A glimpse of what has been going on behind previously closed doors at Ryerson Universitie’s costume archive. From the Ryerson University website:

Opening the digital door to Ryerson’s fashion research collection
By Kirsty Pazek-Smith


OCTOBER 30. 2013

LuAnn Lafrenz, School of Fashion professor, left, and Ingrid Mida, Fashion Research Collection co-ordinator and Fashion MA graduate, with a pumpkin yellow silk taffeta sleeveless evening dress with matching jacket c. 1930. With funding from the Learning and Teaching Office’s classroom innovation grant program, more than 150 key artifacts from the collection have been photographed and are being added to a new, accessible online portal that will give users a digital look at the evolution of Canadian fashion history.

In February 2012, a door was opened for Ingrid Mida, a then Ryerson graduate student pursuing a master’s in fashion. Behind an unmarked door on the seventh floor of the Library Building, were piles of boxes and bins, and racks upon racks of donated clothing that made up the largely unheard of Ryerson Fashion Research Collection which was established in 1981 and documents the history of Canadian fashion since 1860. Amid the chaos, Mida saw tremendous opportunity.

With approval to undertake an extensive review of the collection, Mida examined the contents of every box, bin and rack, and used her knowledge of costume history and Canadian fashion to curate and refine the collection from 7,000 to 3,000 pieces. She used her connections within the museum community to survey fashion study collections in North America and developed best practice guidelines.

Today, the collection is no longer hidden behind an unmarked door. Mida, who is now the part-time co-ordinator of the collection and the editor of The Costume Journal, oversaw the renovation of eight rooms in Kerr Hall West (KHW66 and 64) that have become its new home. Most of the pieces have been donated by friends of the university and where there are missing aspects, such as corsets, Mida consigned some items to begin to fill out the collection. Significant pieces include rare, early 20th-century gowns and accessories, examples from Canadian designers and retailers, as well as international designers such as Christian Dior, Valentino and Balenciaga.

Even with the move to the new space, many of the collection pieces are not readily accessible as excessive handling accelerates deterioration. With the support of LuAnn Lafrenz, a fashion professor, and with a grant from the Ryerson Learning and Teaching Enhancement Fund (LTEF), more than 150 significant items from the collection were photographed by students last summer and are being added to an online portal. When the portal is launched, users will be able to browse images and search records based on designer, label and country of origin.

Students and faculty can use the online images as a valuable classroom resource for construction methods, fashion history, material culture, as well as for research and inspiration.

“Fashion trends repeat themselves and today’s designers find inspiration from the past,” said Mida. “By opening up the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection online, both graduate and undergraduate students, as well as faculty, gain first-hand access to a very valuable resource.”

Mida conducted a survey of best practices among leading fashion universities in North America to better understand how Ryerson could utilize the collection as a teaching tool and to facilitate research among graduate students and faculty. While a select number of universities in the U.S. such as the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles have their collections online, no other Canadian university offers such a digital research tool that focuses on Canadian artifacts or fashion history.

“While there are other extensive Canadian fashion collections maintained by a couple of prominent museums, access to those collections is very limited,” said Mida. “You can’t compare the experience a student has when they view a garment or accessory in person as opposed to behind a piece of glass.”

Both Mida and Lafrenz hope that the digitization of collection pieces will facilitate faculty and student interdisciplinary research and teaching.

“The online platform represents a new strategy for enabling faculty from both within the School of Fashion as well as other departments such as image arts and history to become familiar with the collection,” said Lafrenz. “Once they have knowledge of the pieces and artifacts, they’ll better be able to include objects from the collection into their teaching and research.”

And for School of Fashion Chair Robert Ott, there is a tangible connection between the collection and Ryerson’s reputation in the Canadian fashion industry.

“Ingrid has personally undertaken the challenge to reimagine this virtually unknown collection, both within the academic and fashion community at large. The digitized collection will include works by Canadian designers, which don’t exist in any other collection, and will elevate the profile of the School of Fashion and Ryerson as a supporter of the Canadian fashion industry.”

The digitization of the Fashion Research Collection is one of eight projects funded in 2012-13 through the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Fund (LTEF), created to support learning and teaching excellence, a key priority of Ryerson’s Academic Plan. The LTEF, administered through The Learning and Teaching Office, aims to increase faculty ability to apply innovative learning strategies in the classroom, labs, studios and work placements, as well as to support scholarly research around higher education teaching.

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