Petra SlinkardCurator of Costumes,
Chicago History Museum
Petra Slinkard is a storyteller, detective, anthropologist and style maven. A woman who yearns for the opulent stories behind a Yamamoto dress or the tales of fearlessness in a Norman Norell gown. As the Curator of Costumes for the Chicago History Museum, Petra is retelling stories of historical garments to the masses. Her love of world cultures and haute couture comes alive in the newest—and largest yet!—exhibition called Chicago Styled: Fashioning The Magnificent Mile, showcasing the fashion from the past decades and the stylish people who wore it during the growth of a landmark district. We love Petra’s dedication to all things fashion–we wish we could pick her brain for hours on all the amazing pieces she has encountered throughout her years. Instead, we’re dishing on her pinch-me moments, who she gets her fashionable DNA from and what it’s like filling the shoes—or rather heels!—of a fashion historian.
Meet Petra and scroll down to get your chance for a sneak peek at the Chicago Styled exhibit on Friday, November 14th. G&F is getting all dolled up to share this very special night with you.
BEAUTY MUST-HAVES>> scent: SHALIMAR by GUERLAIN and FLOWER BOMB by VIKTOR & ROLF // face: KIEHL’S ROSA ARCTICA ANTI-AGING // body: NOW ALMOND OIL // face: DIORSKIN AIRFLASH // mascara: TARTE’S GIFTED // lips: REVLON’S VIOLET FRENZY and GUERLAIN’S GINY 13 // nails: OPI’S LINCOLN PARK AFTER DARK
You see a lot of beautiful things in your job. Describe the moment when you unveil something new.
Every day I discover something new in the collection. It is exciting and invigorating. Truly. It’s like a surge or a rush. I can feel it in the tips of my toes. Sometimes it is a piece I immediately recognize, like an Yves Saint Laurent Safari dress or Geoffrey Beene ‘hippie chic’ dress [right]. They stop me in my tracks. I think to myself, wow! What an honor it is to oversee such wonderful, iconic examples of fashion.
But what about the other unknowns?
These moments [when I come across a garment I don’t recognize] can be even more stimulating. Because now the hunt is on—the hunt for the story. Why is this piece here? What is its significance? Who wore it and why? I am hungry for knowledge and am very curious by nature. So, discovering, researching, learning, making connections and final sharing these stories are really the best aspects of my job.
This thirst for stylish history has to come from somewhere. Who in your family is your fashion muse?
My American grandmother was very proper. Even a bit old fashioned. But she taught me a lot about dressing appropriately for the occasion and to always take care of my skin. My Dutch grandmother and great aunt were more eccentric. They traveled a lot so they always incorporated baubles from places like Egypt, Iceland or Tunisia into their wardrobes. They taught me how to be more brazen in my use of accessories.
Curator of Costumes is such a romantic title! When you were growing up, what did you want to be?
In third grade, I wanted to be a lawyer. And then a detective. Then, I wanted to own a bed & breakfast. In college I designed costumes for the stage. It was an incredible experience. But in the end, I wanted to be an educator. I derive pleasure from sharing information and participating in resulting discourse. However, in some way, I was able to realize my detective dream. I frequently liken what I do to detective work (only of course without the gun, badge and putting my life on the line facet). But, I’m also given clues and have to follow a trail to discover the story. And there can certainly be twists and turns along the way.
The exhibition, through clothing, tells the story of Chicago becoming a destination for luxury retail—what are some of your favorite historical markers or interesting stories that you’ve learned while curating the collection.
I enjoyed learning how charmed visitors to the city were by what they saw on Michigan Avenue. Whether it was Givenchy commenting on the impressive diversity of fashion available to Chicago women in 1975 or scouts for Bloomingdale’s reporting on how surprised they were to see the quality and range of international styles available on the Avenue: a discovery which helped inform the company’s decision to open in Chicago in 1989.
And the million dollar question: Do you have a gown picked out for the November 14 gala yet?
Sadly, no. I’ve had my head in books and design plans so no real time to sort out my dress yet. I’m trying to decide if I should go Vintage in honor of the designers in the show, or approach a Chicago designer for a gown.
Chicago Styled: Fashioning the Magnificent Mile opens Saturday, November 15th.
Visit ChicagoStyledFashion.com for more information.