Reimagined Fashion

Photography by Mary Beth Creates 

By Shelley Hill Young 

Imagine walking into a closet filled with more than 3,000 articles of clothing dating back to the late 1600s and being able to pull whatever inspires you to create a new, modern look. 

That’s the opportunity that seven local designers got recently at The Charleston Museum, which houses an archive of 10,000 textiles, including 3,400 pieces of clothing. The designers’ modern takes on the inspiration they found will be on display for one night, March 14, for an event called Reimagined Fashion. It’s organized by two new curators at the museum in partnership with stylist and blogger Andrea Serrano to bring attention to the museum’s extensive costume and textile collection and to showcase it in a different way. 

My clothing line is entirely vintage inspired,” says Kristen Fanarakis, the founder of Senza Tempo and one of the designers participating in the event. “I write about fashion history in my social media and blog. So it’s a dream come true to be able to mix my current items with a piece of Charleston history.”  

Prior to 1985, the museum’s mission was to be a “window to the world,” explains curator of historic textiles Teresa Teixeira. In the 1980s, the museum’s mission changed to focus on Lowcountry history. But the museum still had a collection of clothing items from around the world that often is not on public display. 

“Wealthy Charlestonians would go on vacation and they would pick up things specifically to donate to us,” Teresa says.  

Many pieces come from the 1920s during the Charleston renaissance, when artists, writers and architects flourished and helped to establish the city as a tourist destination. Women’s pieces are often what got preserved and passed down from generation to generation until a family member donated it to a museum. 

There’s a gorgeous blue satin-woven silk kimono embroidered with silk floss and gold that dates back to 1900 that was purchased by a Charlestonian who was on vacation in Panama. Illustrator Daniel Velasco used it as his inspiration for a poster to promote the event.  

The oldest item in the archive is a Motte family christening mantel made of brocaded silk woven with gold thread and etched with gold lace, which dates back to the 17th century. The family came to Charleston from France and likely brought the piece with them, Teresa says. 

The newest piece of the collection is from 2014 – the wedding dress Kayla Bennett wore to her ceremony at Magnolia Plantation. She and her partner, Kristin Anderson, were the first same-sex couple to get legally married in South Carolina. 

Teresa says this event gives her and the designers the freedom to time travel and mix items from different time periods, which is not possible when displaying the items in a historical context. 

For example, textile artist Kristy Nicole Bishop is planning to pair a 1920s velvet dress with a skirt from 50 years earlier, in the 1870s.  

I’m always drawn to color first, and since the garments are hung together in cabinets, the first thing that catches my eye is a colorful skirt or sleeve, Kristy says. “I want to juxtapose different styles that are connected by a certain color palate. I’ll be styling the looks with my custom natural-dyed rope necklaces.” 

Andrea is pairing a piece from the collection with a handmade dress from the Philippines that her mother wore.  

We’re all about the preservation of the architecture and the food,” Andrea says. “I feel like clothing gets overlooked.”  

Liza Holian, the events coordinator for The Charleston Museum, says museum curators don’t want to keep the contents of the costume archives hidden away.  

“With such a collection, it’s hard not to want to do anything with it,” she says. “We want to show it off as much as we can.” 

If you go:
Reimagined Fashion
Seven local designers use textiles from the Charleston Museum’s archive as inspiration to create modern looks for this pop-exhibit and reception. Enjoy beverages and light hors-d’oeuvres. Tickets are $45 to 55. 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 14, Charleston Museum, 360 Meeting St. Visit charlestonmuseum.org.