Fashion and history go hand in hand: you need to know about the past so you can build from it and learn from it. While the internet is becoming more and more prominent, it is still difficult to figure out where to start with such a vast source of information.
Bethany Gingrich, a 26 year old second-year graduate student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, had a similar problem when she started to write a thesis about Erte, the famous Russian-French designer. Gingrich worked from Special Collections and College Archives, a part of F.I.T.’s Gladys Marcus Library, on the fourth floor of the school’s Manhattan campus– also known as Sparc. The thesis quickly turned exciting.
Through Sparc, Gingrich had access to autobiographies and biographies as well as Erte’s sketches:
“It was really my introduction to Erte through the sketch collection at Sparc which led me to further exploration of his work. Having the physical resources on site and available means the world of difference.”
Sparc recently got an upgrade with a much needed $3.6 million renovation that was designed by Samuel Anderson Architects and was unveiled this past fall. The building was expanded from 3,500 square feet to 6,100 square feet and even includes a 1,000 square foot mechanical room. The building now includes new compact shelving, making it easier to store things. It also contains climate-controlled storage with sliding steel shelves. This protects some of the rare or fragile fashion documents and prototypes.
Spar has many artifacts in their library, and among them are original Marc Bohan sketches for Dior. A note from the vendeuse at Dior addressed to “Miss Coleman” lies on the front of a book filled with sketches sent to a debutante in 1966 with a variety of options for dresses that she could have had made.
Many new contemporary designers do research for current collections at Sparc. Many professional costume designers also rely on the files that are in Spar to help them accurately present history. Catherine Martin, who designed the costumes for “The Great Gatsby” (2013), uses Sparc for information.