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Inspiring Fashion: Gifts from Designers Honoring Tom Marotta

Start Date 12 September 2009
End Date 06 September 2010
Venue Philadelphia Museum of Art
Location Philadelphia, USA
Curator Kristina Haugland

Fashion designers use their talent and vision to interpret the current mood and aesthetic, finding inspiration in a variety of sources. The exploration of an artistic movement, a reinterpretation of historic clothing, or the transformation of street styles or utilitarian clothes may be the springboard for innovative statements. Some designers begin with geometry or shape, while others’ imagination is sparked by color, by the design or characteristics of a fabric, or by the possibilities offered by materials or techniques handled by skilled artisans of the industry. 

On runways, designers present their most creative and exuberant styles under controlled conditions. Yet, as Oscar de la Renta has noted, “Fashion doesn’t happen until a woman wears it.” Since fashion is also a business, designers must understand the lifestyle and ideals of their clients. Fashion is inspired and disseminated by many others as well, including the media, fashion leaders, and marketing and merchandising specialists. 

Tom Marotta was one such inspiring figure. A retail executive for over forty years, first at Philadelphia’s Nan Duskin boutique and then as vice president of couture for Saks Fifth Avenue, he gently exerted considerable influence behind the scenes. In selecting and promoting styles and designers, he utilized a discerning taste and an intimate knowledge of customers and markets. His fashion acumen was legendary; according to Carolina Herrera, “He was like a thermometer, always knowing what’s going on.” Marotta encouraged designers’ creativity, developing close relationships with established fashion houses and becoming an early champion of emerging talent. 

The diverse examples of contemporary special occasion and evening wear in this gallery, obtained through the auspices of Saks Fifth Avenue, are a welcome addition to the Museum’s outstanding collection of costume and textiles. These gifts showcase the individual designers’ creative flair and serve as a lasting tribute to the esteem and affection that Tom Marotta inspired. 


Kristina Haugland, Associate Curator of Costume and Textiles and Supervising Curator for the Study Room and Academic Relations.


Costume and Textiles Study Gallery, second floor, Perelman Building.