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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON, ACQUIRES COMPLETE ARCHIVES AND COLLECTIONS OF RENOWNED FASHION DESIGNER ARNOLD SCAASI
BOSTON, MA (April 24, 2009)—The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), announces the acquisition of more than 100 fashions and the complete archives of legendary American fashion designer Arnold Scaasi. The collection features evening ensembles, ball gowns, cocktail dresses, day suits, and coats that are being given to the MFA by the designer. It includes the infamous black tulle sequined “see-through” pants ensemble worn by Barbra Streisand to accept her 1969 Academy Award for Funny Girl. In addition, the Museum is purchasing the complete assemblage of design drawings from his more than 500 collections with funds donated by Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, Eminent Benefactors of the MFA. The Museum is also purchasing the designer’s archive, which includes more than half a century of scrapbooks and videotapes containing photographs and press clippings from 1955 to the present, with funds donated by supporters of the Textile and Fashion Arts Department at the MFA. The acquisition represents the first time the Museum has secured a major collection encompassing drawings and costumes of a single designer. This elevates the Museum’s 20th-century textile and fashion holdings, making the MFA a major resource for the study of modern fashion and the American fashion industry.
Highlights from the acquisition include clothing worn by Streisand in the film, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, the original prototype of Barbara Bush’s sapphire velvet and satin inaugural gown, and a coat made of antique paisley shawls lined in chinchilla for artist Louise Nevelson. Also included is a white dotted net ruffled evening dress worn by Joan Rivers. “I am delighted that the MFA, one of the pre-eminent art museums in the United States, becomes the repository of my work, especially in light of the extraordinary depth of the museum’s collection of fashion arts,” said Scaasi. “I have been fortunate to design clothes for some of the world’s most celebrated and charismatic women. My collections and archival materials document my pursuit of innovative design and will further the study of 20 th-century fashion for generations to come.” “This does not mean that I am retiring, simply that my past archives are in one place where they will be put to good use professionally,” explains Scaasi. “I continue my couture made to order designs for private clients at my 52 nd Street salon just east of 5th Avenue and distribute my costume jewelry collections on the Home Shopping Networks.” Scaasi is one of America’s leading couture designers whose body of work in the mid 20 th-century reflected extraordinary creativity. Known for exquisite craftsmanship, each item took approximately 120 working hours involving at least three different craftsmen to complete. His creations, often adorned with intricate beading, feathers, or fine embroidery, were unique at the time they were created. —more—
MFA Boston, Scaasi Collection Acquisition, Press Release, p. 2 Through the years, First Ladies, celebrities, and socialites have been drawn to his luxurious, boldly hued and exciting fashions. First Ladies who wore Scaasi were Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Laura Bush. The long list of celebrities he dressed includes Elizabeth Taylor, Mary Tyler Moore, Sophia Loren, Mitzie Gaynor, Natalie Wood, Aretha Franklin, Polly Bergen, Arlene Francis, Joan Crawford, Lauren Bacall, Barbara Walters, Diahann Carroll, and opera legend Joan Sutherland. In addition, American socialites Brooke Astor, Princess Yasmin Aga Kahn, Lee Annenberg, Ann Bass, Barbara Davis, Charlotte Ford, Nan Kempner, Nina Griscom, Audrey Gruss, Pamela Harriman, Austine Hearst, Marylou Whitney, Rosemary Kanzler, Evelyn Lauder, Dina Merrill, Carrol Petrie, Danielle Steele, Pauline Pitt, Christine Schwartzman, Betty Scripps, Gayfryd Steinberg, Ann Ziff, and Ivana and Blaine Trump are only a few who have dressed in Scaasi for their most celebratory occasions. “The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is proud to welcome the works of Arnold Scaasi into its collection. Arnold Scaasi is an original, one of America’s most distinguished 20th-century designers. His work is bold and always inventive,” said Pamela Parmal, MFA’s David and Roberta Logie Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts. “This gift transforms the Museum’s collection of 20th-century fashion and reinforces its position as a leader in the area of fashion illustration.”
Scaasi began his fashion studies as a teenager in his native Montreal, continuing his education in Paris at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisenne, and afterwards at The House of Paquin before moving to New York where he worked with legendary couturier Charles James. His career soared after his flamboyant designs appeared in magazine ads for a wide variety of products, from motorcars, cosmetics, and bathroom tissue in the early 1950s. He landed the cover of Vogue Magazine in 1955, which launched his more than half a century-long career.
The designer has been the recipient of numerous accolades throughout the years including: the prestigious Cody Fashion Critics Award in 1958, the Neiman Marcus Award the following year, and three Gold Coast Awards in the early 1960s. He was awarded The Council of Fashion Designer of America (CFDA) Award for creative excellence in 1987 and its highest honor, The CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award, in 1997. In 2006 he received the National Arts Club’s Gold Medal of Fashion. The New York Landmarks Conservancy made Scaasi a Living Landmark in the 1980s.
Major retrospectives of his work have been mounted in venues across the country including The New York Historical Society and the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Last year, the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana, staged, First Ladies in Fashion: Featuring the Works of Arnold Scaasi. His work has also been included in numerous group exhibitions at The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, the Brooklyn Museum and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.
The designer chronicled his experiences dressing celebrities from around the world in his book, Women I Have Dressed (and Undressed!), (Scribner, 2004), and was the subject of Scaasi: A Cut Above, (Rizzoli, 1996), a complete illustrative book celebrating his iconic fashions.
The MFA is planning an exhibition and accompanying publication for 2010/2011. —more—
MFA Boston, Scaasi Collection Acquisition, Press Release, p. 3 The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Department of Textile and Fashion Arts The MFA was the first general art museum in the United States to establish textiles as “fine art” when it created its department in 1930. The collection features objects from the 3 rd century BC through today including costumes, accessories, needlework, shoes, and textiles from all over the world. The departmental library, one of the largest of its type in the country, is an international study resource that includes rich holdings ranging from rare books of the 16 th century to early 20th century to contemporary fashion publications. The MFA’s website, mfa.org, includes a collections database of the Museum’s renowned holdings. At present, 350,000 objects of the 450,000 works housed at the Museum are online, most with images and all with curatorial notes and provenance information.