A Library of Fashion Gets a Stylish Makeover

NEW YORK — Even with the boundless wonders of the internet, many students writing papers are daunted by the fear of research: where to begin, how to begin, which library to use and so on.

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, New York Times

NEW YORK — Even with the boundless wonders of the internet, many students writing papers are daunted by the fear of research: where to begin, how to begin, which library to use and so on.

But for Bethany Gingrich, 26, starting to write a thesis about Erte, the Russian-French illustrator and designer, was thrilling.

Gingrich, a second-year graduate student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, works in Special Collections and College Archives, a unit of FIT’s Gladys Marcus Library, which is on the fourth floor of the school’s Manhattan campus and is nicknamed Sparc. She has relied on autobiographies and biographies as well as Erte’s sketches to get the right information.

“It was really my introduction to Erte through the sketch collection at Sparc which led me to further exploration of his work,” Gingrich said. “Having the physical resources on-site and available means the world of difference.”

These resources were recently upgraded, with a sleek $3.6 million renovation designed by Samuel Anderson Architects and unveiled in the fall. Sparc was expanded from 3,500 square feet to 6,100 square feet and now has a 1,000-square-foot mechanical room.

New compact shelving, which provides more storage space and climate-controlled storage with sliding steel shelves, allows for better protection of rare and in some cases fragile fashion documents and prototypes.

Among the many artifacts at Sparc are original Marc Bohan sketches for Dior. A note from the vendeuse at Dior addressed to “Miss Coleman” sits at the front of a large book of several sketches sent to a debutante in 1966 with options for dresses that she could have personally made.

Minutes of Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) meetings, invoices to designers and letters to Oscar de la Renta kept by Eleanor Lambert, the storied publicist, are also housed in the library, telling the story of a busy woman who cared deeply about American designers and the future of textile manufacturing. Additionally there is a nearly complete set of Fashion Calendars from the longtime show scheduler Ruth Finley, which put together provide a timeline of trends and up-and-coming designers over several decades, and prototypes of shoes dating back to the 1960s.

Many contemporary designers do research for current collections at Sparc. Professional costume designers as well rely on the documents in the library to accurately depict moments in history, among them Catherine Martin, who designed the Oscar-winning costumes for the “The Great Gatsby” (2013), featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan.

Historians and university administrators interested in the institution’s past also can be found burrowing in Sparc’s 240 linear feet of institutional archives. There are books and periodicals, oral histories and designer scrapbooks, including 10,000 rare books from around the world and a collection of 375 unique manuscript collections.

The renovation effort was led by Karen Trivette, the archivist and special collections librarian. When she accepted the job nearly a decade ago, Trivette knew the renovation was on the horizon, but didn’t fully grasp what was ahead.

“I reached out to colleagues that I knew had been through renovations because I had never in my professional career been through such a renovation, and it was a very scary proposition,” she said.

For inspiration, Trivette visited the Morgan Library & Museum, the Frances Mulhall Achilles Library at the Whitney Museum of American Art (particularly to see its new storage spaces), the Museum of Modern Art Library, Museum of the City of New York and the Brooklyn Museum of Art Library.

“I was like Indiana Jones,” she said. “All over the map.” And finding untold treasures.

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