Exclusive Vault Visit

As chair of the Arizona Costume Institute’s Holiday Luncheon, I got to select garments from the Phoenix Art Museum’s impressive fashion collection for display at this major fundraising event. And that meant a tour of the museum’s highly guarded, nearly sacrosanct Vault by the museum’s esteemed curator of fashion design, Dennita Sewell. Her knowledge of fashion history and the 7,000 garments stored in the Vault is unmatched and respected around the world.

But what awaited me on my visit eclipsed even those high expectations and defines what fashion has come to mean to me.

Here’s the story.

I was fascinated by the world of 18th Century fashion. We were pulling down a box housing an 18th Century court gown, when I saw photos of men’s cutaway coats on a nearby storage box. In that box were two men’s coats. Through the layer of tissue I saw a man’s 18th Century cutaway high-collared jacket with a creamy, satin lining designed with an extra layer of fabric for warmth – a winter court jacket worn for special occasions and crafted to last many years. Tiny glass beads lined both sides of the cutaway.  Robin’s egg blue fabric settled between tiny puffs of cut velvet. There was an extraordinary pattern of embroidery in a creamy satin thread. I could see the slender elegant gentleman holding his partner as they danced at a court ball. Such is the power of fashion to create from whole cloth a life story.