UC Forward Course Takes Hands-on Approach to Teaching and Learning about a Fashion Icon

By Jennifer Krivickas

ucforward1First offered in the fall of 2013 and then again in spring 2014, “Documenting a Fashion Icon: The UC Bonnie Cashin Collection” is a ‘test kitchen,’ hands-­on course that incorporates trans-disciplinary inquiry and discourse, student crowd sourcing power, and Millennials’ innate love for technology, social media and images, to investigate, interpret, digitize and widely disseminate authoritative information about an important collection of garments (from the DAAP Historical Garments Collection) designed by Bonnie Cashin.

ucforward2Bonnie Cashin (1907-­‐2000) was a very influential mid-­20th century American fashion designer. A free spirit flying outside the limitations of the world of  Seventh Avenue, her practical approach to garment design spoke to, and answered, the needs required by the post‐World War II woman’s new fluid way of life. Though questioned greatly at first, the fashion world gradually accepted her point of view over a 30-year period and eventually copied her ideas extensively. Now, decades after her height of popularity, her design influence championing simple cuts, practical designs based on an active lifestyle and ‘mix and match’ sportswear still form the very foundation of contemporary Western fashion of the 21st century. The UC Bonnie Cashin Collection comprises just over 200 garments designed by Cashin (that she designed for Sills and Co., a leather house run by Phillip Sills) from 1960 through the 1970s.

ucforward3Students who have taken the course, “Documenting a Fashion Icon: The UC Bonnie Cashin Collection,” come away with an  understanding of how to conduct formal, historical and structural analysis of objects. They practice the principles of collecting and curating of both physical and digital objects, textile conservation and proper handling techniques and forms related to physical and digital preservation.

ucforward4The idea for this course grew out of a problem: UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) wanted to rehouse their entire Historic Garment Collection to make way for more classrooms. The administration approached Jennifer Krivickas, head of the Robert A. Deshon and Karl J. Schlachter Library for Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP), for ideas on how to deal with the collection. Krivickas was enthusiastic about the possibility of working with DAAP to properly preserve, document, rehouse and create access to the collection, but she knew the DAAP Library couldn’t take it on in its entirety, so she worked with the DAAP administration, faculty of the DAAP School of Design’s Fashion Department, visual resources librarian Elizabeth Meyer, Cincinnati Art Museum textile and costume curator Cynthia Amneaus and Cincinnati Art Museum conservator Chandra Obie to analyze the collection so as to extract and target the most valuable objects for conservation review, preservation, documentation, cataloging and storage. Based on the collection analysis, the group concluded that while the entire collection was a valuable teaching tool, the Bonnie Cashin objects were special and deserved of conservation review, preservation, documentation, cataloging and archival storage.

ucforward5Everyone understood the fact that the resources necessary to properly deal with this collection would be sizable, so with the help of DAAP Library graduate assistant Christopher Campbell (M.S. Architecture, DAAP/SAID 2013), Krivickas began researching grants that would support a project such as this. Once funding opportunities were identified, Campbell and Krivickas began writing the first grant proposal. It was sheer fate that near the end of the grant writing process, UC Forward sent out a call for proposals for innovative, forward‐looking, TRANS-DISCIPLINARY projects. Krivickas reached out to associate
professors of fashion design Hanna Hall and George Sarofeen and visual resources librarian Elizabeth Meyer to see if they might be interested in collaboratively applying for the UC Forward Grant, which would fund the necessary components of collection management. What was different about the UC Forward Grant was that in order to apply for funding, the project must engage students. This is where the idea for the “Documenting a Fashion Icon” course, a course that engages students in the documentation and ultimately, the creation of a globally accessible research resource, germinated and grew.

ucforward6“I came into this class with a love for fashion and its history, having aspirations to one day be a curator of costumes in a museum. This class opened my eyes to just how much consideration goes into the creation of a garment, as well as how much work goes into curating a display for the public,” said Ciera Philpott, DAAP art history major. “It also showed me how much of an innovator Bonnie was, and how she had a hand in creating many of the things we still wear today. I now have even more of an appreciation for both fashion and curating, and hope to have a future heavily involving both.”

Students who take this course learn how to conduct object analysis, interpret information and prepare succinct written descriptions of objects. In addition, they learn and practice the basics of database and website design, metadata and
standardized descriptive language and finally, how to organize, market and execute a successful, multidimensional event (an exhibition and opening).

“The goal of this course is to actively engage UC students in trans-disciplinary inquiry and discovery and to enable innovation through collaboration,” said
Krivickas, lead instructor of the course. “The course provides a global community of designers, historians, curators, students and design-minded lay people with free and open access to high quality visual and textual information about The UC Bonnie Cashin Collection, a collection with international research potential.”

The class will be offered again in fall 2014! The course number is FASH2099c.  Class meets on Tuesdays from 2pm‐4:50pm. For more information on Bonnie Cashin or the course, visit the website http://libapps.libraries.uc.edu/blogs/bonnie-cashin/the-uc-cashin-course/ or contact the instructor at jennifer.krivickas@uc.edu.