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Indiana University Bloomington

Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design College of Arts and Sciences

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Fashioning a Legacy Irwin Sweeney Miller Style

Kelly Richardson and Kate Rowold, Special to the HT

This fall, the Sage Collection in the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design at Indiana University will present “Fashioning a Legacy Irwin Sweeney Miller Style”. This exhibit will feature artifacts from members of the Irwin Sweeney Miller family of Columbus, Indiana.  The Irwin Sweeney Millers fostered a number of successful businesses including Irwin Union Bank and Cummins Engine Company, and are noted for their philanthropic interests in the arts, architecture, and humanities, as well as their commitment to community and spirituality.

Spanning more than 100 years, the women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing and accessories in this exhibition come from a large number of artifacts donated over a 40-year span, beginning in 1969. Exhibit highlights include gowns by Vionnet and Molyneux worn for presentation at the Court of St. James in 1923 and 1928; J. Irwin Miller’s raccoon coat; haute couture by Jean Patou; and clothing by notable American designers Bill Blass, Adele Simpson, and Ben Reig.

While individual artifacts tell the story of these special Hoosiers and feature exquisite tailoring and fabrics, “Fashioning a Legacy Irwin Sweeney Miller Style” can be viewed as a microcosm of the evolution of American fashion design.  In the late 19th century, wives of American industrialists purchased their best clothing in Europe, their fine fashions serving as visual reminders of their families’ success.  In the early 20th century, department stores relied on adaptations or outright copies of Parisian designs, as European styles ruled the pages of fashion magazines. Awareness of American design slowly grew in the 1930s, and the occupation of Paris during World War II led to department stores promoting American designers out of necessity. Ultimately, the unique talents and appeal of American fashion designers was acknowledged as manufacturers added designer names such as Indiana native Bill Blass to clothing labels.

 “Fashioning a Legacy” will be the inaugural exhibition in the new Indiana University Center for Art and Design-Columbus (IUCAD-C). Scheduled to open in November 2011, IUCAD-C is a partnership between IU-Bloomington and the Columbus community. With downtown Columbus providing the infrastructure for the education services and Indiana University-Bloomington providing dedicated faculty, IUCAD-C will offer a boutique program of design studies, building on the existing assets of the community and the university. IUCAD-C will examine design in its broadest definition by integrating interior design, architecture, industrial design, art, and fashion—revealing their unifying elements and principles.

“Fashioning a Legacy” will run from November 4, 2011 through January 7, 2012 in the IUCAD-C gallery, 310 Jackson Street, Columbus, Indiana.

For more information about the opening of the IUCAD-C and “Fashioning a Legacy”, see http://www.indiana.edu/~sagecoll. The Sage Collection is part of Indiana University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Overseen by the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design, the Sage Collection serves as a high-quality permanent collection of dress and related objects intended for exhibition and research, as well as a hands-on laboratory and studio for members of the IU community and the public.

Kelly Richardson is the Assistant Curator and Kate Rowold is the Curator of the Sage Collection at Indiana University.