On February 6, 1984, an exhibition of 45 superb fashion drawings opened in the lobby of the Shirley Goodman Resource Center at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). The show included works by storied illustrators Antonio (Lopez), Eric (Carl Ericson), and Esther Larson. An exciting mix of illustrators, art directors, collectors, and members of the College community attended the champagne reception. It was an auspicious inauguration of the Frances Neady Collection of original fashion illustrations.
Housed in the FIT Library’s unit of Special Collections, the collection was established in honor of an inspirational fashion illustration teacher who served on the faculties of Parsons School of Design and FIT for a total of 50 years before retiring in 1978. Soon after her death in 1982, two FIT faculty members and erstwhile Neady students, Rosemary Torre and Frederick Bennett, began working to create a permanent testimonial in her memory. This collection of twentieth-century fashion illustrations would be properly stored and maintained, and made available for students, faculty, and independent researchers to study.
Bennett and Torre chaired a committee that included noted illustrators (and FIT faculty) Alvin Pimsler, Morton Kaish, and Richard Ely as well as Richard Martin, a celebrated fashion scholar who curated exhibitions at what became The Museum at FIT and was later curator of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. The committee determined criteria for accessioning work. They looked for illustrators who set high standards of draftsmanship and esthetic quality; demonstrated originality and technical virtuosity; worked for topflight stores, magazines and corporations; and earned the admiration of their peers.
Over the years, top illustrators and important donors contributed pieces. Esther Larson worked from the 1930s to 1995 for high-end stores including Lord and Taylor, Jacobson's, and Montaldo's as well as for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. George Stavrinos created an unmistakable identity for Bergdorf Goodman. Harvey Boyd, FIT faculty member, was an artist for Vogue. Bob and Bertha Hermann filled Lord & Taylor ads with Cary-Grant- like figures. Kermit Adler, former Art Director at Lord & Taylor, donated drawings by Dorothy Hood, Fred Greenhill and Carl Wilson. Among the accessioned works are a rare nude by René Bouché and a series by Antonio that demonstrates the process by which an illustration is created.
In 1999, New York’s Society of Illustrators mounted an exhibition of highlights from the Neady collection, and The Museum at FIT included selections in its 2004 show The Artful Line. The Brandywine River Museum and what is now the New Britain Museum of American Art have also exhibited works, and Neady illustrations have appeared in important publications on fashion art: Illustrating Fashion, by noted illustrator Eunice Sloane; Fashion Illustration in New York, edited by Peter Sato; Antonio’s Girls; and 20th Century Fashion Illustration: The Feminine Ideal, by Rosemary Torre.
Today, the nucleus of 45 high-quality illustrations has grown to more than 300, and it continues to expand. Much of the collection has been digitized and is accessible on the Library website, and individuals can make an appointment through Special Collections to view the original pieces. The Frances Neady Collection continues to evolve, delight and, most appropriately, to instruct while offering a valuable overview of a specialized art field.
The Finding Aid for the collection can be found by following this link.