By SIMONE S. OLIVER
A peplum suit from 1939.
Today’s runways, stores and sidewalks are teeming with 20th-century fashion references, from peplums to pencil skirts. And for this reason, a collaboration between two of New York City’s cultural institutions could not be better timed. After two years of planning, the Picture Collection of the New York Public Library and the Special Collections & FIT Archives of the Fashion Institute of Technology Library have recently started a digital archive of fashion drawings and sketches by André Fashion Studios. The collection, André Studios 1930-1941: Fashion Drawings & Sketches in the Collections of the Fashion Institute of Technology and the New York Public Library, includes more than 5,000 original drawings.
In the 1930s, André Fashion Studios operated as a subscription-based sketch firm in the garment district. It sold fashion drawings to manufacturers in the United States and Canada to aid production, and over time, the library and F.I.T. ended up with separate parts of the studio’s work. The materials have been in the library’s collection since the mid-90s and were put into circulation in the early 2000s.
Years later, Susan Chute, the former supervising librarian of the Mid-Manhattan Library Picture Collection, realized that more drawings may exist, somewhere. She reached out to compare notes with F.I.T.’s archive. Little of what both institutions had on file overlapped. It was clear that they needed to reunite, organize and digitize the firm’s drawings. “They had the fashion know-how and our tech department had the technical know-how,” said Billy Parrott, the managing librarian of the art and picture collection at the New York Public Library, who picked up where Ms. Chute left off.
A bolero suit and trouser skirt from 1939.
The archive is straightforward and easy to browse, whether you are on an iPad or library computer. You can enlarge each image, and zoom in to analyze details. Site visitors can save, e-mail or share an image on several social sites. “It’s a one-stop shop that offers improved access,” Mr. Parrott said. He also said the catalog is most popular among movie costume designers, and then among fashion students looking to research this very limited, but influential stint on the fashion timeline.
In December, American Vogue created an online archive of its magazine issues starting in 1892. Unlike Vogue’s archive, which is for professionals and cost more than $1,500 a year, this archive is free for everyone.
“It does what Google search cannot do,” Mr. Parrott said. “The depth, quality and variety of the images is unique.”