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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

"Dressed by Design' is on exhibit at William King Museum

This Giorgio Armani haute couture jacket waits in William King Museum of Arts' library before being moved into the gallery. The outfit was made specifically for Fran Keuling-Stout.
This Giorgio Armani haute couture jacket waits in William King Museum of Arts' library before being moved into the gallery. The outfit was made specifically for Fran Keuling-Stout. "Dressed by Design" is on exhibit until March 18.
Additional photos below »

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | November 29, 2017

If you are fascinated by the world of fashion, particularly designs by Alexander McQueen, Giorgio Armani, and other world-renown designers, then you need to visit the "Dressed by Design" exhibit at the William King Museum. The opening reception is to be held Thursday, Dec. 7 from 6-8 p.m. during Abingdon's First Thursday events.

The collection was owned by Fran Keuling-Stout of Big Stone Gap, Virginia.

Betsy White, the museum's executive director says, "This exhibit is part of our yearlong celebration of the museum's 25th anniversary. We are celebrating both the museum's high-quality exhibitions over the years as well as connoisseurship among individuals around the region. To do this, we passed the word that we were looking for art collections of note, and several individuals suggested this fashion collection of Keuling-Stout.

"The design of something is an art form, and the design of clothing can be considered an example. Museums often mount fashion exhibits, like the recent "Yves St. Laurent: The Perfection of Style,' at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and others at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is a first, however, for us,

"I did not have the pleasure of knowing Fran. She passed away almost two years ago, long before this project was conceived, but through her clothes, the interviews she gave to various publications and her writings, I think we have a good sense of her. Here was a woman, educated with a graduate degree in English and an emphasis in poetry, who taught at the college level and loved poetry, especially Walt Whitman. She was a poet herself. She was grounded in spirituality and deeply devoted to her husband, friends and family.

"Above all, as relates to her designer wardrobe and the way she used it to express her own style, she seemed to have a strong sense of self, was quite the individual, and someone who, in the words of one of her many admirers, possessed "organic chic, an unforced style that commands the attention of the room.'"

Fashion is a bit outside the expertise of the museum personnel, so they recruited help. In addition to Nancy Harte, a local individual with a background in fashion, they contracted with Colleen Callahan, independent costume and textile specialist who has participated with the museum for many years for textile and costume projects. Callahan arranged for the loan of appropriate dress forms from the Maryland Historical Society museum and led a "dressing team" to ensure each garment is correctly displayed. Bristol fashion designer, Linda Stewart (see page 5) is part of the team, as is Ashley Webb from Roanoke's Historical Society of Western Virginia.

There are 22 outfits in the exhibit representing the first half of the 20th century. "As you can imagine, our costume exhibits have traditionally featured historic garments from the early 19th century stemming from research through our Cultural Heritage Project, so this is a departure for us, something different and delightful for the holidays," White says.

Giorgio Armani, Alexander McQueen and Ralph Lauren are the designers whose work is most represented in the exhibit. There is one outfit by Jean-Paul Gaultier, another by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac (a funky long evening dress made of cargo fabric and embroidered with gnomes) and a skirt suit by Balenciago.

White says she doesn't have a favorite but "collectively the dresses by Alexander McQueen are certainly exquisite. There is also an important outfit by Giorgio Armani that he selected from his haute couture collections to keep for his own special collections. The label, since the outfit was made for her, even includes Fran's name. The jacket is a silk and nylon blended fabric with tones of green. It's pretty special."

For more information, visit or call 276-628-5005. The exhibit will be at the museum until March 18.

THERE'S MORE: Fran Keuling-Stout embodied "elegant funk'

Topics: Art, Design

More styles shown in the museum exhibit, above and below.