White House Historical Association, NYU to All Fashion Designers – WWD


HISTORY LESSONS: Who designed former First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s inaugural dress in 1977?

The fact that this question would baffle even the most keen history buffs is indirectly at the origin of an unexpected new rapprochement. In an effort to bring attention to some unsung or little-known designers and seamstresses who worked with former first ladies, the White House Historical Association has formed an academic partnership with the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development in New York University.

This semester, the association is sponsoring an internship to help raise the profile of NYU Costume Studies graduate student Maegan Jenkins’ work. Through a collaboration with WHHA’s David M. Rubenstein White House National History Center and its digital library team, she is putting together a digital exhibit, “Glamour and Innovation: The Women Behind the Seams of Fashion to the White House”.

Archival photos, portraits and press clippings will be used to tell the stories of eight freelance designers, seamstresses and seamstresses. Spanning over 100 years, the virtual show will begin with Elizabeth Keckley, who was born a slave and became a successful seamstress, working closely with Mary Todd Lincoln. In the spring and summer of 1861 alone, Keckley made 15 dresses for Lincoln. In 1865, Keckley employed 25 seamstresses.

A dress designed by Elizabeth Keckley for Mary Todd Lincoln.
Courtesy of Mrs. Julian James Bequest

Keckley was one of the first African American women to publish a book – a memoir in 1868. Last year, Keckley was among 100 designers featured in the “Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion” exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum. .

The union aims to show how institutions can leverage their strengths to create innovative art projects and enlighten the public with new ideas, according to Nancy Deihl, chair of the Department of Art and Art Professionals at NYU. Steinhardt. The internship project is in line with the association’s 2022 goal, “White House Tastemakers and Trendsetters”, which aims to explore fashion, cuisine, social traditions and individuals who have lived, visited or worked at the White House and influenced American culture.

Design by Mary Matisse for Rosalynn Carter.

Design by Mary Matise for Rosalynn Carter.
Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

As for Carter’s aforementioned inaugural dress choice, Mary Matise designed it. Matise’s personal story will be highlighted in the upcoming show. Carter was an early proponent of sustainable fashion choices. She had previously worn the gold-embroidered sleeveless coat over a gold-trimmed blue chiffon dress to husband Jimmy’s inaugural gubernatorial ball in 1971. Rosalynn Carter embellished her look with an After Five handbag for the presidential inaugural festivities in 1977.


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