Elaine Grynkewich Drew, Fashion Design ’76, remembers getting her start in the costume business.
“When I was going to FIT, I would often spend hours at the Met, looking at paintings to inspire my clothing designs. It occurred to me that I could volunteer there, and I worked in garment restoration for a while. People started recommending me for restoration projects, and when it came to mount fashion exhibitions, the Costume Institute called me.
“Diana Vreeland was in charge of the exhibits. Everybody was scared to death of her. Once, I was putting a costume on a mannequin in a tight space when she sashayed through. I said, ‘I hope I’m not in your way.’ She replied, ‘No one gets in our way.’ The royals always refer to themselves in the plural.
“The Centre Culturel du Marais in Paris called the Met in 1977. They were doing an exhibit about Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and they needed someone to display the costumes. Soon I was on a plane to Paris.
“The exhibit was full of all kinds of artifacts, not just costumes—publications of the time, photographs, posters, contracts, and letters. Just about anybody you’ve ever heard of from the early 20th century participated in the Ballets Russes: Picasso painted a curtain, de Chirico made a costume, and there was a bathing suit by Chanel. My job was to run around Paris, trying to find mannequins, as well as steam equipment to get the wrinkles out of the clothes. Their idea was, ‘This is great historic stuff, so all we have to do is put the name of who did it and everyone gets excited.’ I was trained to show the costumes off.
“I didn’t speak French very well, and trying to understand the curator was very difficult. I realized how much more businesslike we tended to be in New York. Maybe a shop would be open, and maybe they wouldn’t.
“The job lasted from October to November of 1977. We finished around Thanksgiving. I didn’t think too much about the holiday, since I wasn’t in America. But three British fellows I was working with were determined to celebrate with me. They found a place that served Thanksgiving dinner, and we couldn’t get a table until 9:30. I’ll never forget what I saw when we arrived: every expat in Paris was there.”