September 2010 Issue
Woman of Substance
The Kent State University Museum unveils its newest acquisition: The couture of Katharine Hepburn.
Saucy, sporty, sophisticated.
No matter what part she played, Katharine Hepburn exuded a charisma all her own.
This month, the Kent State University Museum
will begin showcasing that allure by unveiling its newest acquisition: a collection of 700-plus pieces from the actress’ personal and performance wardrobes, ranging from designer gowns and denim shirts to lingerie, hairpieces and makeup. The resulting exhibit, “Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen,” will open to the public Oct. 2 and run through Sept. 4, 2011.
“This is such an exciting time for us,” says museum director Jean Druesedow. “Katharine Hepburn. Her name is pure magic. She was a true fashion icon who served as a role model for generations of women.
“And this collection,” she adds, “reflects that magnetism.”
As they say in Hollywood, timing is everything. That adage certainly played a vital role when it came to the museum’s most recent coup: It was Hepburn’s desire that her clothing be bequeathed to an educational facility and, following the star’s death in 2003, the executors of her estate began the process of making that request a reality.
Druesedow credits Gladys Toulis, the former director of the KSU Fashion School now living in New York, with suggesting the museum’s attributes be brought to the attention of the actress’ lawyers.
“I received a letter from Gladys, telling me the costumes were available and encouraging me to write the executors,” Druesedow recalls. “It was Miss Hepburn’s wish that the garments be preserved in a public institution, not a private one, and Gladys thought the Kent State Museum would be an ideal fit.”
Two years of correspondence and discussion followed. “The [legal team] was very respectful of Miss Hepburn,” Druesedow explains. “They really did their homework in order to find a place for the clothes that would be respectful of her as well.”
In 2008, the museum director learned that her perseverance had paid off.
“When I got word we would receive them,” Druesedow recalls. “I went limp.”
The Hepburn collection joins the renowned assortment of more than 20,000 objects amassed by the museum since it opened 25 years ago. New York fashion designers Jerry Silverman and Shannon Rodgers were the first benefactors, contributing more than 4,000 costumes. Since then, impressive collections of fashion by Oscar de la Renta and Halston have been added to the mix.
As she scrupulously catalogs the items and chronicles which productions they appeared in, Druesedow marvels at the exquisite workmanship and design of the attire. The collection ranges from the black silk evening gown created by Walter Plunkett for Hepburn’s role as lawyer Amanda Bonner in the 1949 George Cukor comedy “Adam’s Rib,” to a linen ensemble with intricate lace detailing that the English design firm Motley fashioned for her portrayal of the drug-addicted matriarch in the 1962 film adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”
“Katharine Hepburn was extraordinarily astute in understanding what costume conveyed about character,” she muses. “And as soon as she had clout, she began to work very closely with her costumers. She eventually got what she
wanted, regardless of what they
As a result, Druesedow adds, “the clothing was appropriate, comfortable to perform in and expressed what she wanted it to express.”
Hepburn enthusiasts from around the country will be in attendance when the collection debuts during “25 Years of Dazzle,” a benefit that will take place on Sept. 25 at the museum. Emceed by Turner Classic Movies film historian Robert Osborne and actress Ann Rutherford (best known for her role as the youngest O’Hara sister in “Gone With the Wind”), the fete also commemorates the museum’s silver anniversary. The evening will feature a screening of the autobiographical documentary, “All About Me,” which Hepburn produced in 1993.
“Katharine Hepburn was a ground-breaker all the way down the line,” Osborne tells Ohio Magazine
. “She never did anything that wasn’t of high quality. So what you got were pristine films that were all top-tier projects.”
When the exhibition closes next year, plans call for it to travel the world, which will make it easily accessible to the actress’ legion of fans around the globe.
“The exhibit will become a good-will ambassador for the wonderful collection the museum has,” Druesedow says.
For more information, visit kent.edu/museum