Archival Fonds – You Never Know What You Are Going to Get…

Fonds is a word borrowed from the French to describe an archival collection from a single source. It is the same in both singular and plural which is awkward because ‘a fonds’ doesn’t flow off the tongue as easily as ‘many fonds’, but you get used to it in the same way you got used to ‘moose’.

The FHM has acquired several fonds to date. The largest have come from: Estonian-born Canadian designer and fashion school founder Ellen Peterson; English-born Canadian boutique owner and fashion designer Pat McDonagh; and most recently, Canadian journalist David Livingstone. Each fonds is a collection of files, notebooks, photos and scrapbooks, but what is in each collection speaks volumes about the source.

Ellen Peterson was disciplined – she obviously ran a tight ship at her fashion school. Her scrapbooks were well trimmed and in chronological order. The student records were meticulously kept with grades and receipts for payments for courses filed alphabetically for each year. We retained the roster of students attending her school throughout the years, but it was heartbreaking to destroy the grade and payment records (for privacy reasons) because so much care had gone into their creation.

Pat McDonagh’s career was a forty-five year mix of feasts and famines and her archives reflected the up and down chaos that came from being either too busy scrambling to pay bills, or too busy filling high volume orders. Undated and unidentified sketches, fabric swatches, bank statements, tear sheets, business proposals, duplicate copies of articles, bills, videos and private correspondence were piled into boxes in no particular order. After an initial tidy up, the McDonagh fonds awaits a thorough archival shake-down.

The most recent addition is the David Livingstone fonds. Livingstone passed away a year ago at the age of 69 and his archives came to us via his daughter Alexandra Gair. Throughout his career, Livingstone freelanced articles about fashion, film, photography, literature and music to magazines like Saturday Night, MacLeans, and the Toronto Star. He also held down long-term writing and editorial positions, starting with TVONtario in the 1970s. In 1983 he joined the Globe and Mail as a fashion writer but left in 1996 to help launch Elm Street (he called it the thinking woman’s magazine). In 2002 he became the editor-in-chief of ‘ The Look’ a spinoff from Elm Street which, as the name implies, focussed on fashion. In 2011 he became the editor-in-chief of Men’s Fashion – a Canadian spinoff from Fashion (formerly Toronto Life Fashion). He left Men’s Fashion in 2016.

His fonds consists of huge research files that show Livingstone’s thorough journalistic approach to writing. The files are impressively thick, filled with tear sheets, barely legible hand written notes and quotes, and numerous printouts including dot matrix and faded thermal photocopies. The subjects of his research are varied, influenced largely, I think, by his personal interest in the person, style, or story: Tilda Swinton, William Klein, Linda Evangelista, A Space Gallery, Joseph Mimran, Raymond Chandler, Martha Wainwright, sunglasses, Vivienne Westwood, Comrags, Nan Goldin, Norma Kamali, Toronto punk bands, Buster Poindexter, Yves St. Laurent… Every file either became, or was intended to become, an article.

It will take some time to wade through the cartons of files, but amongst them are some real treasures – thank-you notes from designers and models, invitations to Paris fashion shows, snapshots of friends and colleagues like Isabella Blow and Polly Mellen, even a eulogy he must have read at a memorial for Alexander McQueen… A whole career that will be forever preserved at the FHM archives.

Invitations to Paris and New York fashion shows, 1980s – 2000s, including shows cancelled on September 11, 2001. From the David Livingstone fonds

For more information about David Livingstone see:

Remembering Canadian Fashion Legend David Livingstone

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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