My absolute favorite class (ever!) was Accessory Design at the The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). It was because of that class taught by Gillion Skellenger (now Gillion Carrara) that I can say I achieved success in creating and selling my own apparel line to boutiques in the 90s. It was through Gillion I learned it was necessary to perfectly sew every seam, finish every edge (even finish the finish!) and understand the importance of creating accessories that are durable as well as of high quality materials and impeccable design. Gillion not only taught me how to study successful designers but to look into myself to find my own design style, and to build upon what inspires me. Fashion is truly an art at the SAIC. It was overwhelming how much information she gave me in that one class. She also provided the class a list of materials resources that I kept and continued to use over the years.
So it only made sense when I found out it was Gillion who started and heads The Fashion Resource Center (FRC) at the SAIC. Recently I had the opportunity to reunite with Gillion and also receive a private tour. The center looks like a library with a second room all garments. There are tables and dress forms so that students may drape a fabric sample or take a garment and look at how it is made inside and out.
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First she showed me the books and magazines. There were literally walls of magazines including U.S, British, French and Italian Vogues. There were also textile samples, look books and industry magazines like Selvedge. Beautiful magazines that come in metal boxes and other unusual presentations with subscriptions that run up to $800 a year, were all donated so students could have the opportunity to read them. The fashion videos and over 3000 books are set up on the Dewey Decimal system so they can be looked up by designer. A student can read a book or pop in a show right on the spot.
Garment gifts from Ralph Rucci on his recent visit to Chicago.
This is quite different than a museum. A student would never be able to touch and hold the art in a museum. In this case the art is fashion. Mostly contemporary (and big on avant garde designers) the collection includes over 400 garments and starts the from around the 60's. Everything is organized by era. I did see a few turn of the century items as well, which I felt honored to actually inspect and handle.
Gillion Carrara shows me the crepeline on a Marc Le Bihan design.
I was becoming overloaded with visual fashion information and Gillion actually told me to relax and take it easy for a moment. At this point I knew that Stendhal's syndrome had kicked in.
Stendhal's syndrome, Hyperkulturemia, or Florence syndrome, is a psychosomatic illness that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly 'beautiful' or a large amount of art is in a single place.
The Fashion Resource Center is fashion-lover's wonderland. But before you think, 'So what, it's only for the students…" it is open for public visits, organization meetings or events by appointment. For a tour of up to twelve guests a small donation is required: group $125, organizations and corporations $275, and individual $20.
For more information about tours, "Tailor Made" projects and hours at The Fashion Resource Center (FRC) go to saic.edu/frc.
Don't worry, there are plenty of chairs in case you have to "take a moment."
— Carol Calacci
Photos: Second City Style