Monday, November 5, 2012

Vintage Treads and Threads

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Not a week goes by that I don't encounter a recent museum visitor or read a review that expresses shock at the extent of our collections. It's not surprising that many expect to find no more than a few Model Ts and other old Fords in a Fairbanks car museum, and we are thoroughly entertained by the stunned looks on visitors' faces when they walk through the door and see a huge gallery full of ~60 spectacular automobiles.

I am even more delighted by the women who tell me they didn't want to come to our facility, but then enthusiastically admit that the cars and clothing blew them away. In the past year our historic fashion collection has grown to rival our assemblage of automobiles. In fact, we now have over 100 costumes on display, making ours the largest permanent clothing exhibit in Alaska, if not on the West Coast.
Our historic fashion curator, Barb Cerny, has assembled a fabulous array of gowns, suits, dresses, coats, hats and accessories spanning 150 years. While the focus is on the same time periods represented by our cars, several garments date back to the 1880s. From custom gowns to ready-to-wear day dresses, there are even a few treasures by well-known designers such as Mariano Fortuny, Jean Patou and Callot Soeurs on display. Some pieces are from Alaska pioneers, showing that the women who arrived here during Fairbanks' rough frontier days were just as interested in fashion as their contemporaries to the south.

A walk through the museum vividly illustrates how fashion changed from the Victorian's tightly corseted, restrictive clothing to the looser sophistication of the Roaring 20s and glamorous 1930s--just as automobiles evolved from boxy carriage shapes to sleek, stylized designs. My favorite pieces are from the Belle Époche and Art Deco periods, especially the Titanic Era gowns and beaded flapper dresses. Which are your favorites?

This winter we will be offering monthly curator talks that will include behind-the-scenes looks at the fashion collection and several "Under the Hood" tours of the automobiles. Watch our Facebook page for details. And if you need more convincing that you should visit our museum, check out some of our TripAdvisor comments (and please add yours if you have already visited).

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