A Sharp-Dressed Museum

By Mark Schulte, October 2018 Issue.

You know those times when you put an incredible amount of effort into your ensemble, you look at yourself in the mirror and you realize you have to immediately Instagram it? Well, it turns out that Insta isn’t the ultimate destination for fashion. That would be the Arizona Costume Institute.

Yves Saint Laurent, Blouse, 1967. Wool. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum. Gift of Kelly Ellman.

The institute was founded to support the Phoenix Art Museum’s Fashion Design Department with the mission of acquiring and preserving garments and accessories of historical and aesthetic significance. Today, its collection has ballooned to more than 5,000 articles of clothing and accessories from the 18th century through the present.

The Ellman Fashion Design Gallery is the location for two exhibits a year, including the just-about-to-close-but-hurry-and-you-can-still-make-it Moonage Virtual Reality show. This incredible sensory experience takes the viewer on a simulated journey through rock ‘n’ roll fashion and culture, as well as pop art, utilizing a smart phone embedded in a virtual reality headset. But hurry, it closes at the end of September.

If you missed Moonage (or are prone to motion sickness) then check out the newest exhibit, which opens in October and showcases the Museum’s recent acquisition of current fashion designs which – when taken together – reflect the rapid cultural changes happening today. It features work by Gucci, Comme des Garcons, Yeohlee and Iris van Herpen. This multimedia installation is billed as an interesting way to take a new perspective on today’s increasingly fluid and global society.

In addition to mesmerizing shows, the Arizona Costume Institute also hosts a monthly Luncheon & Lecture on the second Wednesday of every month. Held at either the Phoenix Art Museum or other fashion-forward locations around the city, the luncheons offer a peek behind the curtains of fashion and let you learn first-hand what’s happening through lectures that feature fashion experts from across the globe. While upcoming speakers have not been finalized, Melanie Dillman, ACI corresponding secretary, promises that the caliber will remain high.

Gucci, Cape, fall/winter 2016. Wool. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum. Purchase with funds provided by the Arizona Costume Institute. This will be on view in the upcoming “Ultracontemporary” exhibition Oct. 27-March 24. Arizona Costume Institute is a sponsor.

“Past speakers have included fashion editor Hal Rubenstein … the creator of New York Fashion Week Fern Mallis, fashion illustrator David Downton and costume designer Patricia Field,” Dillman said. For information about upcoming luncheons, visit

One of the best things about seeing the shows is that they’re part of the overall Phoenix Art Museum, meaning that you can take in the awesome fashion-oriented exhibits and still see what’s new at the Southwest’s largest art museum. Since its beginnings, nearly six decades ago, the museum has amassed a collection of more than 19,000 works, only a small portion of which can be on display at one time. Whether your tastes for art are American, Asian, European, Latin American, modern or contemporary, you’ll find something that intrigues you. Every. Single. Time.

At any time, you’ll find close to a dozen exhibits running simultaneously – from immersive experiences that surround you with electronic fireflies or paper butterflies to photographic journeys that take you back to being 13 again.



2018-2019 Season Preview

Coco Chanel; Evening Dress and Slip; 1928; metal sequins on silk tulle; Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, gift of Mrs. Wesson Seyburn

Luncheon & Lecture
Phoenix Art Museum (and other locations)
Second Wednesday of every month

Moonage Virtual Reality
Ellman Fashion Design Gallery
Through Sept. 30, 2019

Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire

Steele Gallery
Oct. 6, 2018-Jan. 27, 2019

Ellman Fashion Design Gallery
Oct. 27, 2018-March 24, 2019

Ragnar Kjartansson: Scandinavian Pain and Other Myths
Katz Wing
Nov. 3, 2018-April 14, 2019

Contemporary Forum Artists’ Grants Recipients
Marshall and Hendler Galleries
Through Nov. 4, 2018

To Be Thirteen
Doris & John Norton Gallery for the Center for Creative Photography
Through Nov. 11, 2018

Rauschenberg and Johns: The Blurring of Art and Life
Orientation Gallery
Through Nov. 11, 2018

Warriors of World War I
The Kaur and Singh Sikh Gallery
Through Dec. 2, 2018

Modern Simplicity
Asian Gallery
Through Dec. 2, 2018

Saintly Soldiers of the Sikh Faith
Asian Gallery
Through Dec. 2, 2018

Ave Maria: The Virgin Mary and the Archangels
Tony and Milena Astorga Gallery
Through Dec. 2, 2018

Present Tense: Selections from the Lenhardt Collection
Katz Wing
Through Dec. 16, 2018

Wondrous Worlds: Art and Islam Through Time and Space
Art of Asia Gallery
Jan. 26, 2019-June 2, 2019

Mirror Mirror
The James K. Ballinger Interactive Gallery
Through Feb. 17, 2019

Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist
Steele Gallery
March 9, 2019

¡Viva la Revolucion! Jose Guadalupe Posada and the Taller de Grafica Popular
Lyon Gallery
Through March 10, 2019

Selections from the School Collection
Harnett and Ullman Gallery
Through April 25, 2019

You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies
Katz Wing
Through June 30, 2019

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