While history and fashion may seem like completely unlinked topics, one upcoming event aims to stitch the two themes together seamlessly, and two local fashion students are already threading their sewing machines.
The Missouri Historical Society [MHS] is introducing a brand-new event titled, “Threads: History Never Looked So Haute.” The gala is a biannual cocktail party and runway show that merges elements of history and fashion and which serves as a fundraiser for MHS, a 501 [c] charitable organization. The funds will go toward the conservation and preservation of the items in the collection.
The “Threads” event will be held April 13 at the Missouri History Museum, located at 5700 Lindell Blvd.
Project Runway alumni and fashion students from local universities were invited to create haute couture designs inspired by items in the MHS textile collection, which includes over 18,000 pieces of clothing and accessories. Lindenwood University junior Natalia Soares da Silva and senior Anna Heinold are two of the three chosen student designers.
According to textile curator Shannon Meyer, pieces in the collection span from the late 18th century to the present, encompassing men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, accessories and even household textiles.
“It’s exciting because it’s a different way to make the public aware of the clothing and textile collection here at the Missouri Historical Society,” Meyer said.
The collection, according to Meyer, is still growing despite being near capacity for its current space. Part of its allure comes from the fact that the collection focuses on clothing and accessories related to St. Louis creators, designers and socialites.
“We want to take in items that have significance to St. Louis and to the people that lived here and their stories,” Meyer said.
Organizers hope the event draws attention not only to local talent in the area but also to MHS and the history of fashion in St. Louis.
Expanding St. Louis fashion
Da Silva’s ultimate goal also is to help expand the St. Louis fashion base.
A native of Brazil, she specifically came to Lindenwood University to pursue fashion in college. She said her biggest inspirations are designers Alexander Wang, Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior and Virgil Abloh. She also cited São Paulo’s Modern Art Week of 1922 as a source of inspiration.
To create the runway show, participants choose from a list of about 40 items in the society’s collection from which to draw inspiration. Each designer worked from a different item. Da Silva chose a stacked ladies pocket watch dating back to the 1700s.
“I like looking at elements like history and art, and sort of reinterpreting that relationship,” da Silva said. “That’s why I chose the pocket watch as my inspiration piece. I really like the painting on the watch’s background. It’s a fisherman with a river behind him, and even the way the numbers are arranged on the watch itself, I thought it was very beautiful, but just a little tacky, too. I thought about wanting to bring it up in a more modern way.”
While other participants opted to choose textile work in the form of jackets or dresses, da Silva said choosing an accessory allows greater freedom in the design process.
“Working with someone else’s work, like quilt work, seemed more restrictive,” she said. “If you’re working from an object, you can pretty much do whatever you’d like.”
The “Threads” event isn’t da Silva’s first time participating in a fashion show. In 2018, the university’s fashion show featured a garment she made in draping class. However, it will be her first time meeting most of the other designers.
“I’m excited just to meet new people and community,” da Silva said. “I didn’t grow up here, so it’ll be interesting to meet with other people in the local fashion community and just connect and meet new people through it.”
A little further along in her career development, Heinold has multiple fashion collections under her belt. She also was the recipient of a Draper of the Year award in May 2017 for a garment she made inspired by icebergs melting from global warming. Gazelle magazine featured that garment in a photo shoot for its January 2018 edition.
In addition to a four-part series in grayscale inspired by Dadaism, Heinold is currently working on her senior collection. Inspired by the effects of cigarette smoke on the lungs, the collection features a grayscale motif with touches of pink for color.
“I wanted to show the peachy, healthy lungs as it transitions to the lungs turning gray and black because of the smoke damage,” Heinold said.
For the MHS gala, Heinold selected a black crepe evening gown as her inspiration. The gown was worn by Lotowanna Flateau Nimms, who was the wife of Eugene Nimms, one of the founders of the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company.
“It stuck out because of the hem,” Heinold said. “It has these two points that look like a fishtail, or like a mermaid. Not an actual mermaid gown that flares out, but the hem comes to points like a fish’s tail. I thought that was interesting. I like that it was black because I like to work in grayscale. It had this green lining that peeks through in different areas.”
The gown itself dates back to between 1932 and 1935. The couple’s summer home, Bee Tree Farm, now serves as a St. Louis County park.
According to Meyer, it’s not unusual for pieces in the MHS collection to feature ties to local socialites.
“We try to focus on things that were made here, worn here, used here,” Meyer said. “We do have a nice assortment of things from the Garment District, and from early St. Louis dressmakers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the different companies around here.”
According to Heinold, one of the most exciting parts of the event is the opportunity to network with other fashion designers.
“I’m really excited to be there with all the Project Runway alumni,” Heinhold said. “It’s exciting for me to meet people I’ve seen on TV and work alongside them.”
Veronica McDonnell is chairing the event. Laura Kathleen Baker and Michael Drummond, both Project Runway alumni, are serving as Runway Committee co-chairs.
Project Runway participants who also will be creating designs for the event include:
• Margarita Alvarez, Project Runway, Season 16
• Anthony Ryan Auld, Project Runway, Season 9; Project Runway All Stars, Seasons 2 and 7
• Michelle Lesniak, Project Runway Season 11; Project Runway All Stars, Seasons 4 and 7
• Viktor Luna, Project Runway, Season 9; Project Runway All Stars, Season 3
• Amanda Valentine, Project Runway, Seasons 11 and 13; Project Runway All Stars, Season 6
“I hope they get the chance to explore and see all that St. Louis has to offer,” Meyer said of the participants.
Their designs will be revealed at the gala’s runway show and ultimately auctioned off for the benefit of MHS. But before going to the highest bidder, they will be featured in an atrium show installed on the lower level of the Missouri History Museum.
The “Threads” atrium show will run from April 14 through July 14 and will be free and open to the public throughout its installation.