Having an inquisitive and investigating mind is a great gift not just in scientific fields, but in many other disciplines. Quite often a passion or a healthy obsession can also help an inquiring mind to find new research paths. This is more or less what happened to Donald and Joan Damask who have created through the years an outstanding design collection driven by their curiosity and enthusiasm. The FIDM Museum has recently dedicated the couple an exhibition - "Inspired Eye: The Donald and Joan Damask Design Collection" - presenting an overview of Damask's 2013 donation to the museum.
The title for the exhibition is an attempt at creating a unifying theme for a collection of disparate objects.: "Inspired Eye" features indeed items that Donald and Joan Damask found inspirational and decided to buy and live with for roughly 40 years.
Among them there are theatrical costume sketches, scenic renderings, rare art books, vintage clothing by Prada (the S/S 1999 paper top) and Giorgio Armani (a classic 1979 suit) among the others, historic avant-garde fashion and world dress, plus seminal images by high-fashion photographers Willy Maywald (1907-85) and Horst P. Horst (1906-99), and theatrical designs by Erté (Romain de Tirtoff, 1892-1990).
As Vice President of Marketing at Henri Bendel during the 1990s, Donald Damask developed advertising campaigns, invited new designers to show in boutiques, organised launch parties, visual presentations and store planning.
While working at Henri Bendel, Damask was struck by the elegance, atmosphere and virtuosity of Willy Maywald's images and used them to market the opening of the Bendel Fifth Avenue store and the Boston store. Around the same time he bought his first three Maywald photographs and then started researching for more. The event includes several images by this photographer, the best ones portraying models in gowns by Christian Dior, Madame Gres, and other couture legends.
One of the best section remains the archive of first editions, letters, photography and illustrations by artist-aesthete Cecil Beaton (1904-80): this part is the result of a collecting passion for Beaton that Damask developed in 2000, while working as the marketing director at The Body Shop in London.
Curators were inspired by Donald and Joan Damask's modern and sleek home for what regards the exhibition layout and decided to incorporate some of their own pieces such as a bookcase incorporated in one of the exhibition walls to show how they arranged their books, figurines and framed art.
Curators worked on trying to give a unifying theme to the diverse objects featured by thinking in terms of pure visual form, shape, color, and texture. A hand-stenciled silk velvet and metallic paint jacket by Mariano Fortuny (c. 1920) is for example juxtaposed to a traditional Chinese undergarment (c. 1900) made of bamboo beads and cotton. Both the pieces are characterised by T-shapes and despite their muted colours they are extremely detailed close-up. But there is more to admire such as a 1971 Elsa Perreti ivory cuff for Halston displayed against the 1971 Vogue magazine it appears in, as photographed by Irving Penn.
"We decided to donate our beloved collections to the FIDM Museum because it was time to share them with other people. We got great enjoyment out of collecting and we want people to feel the same kind of excitement. Through these collections, we are sharing knowledge," Donald and Joan Damask stated in a post on the FIDM Museum blog.
Apart from inviting visitors to share with him his passions, Damask also urged students in interviews on the FIDM Museum site to keep their eyes and minds wide open, and take time to think and process what they see, encouraging them to visit the gallery to sketch, photograph, and reference their favorite pieces in their own designs.
The exhibition has already proved to be an educational experience for many: students were recently asked to select an artwork displayed in the exhibition and use it as inspiration to design something new. The submissions ranged from sketches to paintings and headdresses and second-year FIDM Fashion Design student Olivia Davis won first place for her sketch depicting two models wearing a lightweight trench coat and a two piece knit top and skirt printed with a David Croland illustration from the exhibition.
"Inspiration is just a culmination of your daily life. You draw on it every minute of every day," stated Donald Damask in an interview with Associate Curator Christina Johnson. Art and fashion fans who want to get inspired by Damask's collection will be able to do so until next week (the exhibition closes on 19th December). In the meantime, the FIDM Museum campaign to raise funds to purchase the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection continues. This private fashion collection includes around 1,200 historic garments and accessories from four centuries. As stated in a previous post, people can make a contribution of any amount online or by mail, or join the #4for400 social media campaign to donate $4 (or more) by texting "Museum" to 243725.
"Inspired Eye: The Donald and Joan Damask Design Collection", FIDM Museum, 919 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90015, until 19th December.
All images in this post courtesy/copyright FIDM Museum.
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