Textile conservator Melanie Sanford of Textile Preservation Services of Texas showcases a skirt from 1875 during Conserving the Classics: A Lecture with Melanie Sanford held at Stephen F. Austin State University. The skirt is part of SFA's collection of approximately 800 pieces of fashion items. The university is working to raise funds to update facilities to help preserve these artifacts.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Stephen F. Austin State University's fashion merchandising program in the School of Human Sciences recently hosted Conserving the Classics: A Lecture with Melanie Sanford on the university's campus.

During the lecture, Sanford, a textile conservator with experience in high-profile venues such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Dallas Historical Society, discussed textile conservation, restoration, storage, and handling and display techniques. She also provided a brief discussion regarding the recovery of wet textiles after a disaster.

As a textile conservator, Sanford has helped with the preservation and display of well-known textiles, including former first lady Jackie Kennedy's "Mona Lisa" dress, which is a beaded evening gown Kennedy wore to the opening of the Mona Lisa exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in 1963. Sanford also has textile conservation experience reaching much further back in history to a red coat from the Revolutionary War.

"This event allowed the fashion merchandising program to continue to foster relationships with university and community groups we have worked with on exhibits or special programs utilizing pieces from SFA's collection," said Jamie Cupit, instructor in SFA's fashion merchandising program.

During the lecture, Sanford showcased several items from SFA's collection, including a bodice and skirt from about 1875, a 1911 lace graduation dress, and a 1960s Diane Von Furstenberg leopard jumpsuit. She also highlighted historical fashions in her presentation, including an evening gown with beetle wings stitched in to add iridescence.

"The collection contains numerous pieces tied to university and Nacogdoches history worn by well-known area residents and university and community leaders," Cupit said. "The collection serves as an artifact for documenting community history. This event allowed us to showcase that and highlight the dire need to preserve it."

SFA's collection comprises approximately 800 fashion apparel pieces and accessories dating from the 1870s to 1990s. While the majority of SFA's collection consists of women's apparel, it also includes men's and children's apparel, military uniforms and wedding dresses dating from 1890 to 1980.

Additionally, the collection contains accessory pieces from the 20th century, which includes approximately 500 hats from designers such as Mr. John, Adolfo and Elsa Schiaparelli. More than 60 pairs of brand-name shoes and handbags dating from the 1880s to the 1970s also are part of the collection. There are many late 1800s reticules (small handbags), 1950s and 1960s beaded evening bags and 1970s box-style bags made of wicker, plastic and wood.

Sanford assessed SFA's collection and offered advice on its preservation, storage and handling.

"Being able to bring a knowledgeable conservator to SFA to conduct a preservation assessment of the collection means we are taking the necessary steps toward a long-range plan for the care and sustainability of it," Cupit said.

The collection is utilized primarily for teaching 20th century costume, which studies the evolution of fashion with an emphasis on the relationships of clothing, people and the times in which they lived, and visual merchandising, which identifies techniques for the visual presentation of fashion merchandise. Students create displays, display cases and a fashion gallery utilizing the collection.

Currently, the collection is housed in a small storage area located behind the fashion gallery in the Education Annex. According to Cupit, the storage area was not designed for apparel preservation and due to a lack of proper preservation equipment and facilities, many of the earlier, more delicate pieces are beginning to deteriorate.

An initiative is underway to raise funds to update the equipment and facilities and conserve SFA's collection for posterity.

A grant funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities sponsored Conserving the Classics.

For more information about the collection or how to make a donation, contact Cupit at (936) 468-2238 or jrcupit@sfasu.edu.