Fashion museum in heart of Dallas

Few think of fashion as a medium for changing the world. At the mention of the word “fashion,” different images and ideas come to mind for different people. Some picture too-thin teenage supermodels and some think of high-priced designer brands. Thanks to The Fashionistas, the word may become associated with the reformation of downtown Dallas into a local, and perhaps international, hot spot.

The Fashionistas, founded by socialite Heidi Dillon in March 2005, is a Dallas philanthropic organization. Its membership includes “more than 300 of the most creative, stylish and philanthropic-minded men and women in Dallas,” according to the group’s Web site, thefashionistas.org. The key purpose of the organization is to raise funds to support the Texas Fashion Collection and Fashion on Main.

Besides hosting trendy authors such as Candace Bushnel, author of “Sex and the City,” and being guests at parties of high end fashion brands such as Gucci, Escada and Chanel, The Fashionistas are largely responsible for the new world-class fashion museum downtown.

The Fashionistas host lectures on art, fashion and design. Membership includes invitations to exclusive events within the metro-plex and a behind-the-scenes look at the fashion industry. Most importantly, the organization offers members a chance to influence the changing personality of downtown Dallas.

The organization’s Web site states, “By becoming a member of The Fashionistas or The Fashionistas two, you become a part of shaping the future of Dallas.” As life moves back into the city, many museums, shopping areas and real estate companies are taking advantage of new demands within the downtown area. They are shifting focus back into the heart of Dallas. Fashion will not be overlooked and is adding to the new character of the city.

Fashion on Main, located at 1901 Main Street in Dallas, serves as the new permanent gallery space for the TFC. The Fashionistas and the University of North Texas have joined forces to create a space that makes fashion available to the public.

Without The Fashionistas influence, Fashion on Main would look more like a warehouse than a museum. According to the curator and director of the TFC, Myra Walker, The Fashionistas “created the transformation of the space from a room to a gallery.”

The design of the gallery is chiefly influenced by the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Like Fashion on Main, the New York museum serves the school’s fashion design students, industry professionals and the fashion public in general.

The TFC is a part of the School of Visual Arts at the University of North Texas. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and documentation of historically significant fashion. The collection serves as an education resource for students, researchers and the general public.

It is now housed in Scoular Hall on the UNT campus and showcases more than 14,000 items of historic dress in a 4,500 square foot climate-controlled space. Fashion on Main will serve as a permanent gallery space for the growing collection.

According to the TFC Web site, www.tfc.unt.edu/main/AboutLegacy.htm, the collection was initiated in 1938. Stanley and Edward Marcus of the department store created the collection in honor of their aunt, Carrie Marcus Neiman. Neiman was a co-founder of the store.

TFC’s Web site also states that Stanley and Edward Marcus, “had the foresight to preserve examples from the work of top designers featured in the store.” Over the years the collection affiliated with other collections until it was moved to the UNT campus in 1972.

In the year 2008, “The collection will be 70 years old,” said Walker. The collection is constantly growing. It is adding to collections from past decades while creating new collections for the future. Fashion on Main is necessary for showcasing the priceless pieces owned by the TFC. Without the new downtown location, the university would be forced to stockpile the growing collection into the relatively small space.

TFC is one of the “hidden jewels in our (Dallas citizen’s) possession,” Dillon said of the TFC. The collection is one of the largest of its kind. Many pieces of clothing are held in a small space which prevents the collection from increasing in any “meaningful kind of way,” according to Dillon.

The collection is “currently housed in a storage facility in Denton and people can make the road trip up there but it is not really accessible.” The clothes are not displayed on mannequins but are on hanging racks at UNT. Fashion on Main will display different looks from various time periods on the first-floor gallery. The building will house a resource center on the fifth floor.

According to TFC’s Web site, “The Texas Fashion Collection was formed by people with a passion for great design and a love of fashion history.” Besides the issue of space, the issue of location is also prevalent. Many Dallas citizens do not want to face rush-hour traffic, and the 35-mile drive, to see it.

“Have you ever driven to Denton?” asked Myra Walker, director and curator of the Texas Fashion Collection.

“It’s a nightmare.”

According to Walker, the new location in the heart of Dallas is “really about accessibility.”

The TFC not only wants the collection to be available to students at UNT, it wishes to cater to all its constituents. This includes visitors, in town for vacation or a convention, new inhabitants out strolling along the streets and retired people’s interested in the fashion industry. A new museum in the area is expected to increase the amount of tourism in Dallas, providing new jobs and boosting the economy.

The new demographics present in the downtown area must be aware of the museum if the final vision of a permanent fashion museum is to be obtained. This is where The Fashionistas’ leadership qualities truly benefit the entire Dallas community.

“Dallas is unlike any other big city because people are almost afraid to go downtown at night due to crime,” said Liz Holub, a member of The Fashionistas two and a close friend of Heidi Dillon.

“If The Fashionistas were able to offer a museum where people could go see beautiful things in the downtown area, then the city would be one step closer to creating a downtown that people would want to visit whether they lived here or were just visiting.”

Holub also stated that the success of Fashion on Main is due to The Fashionistas. “If Heidi had not been involved, this would not have happened.”

The Fashionistas have received a large amount of publicity from local and national media outlets such as The Dallas Morning News, Women’s Wear Daily, Paper City, Modern Luxury Dallas, D Magazine, D Fashion and Lucky magazine.

“Heidi generates a lot of enthusiasm about the museum,” said Walker. “And it’s been a lot of fun to work with her organization.”

The Balenciagia exhibit, hosted by the Meadows Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University, is an example of the amount of media attention that The Fashionistas can ignite. According to Dillon, news of the exhibit was sent out over the Associated Press and picked up by a newspaper in Kuwait.

“Having a world-class fashion museum will obviously attract people from all over the world.” said Dillon. Fashion on Main has the potential to attract not only people within the metro-plex, but also from other areas of the world.

Holub did not expect The Fashionistas to snowball into the organization it is today. “Basically the reason for the museum came from dresses that the Dallas Historical Society had stored away. Dillon felt it was a fashion crime to hold such beautiful pieces in storage as artwork and not let anyone see them.”

From there, Dillon began searching for a space to showcase the dresses. Holub said, “She wanted a place to house these beautiful dresses and she thought there couldn’t be a better way to raise money than to make a group, make all her friends join it and host fun get-togethers while showing off these pieces. It has become something so much greater than I think she even thought.”

Luckily for Dallas, the organization has flourished. Holub continued, “I guess Dallas just needs a change in the downtown area and Heidi and The Fashionistas have just the personality to make it happen.”

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