College of Design

Goldstein Museum of Design

Recently in COLLECTION

As anyone who saw The Devil Wears Prada knows, September marks the start of the fashion calendar year. The September issue of Vogue (and Elle, Marie Claire, Glamour, etc.) is traditionally the grandest of the year, chock full of the latest in haute couture. In honor of this month of couture, GMD takes a look at some garments by accomplished self-taught American designer Charles James. From expertly-sculpted coat sleeves to a cocktail dress that nearly stands up on its own, James looked upon his garments as works of art.

Here's a glance at two Charles James garments in the GMD collection.


The wonderfully detailed little black coat featured above has an elaborate stand-up collar, elegantly folded to create a peek-a-boo diamond cut-out. The coat's swing shape maximizes the fabric's thick body and sheen, making dramatic light catching waves. The sleeves, cut from a single piece of fabric, are expertly sculpted with minimal darting. Initially designed for pioneering Harper Bazaar editor Carmel Snow, the coat was originally made from a brightly colored wool plaid blanket. This formal version, in sleek black satin, provided far less warmth than looks. A bright yellow lining provides an unexpected burst of color.

James broke the rules of the traditional couturier - he often ignored the schedule of seasons and worked out of the US - and was therefore not eligible to be named an official haute couturier by the Chambre de commerce et d'industrie de Paris.

But he didn't need a French title to develop his innovative couture garment construction techniques and enjoy popularity as a fashion designer. James died in 1978 but has recently been the subject of a much loved exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and as a result, his bespoke designs are in the midst of a popularity surge.


On the surface, this dress seems rather straightforward - a typical 1950s cocktail dress meant to show off a woman's hourglass figure. In fact, this dress is so elaborately constructed, it nearly stands up on its own! James' inclination for complex construction is reflected in the darting and design lines; curved darts are difficult to execute, especially with a fabric as unforgiving as taffeta. And on the bodice construction, the same pattern piece transitions from back to sleeve without a seam line; an expensive and unheard of convention in manufactured garments.

| 1 Comment

After the Signed by Vera: Scarves by an Iconic Designer exhibition closes this Sunday, June 29, Gallery 241 in McNeal Hall will be closed in order to house part of the GMD collection as exciting improvements are made to our storage facilities.


In Fall 2012, GMD received a grant to develop a plan to redesign and rehouse the collection storage space that has been occupied by the museum since its inception in 1976. This area houses 13,000 items, including textiles, hats, children's garments, quilts, rugs, men's clothing, and all items of historic apparel made prior to 1940. Some objects in this room are stored in cramped non-archival cabinets made of particle board and plastic laminate, while others are stored in 1920s wood cabinets or in acid-free textile boxes stacked high on top of cabinets. Having ample space for each garment lessens the risk of damage by crushing and/or abrasion from other garments. The re-housing of a portion of these collections will significantly enhance their preservation, and facilitate their use in both classroom teaching and outreach programs.
This summer (2014) GMD will take on approximately one quarter of the developed plan and renovate this area. From June 30-September 18, 2014, we will be closing Gallery 241 in McNeal Hall to temporarily house the collection.

Visit for information on Alexey Brodovitch: Art Director, opening September 19 in Gallery 241 when the storage project is complete.

Objects in image above (left to right):
Straw Hat (1915-1925), Gift of Helen Ludwig
Cotton Flannel Petticoat (1870-1910), Gift of Mrs. William J. Wirth
Child's Red Cotton Dress, Lanz (1950), Gift of Shannon Murphy Pulver
Quilt (1840-1870), Gift of Mrs. Dwight (Helen) Minnich


Digitization is a critical answer to the balance between studying museum collection objects and preserving them. Digitized museum collections make it possible to share images of design with students, designers, and researchers - potentially everyone with access to a computer while minimizing handling of objects.

Goldstein Museum of Design (GMD) has photographed over 6,000 objects from its 30,000 item collection, making images available on a searchable database on the museum's website. The grant that funded this work expired this winter. Raising $10,000 by the end of the fiscal year will allow this important project to continue.

Open the collection storeroom doors wide! Give a gift of $100 today. Your donation can help students experience design across time and cultures.

Increasingly, students do most of their research on the web. Faculty members report that in some classes, every student relies on GMD's digitized collections database for their major project. Some students find inspiration for new designs after studying on-line images of collection objects. GMD's collection database has thrown open the doors to the possibilities of innovation and inspiration.

Will you donate to expand this important student resource? Please help us fill the funding gap and continue this important work with a donation.

Lin Nelson-Mayson signature.jpg

Lin Nelson-Mayson
Goldstein Museum of Design

Visit for more information about the Goldstein Museum of Design and to search the digital collection.

| No Comments

jess larocca.jpg
by Jess LaRocca

I'm Jess LaRocca, a sophomore in the Retail Merchandising program at the University of Minnesota. I am extremely interested in the evolution of design and love exploring its history and trying to learn more about what people need from design. Right now, I am researching different products throughout history for PDes 3170: The History and Future of Product Design. I have been searching through the Goldstein Museum's online archives, and am always intrigued by finding something new every time I log on. I am interested in Scandinavian design, especially that during the mid-century modern era, so the Danish Modern exhibit at the Goldstein is a source of inspiration for me!

This vase, produced by Swedish pottery company Gustavsberg in 1901, is an icon of Swedish Art Nouveau. The Art Nouveau Movement began in 19th century France and lasted through the early 20th century; it is best characterized by "whiplash" curves, stylized images inspired by nature, and often garish elements of style and form. However, at the root of this movement was a obsessive attention to detail in art and decorative pieces.

During the period of Art Nouveau, Sweden and Scandinavian countries began to develop their lasting design identities. In his book The History of Modern Design, David Raizman states that Scandinavian countries looked to traditional folklore and nostalgia, while also embracing modern expansions in design, which led to the development of "an appreciation for the decorative arts, deriving from a connection to nature, the dignity of handicraft, and the creation of modern national style."

The curvilinear properties of this design are a prime example of Art Nouveau pottery, but the overall simplicity of the form and its functionality reflect the Swedish dedication to handicraft and quality. The petal details also reflect both Art Nouveau principles and the Swedish tradition of drawing inspiration from nature through the use of stylized natural elements. Another important Art Nouveau element of this vase are the bowed lines from the petals to the mouth of the vase; these details create a sense of movement and focus, which were essential principles of Art Nouveau. The overall repetition creates an elegant example of the style in a way that also reflects the Swedish value of the beauty in usefulness.

Gustavsberg vase, 1901, 1982.007.001, gift of Marion John Nelson.


Fiber into Fantasy14.jpgZandra Rhodes' dresses on display in the GMD exhibition Fiber Into Fantasy (1999), curated by Marilyn DeLong.

by Natasha Thoreson

In 1991, Zandra Rhodes was commissioned to create the Chicago Marshall Field's flagship store holiday extravaganza display. The year's theme was Cinderella, so the London-based designer crafted 12 larger-than-life sparkling ball gowns that were then mounted on custom-made gold mannequins to tell the famous rags-to-riches story. After the holidays, the dresses eventually made their way - via Marshall Field's, Dayton's, and Target - to the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Fiber into Fastasy7.jpgRhodes' dresses on display in the GMD exhibition Fiber Into Fantasy (1999), curated by Marilyn DeLong.

Twenty-three years later, the unique dresses were introduced to me and four of my classmates in Dr. Marilyn DeLong's Material Culture and Design course. For the next year, Dr. DeLong, Mary Alice Casto, Seoha Min, Harini Ramaswamy, Meghan McKinney, and I worked together to research the dresses and the department store holiday display phenomenon. Our work will be published in an upcoming issue of Fashion, Style & Popular Culture. Here are some of the group's reflections on the process of working on this project at the Goldstein.

ZRhodes 022.JPG
Dr. DeLong: I first encountered the Zandra Rhodes dresses when they were donated to the GMD. They were fantasy dresses with historic references - not the usual donation. They offered insight into the theater involved in department store displays with their exuberant materials, frills, and glitter.

Mary Alice: Upon first seeing the dresses, they seemed quite costume-like though hard to determine where such a costume might be worn, they were so over the top.... the detail work for the painted designs on the fabric I always thought was spectacular.

ZRhodes 037.JPG
Dr. DeLong: The opportunity to research the dresses came when I taught the Material Culture and Design class. They offered an interesting comparison with the Zandra Rhodes artifacts already in the GMD historic costume collection and, as it turned out, the research completed by the students was worthy of publication.

Seoha: We had intense discussions regarding the objects and everything about the objects. It was really helpful because it is important to have different people's perspectives to analyze the hidden meaning of one object. Moreover, it was really an opportunity to learn how to collaborate with classmates.

Harini: This gave me the opportunity to analyze the different cultural influences, surprise elements and "the Zandra oomph" that manifested in her clothes. Zandra's dresses simply reflected her identity - a fun loving, expressive, one-of-a-kind designer with a vivid imagination. Her dresses also reflect that she is bold and adventuresome. She often breaks the rules and is unafraid to embrace the unconventional.

ZRhodes 041.JPG
Meghan: Finding photographs of the original Zandra Rhodes display proved to be next to impossible! It predates the widespread use of the Internet by enough years to make it difficult to find photographs online, but it didn't take place so long ago that people are beginning to scan photos as nostalgic items from their pasts.

ZRhodes 045.JPG
Harini: Putting myself in the shoes of a child, I would be really enchanted and fascinated to witness the original display. As a child, I remember being drawn to fairy tales and this would definitely be something memorable.

Mary Alice: I think the original display must have been the stuff of fairytales and fantasy as they were intended, everything to make a little girl smile.


Thanks to ongoing financial support from people like you, we are able to continue to digitize the GMD's extensive collection of over 30,000 items of apparel, textiles, furniture, decorative arts, and more. The digitization team (fondly known in-house as "Team Digi") makes it possible for you to see the collection online, no matter where you are. This March we have the pleasure of welcoming a brand new photographer, Ellen Skoro, to the team.

Until it closed last summer, Ellen was a photography instructor and administrator at the College of Visual Arts in Saint Paul. With a Masters degree from Minneapolis College of Art and Design and a Bachelors degree from Columbus College of Art and Design, Ellen has extensive experience as a freelance photographer. Her personal work, which can be seen at, focuses on portraiture. She was recently awarded a Minnesota State Arts Board (MSAB) Artist Initiative grant to finish a six-year portrait project. Her other work has revolved around capturing still lifes of objects, experience that will translate directly to photographing the GMD collection.

Currently, Team Digi is photographing a variety of textiles from the collection. In order to create the illusion that the pieces are lying flat or magically floating in a void, the team must create an elaborate setup consisting of black panels and fabric-covered bars propped against the wall at just the right angle. Following the same protocol that has been in place for the objects that have been photographed in the past, the team meticulously calibrates the camera and shoots with powerful strobes in soft boxes. Undaunted by the complexity of this challenge, Ellen instead is exhilarated. "This museum is so cool! I'm really excited to be here!" she tells us. We couldn't agree more.

To date, 6,000 objects (or 20% of the collection) have been photographed and can be viewed online. You can now contribute directly to the continuation of this project. Visit to help make our collection accessible anywhere in the world.

Visit to search the collection.


by Paula DeGrand

I've been volunteering in the Goldstein Museum of Design Research Center most Tuesday mornings for a year and a half. I recently finished working with a couple thousand donor files. The files I saw each week contain the paperwork – deeds of gift, acknowledgment letters, and inventories of donations – involved in changing the ownership of property. What an interesting way to learn about a collection!

Over the months, I found not only deeds of gift and acknowledgment letters, but yellowed newspaper clippings of wedding announcements, faded portraits of wearers in their finery, fabric swatches, receipts for a suit tailored in Shanghai a century ago and for lingerie from Deco-era Paris. As I worked my way through these files, I couldn't resist seeing whether certain donations had been photographed and were included in GMD's online collection database. When they had, I could count on properly prepared and lighted garments and accessories that had been photographed in beautiful detail. I construct clothes from 1930s, '40s, and '50s patterns and am always excited to find and share documentation of aesthetic choices and technical solutions from those periods. GMD's photographs are simply great ways to see these details.

The photographs are so inspiring and instructive that when I started my blog, Getting Things Sewn, a year ago, I created a feature, "Backstage at the Goldstein," to showcase garments I'd discovered during this project. Using these photographs, I have brought to my readers' attention curved welt pockets, bound buttonholes, and a whimsical yet sophisticated use of polka dots. Invited to look closely, even my readers who don't sew have responded with surprise, enjoyment, and curiosity.

It puts a smile on my face to remember walking into the Research Center and seeing, close-up, clothing and accessories not only by the best-known designers but also by skilled dressmakers and home sewers whose names are unknown to us today. Thank you, Goldstein staff, for preserving these precious items.

Visit to read more about Paula's explorations of the GMD collection and to see the projects it has inspired.

| 1 Comment

by Jean McElvain, Assistant Curator at the Goldstein Museum of Design

The 2014 senior apparel lines presented at the Align Fashion Show on the 15th of February were serious and smart as they strode through the courtyard of Rapson Hall. With an array of whites, blacks, grays, and beiges, even the most devout modernist likely craved a bit of color by evening's end. But the diversity of lines brought a riot of smart styles that explored gender-bending, tradition, and futurism. As someone who is constantly looking back at the history of fashion through my work with the Goldstein Museum of Design's collection, I saw hints of past styles while viewing the work of these emerging designers. The likenesses between them are arguable, but I was inspired to explore precedents for a few of my favorites.

The calm romanticism of Karen Fiegen's wedding gown had traces of a mid-1950s Adele Simpson evening dress. The white dress is, of course, much more demure than its strident black counterpoint.

alignandcollection1.jpgleft: Gown by Karen Fiegen. Photo by Rod Hasse.
right: 1984.047.009 Adele Simpson, 1950-1955, Goldstein Museum of Design Collection, Gift of Mrs. Elmer L. Andersen.

Jessa Manthe's toothy gray coat immediately reminded me of 1970s coat by Donald Brooks. While the style lines are dissimilar, Manthe's emphasis on materiality and quirk echoed Brooks' surprising diamond-pattern of raccoon fur.

alignandcollection2.jpgleft: Coat by Jessa Manthe. Photo by Rod Hasse.
right: 1988.022.001 Donald Brooks, 1970, Goldstein Museum of Design Collection, Gift of Annette Neff.

The brooding nature of Paul Erling's dress evoked a 1980s silhouette with de-emphasis on the female form. Erling's dress "out-drama's" its Zandra Rhodes comparison, but both have a sneak-peek element that keeps us visually re-visiting the garment over and over.

alignandcollection3.jpg left: Dress by Paul Erling. Photo by Rod Hasse.
right: 1992.035.008-3 Zandra Rhodes, 1980-1989, Goldstein Museum of Design Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Miles (Shirley) Fiterman.

The crisp lines and blocked use of black and white of this ensemble by Thanh Nguyen elicits a 1980s vibe, complete with a tight turned collar and office-chic attitude.

alignandcollection4.jpgleft: By Thanh Nguyen Photo by Rod Hasse.
right: 1992.035.019 Chanel, 1975-85, Goldstein Museum of Design Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Miles (Shirley) Fiterman.

Kayna Hobbs' jacket, with its asymmetry and highly constructed angles, immediately reminded me of Thierry Mugler's work from the 1980s. Both handle complexity, rigidity, and femininity with aplomb.

alignandcollection5.jpgleft: Jacket by Kayna Hobbs. Photo by Rod Hasse.
right: 2005.001.020-1Thierry Mugler, 1990-1995, Goldstein Museum of Design Collection, Gift of Emily Willard.

Align: The Exhibition will be on display in the GMD's HGA Gallery through May 4, 2014.
Visit for more information.


Quilt, 1904-1920, wool, 79 x 54 in. Goldstein Museum of Design, Gift of Patricia and Clyde Burmeister 2006.057.001

Joining the GMD's collection in 2006, this quilt comes complete with an interesting provenance. Gifted by Clyde and Patricia Burmeister, the quilt can be traced back to Clarkfield, Minnesota and Mrs. Burmeister's grandparents, Konrad and Sophia Solberg. Konrad Knute Solberg (1874-1954) was the 27th Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota; however, it is his Clarkfield haberdashery shop that most affects the study of this quilt.

The Burmeisters explained that the quilt was created from suiting samples taken from Solberg's store, established in 1903. In an era when clothes were still being made by hand either at home or by local tailors, such stores carried a wide variety of commercially produced bolts of fabric, including suiting material for men, women, and children. Suiting fabric was produced in a variety of structures, from basketweave to herringbone to elaborate jacquards, examples of each seen in this quilt

Each of the quilt's squares measures approximately 8 x 4 ½ inches. Some feature small discolored square stains in the corners, perhaps the result of a chemical response to glue from a label or binding in a sample book. It was not uncommon for women to use samples or textile remnants in their quilts. They saved scraps from garment construction, recycled worn clothes or furnishing fabrics, and sent for scraps from textile mills.

Sometimes referred to as "comforts," utility quilts like this featured simple designs without borders, large blocks of sturdy fabrics, and colorful yarn ties. Large square blocks of pre-cut fabric samples would have been quick to piece together, especially by machine. The maker of this quilt skipped the decorative quilting step, opting to quickly tie the blanket together with yellow yarn knots. Quilts like this were most often made by those with the fewest resources, whether those resources were fabric, time, or a warm, cozy winter fire. Yet, the owner of this quilt was a well-to-do businessman and farmer, soon to be elected Lieutenant Governor. While it is certainly possible the Solberg family fell on hard times, it is more likely that this quilt was "utilitarian" only in spirit.

- Natasha Thoreson, Collection Assistant

Search for more fascinating quilts in our digital collection at


Coverlet, 1840-1880, wool and cotton, 85 x 42 in. Goldstein Museum of Design, Gift of Mrs. Frank Haynes 1980.105.006

Coverlets emerged in the early 19th century alongside new developments in spinning technology. While the cotton gin was perfected in 1793, it was not until local mills adopted the "spinning-jenny" in the early 19th century that cotton yarn became readily available, and affordable, to the masses. Cotton was difficult to spin by hand and poorly spun cotton was ill-suited for weaving. However, mill-spun yarn was both strong enough and cheap enough to use at will. It was also much easier to use than wool. Cotton yarn did not need to be scoured, washed, or sized. Sizing required dipping woolen yarn in a homemade glue-like solution of eggs, water, and flour. This helped strengthen the yarn and keep it moving smoothly through the loom. Commercially produced cotton saved the weaver a great deal of time and effort.

The coverlet developed as a distinctly American art form in the 1810s, as a patriotic symbol of American ingenuity. The southern United States produced ample amounts of the fiber; Americans perfected methods for harvesting and utilizing their native crop. Though the Revolution was over, the British still hoped to force an American reliance on British industry. They flooded the United States market with cheap cotton textiles produced in India. The British surmised that if imported textiles were easily obtained, perhaps Americans would not go through the trouble of creating their own textile mills. Instead, Americans worked to develop their own mills and cotton products. Therefore, homemade coverlets were a way to demonstrate American independence, an alternative to British cotton exports. While nowhere stated as such, one might hypothesize that the red, white, and blue of the standard coverlet reflected this patriotic stance.

The coloring of the Goldstein's coverlet stands as an anomaly, a lone black sheep amidst a hundred white. While it is possible the coverlet's weaver deviated from the standards set by her neighbors, another explanation may prove more reasonable. Fueled by Arts and Crafts societies eager to resurrect folk craft, the arts of coverlet weaving and patchwork quilting were once again in fashion at the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps this coverlet was made in the revivalist spirit.

-- Natasha Thoreson, Collection Assistant

Watch for the final installment of the "Quilts and Coverlets in the Collection" blog trilogy, coming soon.




Archives List