Waterloo Region Record, November 1, 2014
By Barbara Aggerholm
CAMBRIDGE — For an all-too-brief moment, the iconic ruby slippers from the “Wizard of Oz” movie were in Jonathan Walford’s sights.
Walford, who was then founding curator of Bata Shoe Museum, had placed a telephone bid of $25,000 to Christie’s auction house on behalf of the Toronto museum. The heady moment didn’t last however. The winning bid was more than three times that amount.
It was a long time ago, but Walford, curatorial director of the Fashion History Museum, laughs at the memory.
There were several pairs of ruby slippers made for the film, he says. One pair was for promotion, but four other pairs were duplicates in two sizes — 5½ for close-ups with actress Judy Garland and Size 6 for faraway camera shots at the end of the day when her feet were starting to swell.
Walford has had more than a few memorable moments like that one over his career as a fashion historian who, with his partner Kenn Norman, is accumulating an impressive collection.
While such high-flying bidding wars aren’t all that typical for him, they’re definitely memorable, he says.
Once, Walford made a $13,000 eBay bid on a hat that had been worn by actress Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind.”
The green velvet hat with cock’s feathers matched the famous green velvet dress that Scarlett had instructed “Mammy” to make out of curtains before she visited Rhett Butler in jail.
It was a nail-biting, four-day wait until someone else topped their bid for the hat. “I knew it would be flying,” Walford says.
Over the years, Walford, who has also written several books about fashion history, and Norman, chief executive officer and financial wizard of the Fashion History Museum, have amassed more than 10,000 items of historic fashion, outfits and footwear. The items date from the mid-17th century to the present.
Except for a temporary location at Southworks in the Galt area of Cambridge, the museum hasn’t had a home.
The collection has been kept in storage units and at Walford’s and Norman’s red-brick house in Galt. It has travelled in exhibitions throughout Canada and as far away as Hong Kong and Bahrain.
The collection continues to grow.
Recently, a respected costume designer, teacher and author donated 400 books and 100 garments to the museum.
And the museum is receiving about 250 pieces from the collection of the late Alan Suddon, who is considered “Canada’s premier collector of vintage history,” Walford says.
These days, Walford and Norman have been working on several projects, including an exhibition of fashion designed by the Hollywood costume designer widely known as Adrian. His birth name was Adrian Adolph Greenberg.
“It Came from Hollywood” will run Monday, Nov. 3 to Friday, Nov. 7 to accompany the Grand River Film Festival at Landmark Cinemas at 135 Gateway Park Dr. in Kitchener.
Adrian designed all the costumes, including the ruby slippers, in “The Wizard of Oz” and in many other successful Hollywood films, including “The Bishop’s Wife” and “Philadelphia Story,” Walford says.
At the same time, Walford and Norman are putting the final touches on a lease on a building in Cambridge that will give their collection a home for the first time.
By fall next year, Walford and Norman are confident that their collection will be housed in a privately owned former post office in the Hespeler part of Cambridge.
It will be “the only single building devoted to fashion history in Canada,” Walford says.
They’ve worked toward this dream since they founded the museum in 2004. The museum, which has a board of directors and advisory committee, became a federal non-profit corporation in 2008 and was granted charitable status in 2009.
“You refuse to let it die,” Walford says. “We believe in it. It will work. People are excited about it and want to come.”
The lease is conditional on the project receiving public and private funding, Walford says, adding they’re still assessing the total cost.
Hespeler is a good location for the museum, Walford says. The American Standard building is going to be transformed into upscale condominiums and the main street is getting a facelift, he says.
“Hespeler is in the process of a renaissance.”
Plans are for the museum to be located on the main floor of the 1922 building, which served as a post office until it was decommissioned in 1993. The basement will provide much-needed storage space for the collection, which is now kept in storage lockers.
“We’ll restore the 1922 terrazzo marble floor at the front,” and do other renovations to keep the character of the building in the galleries, Walford says.
As a way of introducing the museum to the community, it’s hosting The Vintage Marketplace, a shopping event with dealers in music, fashion, collectibles and other items at the old post office, at 74 Queen St. E. at Cooper Street.
One dealer, Ian Drummond of Ian Drummond Collection, provided vintage clothing for films such as “Hairspray.” Drummond is also on the museum’s advisory council, Norman says.
While the Fashion History Museum doesn’t have any of Adrian’s film costumes, the museum owns several other pieces designed by Adrian after he left film to enter high fashion in 1942. Adrian died in 1959.
“A lot of his clothing in films, he also made for sale,” Norman says.
One outfit owned by the museum belonged to the late Nancy “Slim” Keith, a New York socialite and friend of Truman Capote.
“We found it at auction and managed to buy it” about 10 years ago, Walford says. It was “luck” to find it reasonably priced, he says, adding that he watches buying trends.
A woman’s woollen, chocolate brown suit designed by Adrian featured in the upcoming exhibition is typical of his work, Walford says. The suit has large padded shoulders, which Adrian originally created to accentuate actress Joan Crawford’s strong shoulders, he says.
Meanwhile, Walford and Norman have hardly had time to see a movie recently, though it’s one of the pastimes they love — unless the costuming doesn’t suit the period in which the film is set.
When that happens, Walford might write about the film’s failings in his informative blog, “A Fashion History Perspective.”
He once criticized James Cameron’s 1997 movie, “Titanic,” for its use of black instead of pastels on the female star, and for her inappropriately dyed henna red hair.
His comments unleashed an Internet backlash from “Titanic” lovers.
More recently, he weighed in on the subject of the 2013 remake of “The Great Gatsby.” He and Norman could barely watch the movie, he says. They fast-forwarded through the film, which later won an Oscar for costume design.
The costumes were “nonsensical” because the dresses, with their waists and focus on cleavage, had nothing to do with the 1920s, which did not highlight such features, Walford says.
“I’ve stopped commenting as much as I used to,” he says. “I get in trouble.”
But if you’d like to know a costume designer who stays true to the periods, Walford suggests you look for Michael O’Connor. For example, his period costuming in the film “The Invisible Woman” about Charles Dickens and his secret lover, Ellen Ternan, was “amazing,” he says.