Mount Mary University Digital Collections

Mount Mary Fashion Archive

Fashion Archive garments on display
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
The Mount Mary University Fashion Archive consists of approximately 10,000 garments and accessories as well as fashion art and periodicals. The first official donation was a gown worn by Aileen Ryan, then the Milwaukee Journal Fashion Editor, which was designed by Rosalie Macrini and made of fabric printed by Mount Mary faculty member Sister Remy Revor. The collection includes garments, furs, shoes, hats, gloves, and other accessories ranging from the 18th century to the present. It features both couture and ready-to-wear garments from such fashion luminaries as Cristóbal Balenciaga, Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Norman Norell, Bonnie Cashin, Oscar de la Renta, Jean Patou, Valentina, and Karl Lagerfeld among many others.
This vast array of artifacts from internationally renowned designers serves multiple purposes. Maintained and preserved by the university’s fashion department, the Fashion Archive is the only such resource in the Milwaukee area. Many items are one-of-a kind and museum quality, appropriate for both exhibition and research.
Sister Aloyse Hessburg and Mount Mary students
Sister Aloyse Hessburg and fashion students in a Mount Mary classroom
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
Conceived more than 50 years ago by Sister Aloyse Hessburg, SSND, the first chairperson of the Mount Mary fashion department, the Fashion Archive is first and foremost a resource for the university’s fashion students, providing a treasure trove of items that demonstrate various aspects of high-quality design and general clothing construction. Mount Mary fashion faculty use items from the Fashion Archive in the classroom to illustrate construction techniques, fabric selections, embellishments and other elements of fashion design. Mount Mary students are able to access the collection to gain information, conduct research, or seek inspiration.
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Program from 1985 exhibit of wedding gowns in the Fashion Archive
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
Items from the Fashion Archive have been part of exhibitions at The Milwaukee Art Museum, Ten Chimneys, The Museum of Wisconsin Art, the Pabst Mansion, the Wisconsin State Historical Society, and many other venues. The Fashion Archive includes garments from the closets of noted Wisconsin women including designer Florence Eiseman, chanteuse Hildegarde, actress Lynn Fontanne, and more. Many items help chronicle the history of the garment industry in Milwaukee, including notable manufacturers such as Reliable Knitting, Jack Winter, JH Collectibles, and others. 
In addition to its educational and historical significance, the Fashion Archive is also an important artistic and aesthetic resource. Members of the arts community can utilize the Archive to help them authentically incorporate fashion into their own work.
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Dress designed by Bonnie Cashin displayed on a mannequin. This dress is featured in the Digital Fashion Archive, Object ID #2004.03.102.A.
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
Items in the Archive have been purchased through auction and obtained through gifts. The Friends of Fashion, a group established in 2005 on the initiative of Sister Aloyse Hessburg, and dedicated to the conservation of historic clothing and cultural artifacts, has also generously supported the preservation and growth of the Fashion Archive.
The objectives of Friends of Fashion included raising funds to maintain, preserve, and exhibit the Mount Mary Fashion Archive; increasing awareness of the Fashion Archive among the local museum and fashion community; making the Archive more of a community resource; and bringing community energy and expertise to the Mount Mary fashion department and Fashion Archive. Plans to reinstate the Friends of Fashion are underway.
Moving forward, Mount Mary strives to increase awareness of the Fashion Archive and the university’s fashion program, to protect these irreplaceable artifacts, to offer community and scholarly access to the Fashion Archive, and to establish a permanent exhibition gallery to showcase the Fashion Archive to a wider audience.
In 2021, Mount Mary University began creating a digital version of the Fashion Archive to optimize access for fashion design students and faculty, fashion professionals, scholars, curators, collectors, and anyone interested in the history of fashion. The Digital Fashion Archive (DFA) is an educational and research resource that allows researchers to study fashion as it evolved in the classroom, on the runway, and in the world at large.
Created by professionally photographing garments and accessories in the Fashion Archive, the DFA provides users with 360° views and the ability to zoom in to examine items in detail. Currently, thanks to two years of grant funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), the DFA contains approximately 10% of the entire Fashion Archive. The aim is to continue digitizing additional items whenever possible.