The Fashion Institute of Technology’s Special Collections and College Archives (SPARC), a unit of the college’s Gladys Marcus Library, has unveiled its newly renovated space following a $3.6 million upgrade. Now 6,100 square feet—an increase from 3,500 square feet—the facilities house and protect the approximately 6,000 linear feet of rare and fragile fashion, retail, and related materials in the collection. These include original works of art on paper, manuscript collections dating back to the 1590s, periodicals from the 1770s, scrapbooks, shoe prototypes dating to the 1960s, and 240 linear feet of institutional archives, among other resources.
The renovation, funded by FIT, New York State and the New York City Council, raises the college’s profile in the scholarly community and makes these materials available to the creative industries and the public. All visitors pass through a welcoming entryway with climate-controlled, LED-lit display cases and into a comfortable wood-accented reading room, and up to 40 visitors at a time can now be hosted for programming. Because the unit hosts symposia for archivists, the facility is outfitted for multimedia presentations. With additional staff, the collection is now operating seven days and three nights a week.
The renovated space, designed by Samuel Anderson Architects, has 100 shelving ranges, of which 60 are compact and 40 fixed. Climate-controlled storage with sliding steel shelves will accommodate 20 percent more materials.
According to Karen Trivette, head of Special Collections, the resources in the collection compete in importance with comparable archives at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Treasures include original fashion sketches and illustrations, rare and fragile photographs, and periodicals, many dating from before the Civil War. The J.B. Martin papers comprise 15,000 textile/surface designs from the venerable velvet manufacturer. (The Museum at FIT houses some of the corresponding fabrics.) Recent acquisitions include designer Marc Bohan’s sketches for Dior, purchased with a $30,000 grant from the Buddy Taub Foundation. Legendary publicist Eleanor Lambert (1903–2003) donated her papers, as did Ruth Finley, age 91, founder of the influential Fashion Calendar.
“I see this as a step toward realizing FIT’s strategic goal of becoming known for research and innovation,” Trivette said. Just as important, the project makes a vital resource more available for the joy of intellectual epiphany. “Through this access,” Trivette says, “we’re providing endless points of discovery.”
Also just launched is SPARC Digital, showcasing rare and unique materials from the collections that have been digitized. SPARC Digital features images from dozens of collections in the form of original fashion sketches, photographs, illustrations, and historic fashion plates.