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Arts / Entertainment

Avenir Museum to exhibit Mr. Blackwell's designs

Updated October 9, 2010

Fashion designer and critic Richard Blackwell donated 32 glamorous gowns to CSU's Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising -- all are on exhibit Saturday, Oct. 23 through Friday, April 1, 2011. The exhibit and the events surrounding it are free and open to the public.

This crepe de Chine halter dress with printed nosegays of lilacs has a gathered waist peplum which is duplicated at the hem. The matching stole also features a gathered ruffle. (Gift of designer)

Legendary fashion force

The world’s largest collection of original designs by legendary fashion force Mr. Blackwell will be featured in an exhibit at Colorado State University’s Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising.

The late Mr. Richard Blackwell – known as Mr. Blackwell – is best known for authoring the annual worst-dressed women list in Hollywood. He also was an extraordinary fashion designer. 

32 glamorous gowns

The exhibit, “Mr. Blackwell: A Retrospective,” will open at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, and conclude on Friday, April 1, 2011, in the University Center for the Arts Avenir Gallery. The exhibit will feature 32 glamorous gowns – from outrageous to demure – designed by Mr. Blackwell. 

As part of the celebration of this exhibit, Blackwell’s close friend, actress and Broadway star Carol Channing, will be on campus for the exhibit opening as well as his longtime partner, Robert Spencer.

Exhibit reveals breadth of work

“We are very excited to honor Mr. Blackwell’s legacy with an exhibit of his extraordinary work,” said Linda Carlson, curator of the Avenir Museum, which is located in the University Center for the Arts, 1400 Remington St.

“The museum’s collection – the largest collection of Mr. Blackwell’s work – showcases his visionary influence on fashion and the breadth of his work. We’re also quite pleased that Ms. Channing and Robert Spencer will be joining us to honor their friend.”

Crepe de Chine gown covered with gold ruffled braid in swirling patterns of leaves and vines, accentuated with occasional rhinestones. Left side kick pleat of gold lamé. (Gift of Lum and Montez Jenkins)

Documentary features designer

The exhibit also will feature a documentary compiled of video of past television appearances given to the Avenir Museum by Blackwell as well as an interview by Carlson with Blackwell in his home, interviews with friends and footage from a visit to CSU in 1996. The documentary will be shown continuously with the exhibit.

Largest collection in world

The Avenir Museum holds more than 130 accessories and garments designed by Mr. Blackwell which make up the largest collection of his work in the world. The collection ranges from formal gowns to men’s ties and feathered boas.

A number of artifacts were given to the museum by the designer in addition to seven large scrapbooks that chronicle his career, his master patterns, and promotional materials including his sketches and fashion photos.

Public events surrounding exhibit

Inaugural lecture

The lecture features designer and guest curator Ali Rahimi. Rahimi dressed Emmy award winner Jane Lynch, a star of the TV series Glee, for the awards in August, when Lynch won outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series.

Gala opening reception
  • Saturday, Oct. 23, 7 p.m.
  • University Center for the Arts Avenir Gallery
Evening lecture
  • “The Designing Life of American Legend James Galanos”
  • Thursday, Nov. 18, 7 p.m.
  • University Center for the Arts Annex
Evening lecture
  • “Mr. Blackwell’s Worst-Dressed Women – The List”
  •  Thursday, Dec. 9, 7 p.m.
  • University Center for the Arts Annex

Blackwell's signature 'Ten Worst-Dressed'

Blackwell, who died in October 2008 at the age of 86, was also an actor, TV and radio personality, book author and journalist in addition to being a fashion critic and designer.

His “Ten Worst-Dressed Women” list was unveiled each January. He also published the “Fabulous Fashion Independents” list and annually reviewed Academy Award fashions, now a tradition in the media.

Evening gown of black marabou feathers with micro-pleated “dotted Swiss” net butterfly sleeves and rhinestone studs. (Gift of the designer)

For 47 years, Mr. Blackwell’s worst-dressed women’s list chronicled Hollywood’s fashion fiascos. The lists, first published in 1960, eventually became an annual ritual in Hollywood and covered by media around the world.

Stars and celebrities such as Cher, Martha Stewart and even Queen Elizabeth made the list – those on the list often favored the media attention.

Beginnings as actor, agent

Blackwell’s acting career began when, as a teen, he made his first appearance on Broadway. He eventually became a Hollywood agent.

Blackwell launched his clothing line in the late 1950s. He became the first designer to present his line on a television broadcast and make designer garments available to plus-sized women. The House of Blackwell designed for famous women including Jayne Mansfield, Jane Russell and Nancy Reagan.

Carol Channing, Monfort Professor

As a CSU Monfort Professor-in-Residence, Channing also will be teaching a master theater class to CSU music and theater students and guests on Saturday, Oct. 23, at the University. Due to limited seating, the free event is filled to capacity.

The Monfort Professors-in-Residence program, established in 2002, brings to campus distinguished leaders who are nationally and internationally renowned for contributions to the fields of business, government, the sciences and the arts and who interact with students and enrich their learning experiences. The program is supported by the Monfort Family Foundation. 

Avenir Museum hours

  • Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday - 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
  • Thursday - 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Contact: Linda Carlson
E-mail: Linda.Carlson@colostate.edu