013 the FRC will host its first symposium, featuring Isabel and Ruben Toledo. In the meantime, Carrara will continue her work as steward of this remarkable institution. “We’re an aesthetic collection, but we’re also a technical collection. We’re very discriminating.”