Vintage costume collection needs a home
By Jacquelyn Weiner
In times when public transportation can cost more than driving and airlines charge for checked luggage, it's not often that anything comes free.
Yet longtime Miami notable Sir Edward Porter wants to do just that by donating a more than 15,000-piece costume collection dating mostly from the early 1900s to a local organization or museum.
"I want to give it 100% free to another eligible entity," said Mr. Porter, who received the collection in his capacity as founder and then president of the International Fine Arts College in Miami. The College is now the Miami International University of Art and Design.
The collection contains such items as original pieces from Emilio Pucci and Christian Dior, bridal gowns from several time periods and a pair of shoes dating from the 1860s or the 1870s, among thousands of antique garments and accessories, said Charlene Parsons, chairperson for the Fashion Department at Miami International University of Art and Design.
The Fashion Group International of South Florida, a non-profit organization for professionals in the fashion industry, started the collection in the 1950s. Fashion Group members added items to the collection that were donated by their mothers and grandmothers.
The collection was last admired by museum-goers as part of a visual art works exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in Coral Gables. After the museum closed, the collection was returned to Fashion Group, which turned it over to Mr. Porter in 1991 because it could not afford to store and maintain the collection, he said.
There's just one problem — Mr. Porter can't seem to find anyone to give it to.
He said he's written to museums in South Florida and across the country in search of a new home for the collection, but he has received mostly rejections or no reply at all.
The collection was supposed to go to the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University in 2004, but plans fell through when the previous director of the museum, Dahlia Morgan, left her position, Mr. Porter said.
Now the costumes reside at the Fortress storage facility at 1629 NE First Ave. in two private storage units taking up 272 square feet in total, said Kim Jones, vice president of Fortress Miami.
Rent for the storage space at the Fortress is now costing Mr. Porter $1,043 monthly, he said. The high-end storage facility is home to many valuable items and promotes itself as offering "museum" quality storage.
So why is this vast collection of fashion still sitting in boxes after 18 years?
"When something's out of sight and in storage, it's hard to get people behind it," said Miami International University of Art and Design's Ms. Parsons. "It takes a lot of money, curators, proper storage… proper care."
Mr. Porter said his greatest hope for the collection would be for it to become a local museum exhibit because he would "love it to stay in South Florida" but that he "would like to get out of having to pay for the darn thing every month.
"I want it to stay in South Florida because these garments came mostly from South Florida contributors," Mr. Porter said. "I want to do right by this community that I love."
Mr. Porter said he has considered selling the clothing and giving the money to a local non-profit organization.
However, Ms. Parsons says the true value of the collection cannot be measured in dollars because of its cultural and educational value to the community.
"You don't really ever have an estimate on true museum collections," Ms. Parsons said. "It's a wonderful source, especially in South Florida where the fashion industry has grown tremendously."
Yet until someone decides to take on the project of creating a new home for the boxes of decades-old dresses, jackets, skirts and shoes, they will probably remain safely tucked away inside the Fortress and far from the public's eyes.
"You can't just hang garments anywhere," Ms. Parsons said. "So it really needs a proper home."