Museum of the Month: Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising


FIDM LogoName of Museum: FIDM Museum & Galleries
Type of museum: Dress & Textile Museum
Location: 919 S. Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Admission cost: FREE!
Hours of operation: Open during exhibitions only; hours are usually 10-5, Tues-Sat.
Museum contact for information:,213.623.5821

Q: Can you introduce yourself and what do you do at the museum?

A: I’m Rachel Harris, the Social Media Manager for the FIDM Museum. My job is to promote the FIDM Museum via the FIDM Museum Blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I also write copy for our website,, and produce a tri-annual newsletter for the FIDM Museum Fashion Council, our friends group.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit more about your museum? [this can be anything from an interesting story about how it was founded, the scope of the collection and/or other things that make your museum fun and unique.]

A: Our collection focuses on fashion and fashion history and its relationship to art, society, history, and technology. Overall, our holdings currently number approximately 15,000 objects covering more than 250 years of history, 18th Century to the present. We collect not only garments, but also accessories (shoes, hats, belts, etc.), jewelry, textiles, fashion periodicals, patterns, and photographs, all in the service of documenting and understanding the role of fashion past, present, and future.

Q: What is your day-to-day job like? What's the best part of your job?

A: I love promoting the work of the FIDM Museum! Everyone works so hard and we have so many interesting projects underway; I love being able to share this (often unseen) work with the public. It’s fantastic when people respond to a picture or project and let me know via a comment or email. I spend a lot of my time on the computer, checking our various social media accounts and responding to inquiries. Planning and producing content takes up the bulk of my time. I try to plan our Blog at least 3-4 weeks out, while leaving room for timely, topical posts that emerge. For Facebook and Twitter, I try to be a bit more flexible as there’s always something unexpected and interesting to share.

I also carefully track the work of my colleagues so I know what they’re currently working on and what’s around the bend. This helps me plan content for our social media platforms, particularly our Blog. I like to use the FIDM Museum Blog to document and showcase major projects and achievements, such as rehousing our extensive collection of Rudi Gernreich garments and ephemera and winning an award for our 2009 exhibition High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture.

Q: What are some of the upcoming programs/exhibits your museum is doing?

A: In February, our annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Designexhibition opened. We host this exhibition every year and it’s very popular! This will be our 22nd year. Visitors love seeing costumes from their favorite films in real-life.

We also opened two smaller exhibitions of garments and accessories drawn from The Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection, one at the Los Angeles Gallery—BLISS: 19th Century Wedding Gowns—and one at our satellite Orange County Gallery—Bound to Impress: Corsets. Helen Larson was a Los Angeles-based dress historian who gathered a collection of more than 1,000 dress and textile objects over a fifty-year period. Dating from 1600 to 1950, the collection consists of women’s, men’s and children’s fashions. There are many gems in this collection, including many dresses associated with European royalty (Queen Victoria, Empress Eugénie, etc.) and wonderful haute couture by Worth, Poiret, Chanel, and others. We’re in the thick of a fundraising campaign to acquire this collection, which is a multi-year project.

Both the Hollywood and The Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection exhibitions will be open until April 26, 2014. Our exhibitions are always free, so stop by if you’re in the area!

Q: What would the museum do if it had more funding?

A: We’re currently involved in a campaign to raise funds for the purchase of The Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection, a stellar collection of dress and accessories owned by local collector Helen Larson. If we had more funding, it would definitely go towards the acquisition of this collection!

Midriff top, Louella Ballerino, 1946, Gift of Patricia Marks, 2003.45. FIDM Museum Collection. Midriff top, Louella Ballerino, 1946, Gift of Patricia Marks, 2003.45. FIDM Museum Collection.

Q: What is one of your favorite objects in the collection? Why did you pick it?

A: We have so many wonderful, amazing objects! It’s truly difficult to select a single favorite. But, if I had to pick one object, it would be a coral and black 1940s crop top. This top was donated to the Museum in 2003, along with a photo of the donor wearing the top. In the museum field, having this kind of supporting documentation is a so illuminating and important. It’s a way of establishing the history of a garment, while also pinpointing a moment in fashion history, which often illustrates broader social and cultural preoccupations. When it was donated, we didn’t have an exact date for the crop top, though we could date it approximately to the late 1940s.

Several years after the initial donation, a researcher familiar with our collection spotted a printed advertisement for our EXACT crop top in a 1946 issue of California Stylist, a now defunct fashion periodical. This serendipitous find gave us the exact date of the crop top, and also revealed the designer: Louella Ballerino, an important California sportswear designer of the 1930s and ‘40s. Having triple documentation is so fulfilling! I also love the way the pieces fell into place over the course of several years. It really pays to keep your eyes open and train your memory! You can read the full story on our blog: