News Column

One woman's following of fashion

June 13, 2014

By Richard Carter, Times Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas

June 13--A stylish woman with exceptional taste in the fashions of her day, Dorothy Edwards, it was said, never left the Edwards Ranch in Clay County without heels.

"Regardless of where she was going or the weather, she insisted on heels. She just loved fashion," said Stacie Flood, curator of the Kell House Museum.

Her sense of style will come to life in "The Dorothy Edwards Collection," which gathers a life of couture from the 1930s through the 1980s and is on exhibit at the Kell House. The exhibit occupies each of the rooms of the 1909 house museum and may be viewed through Labor Day.

"The clothing on display -- dresses, suits, gowns, purses, hats, gloves and shoes -- all belonged to her," said Flood. Including accessories, about 200 pieces are part of the exhibit.

The clothing is either part of the Kell House collection or is on loan from Debra Clark from the Bridwell-Clark Ranch, which used to be the Edwards Ranch. "They purchased the ranch and the house and all of its contents from the Edwards' estate. The rest of her clothing and accessories were in that purchase."

While the collection focuses on pieces from the 1930s and 1940s, it includes couture that dates into the 1980s.

"There are lots of designers in the exhibit, everyone from Bill Blass to Irene of New York to Christian Dior," Flood said.

Fabrics range from velvet to silk, cotton and even synthetics that were becoming popular in the 1970s and 1980s.

Most of the clothing was either made for her, purchased at major clothing shops, such as Neiman Marcus in Dallas, or area shops like Mildred's.

Edwards was born on July 9, 1902, in Nocona, as Dorothy Bear and was raised in Henrietta. Her father, H.L., owned the Bear Hardware store in Henrietta, as well as the Dorothy Theater, which he named after his daughter.

She married Bryant Edwards in 1927, and the couple bought their ranch shortly afterward. She lived there until her death, when she was well into her 90s.

The couple didn't have children, and she was active in the community and on the ranch. The philanthropic couple began the Bryant Edwards Foundation, which assists organizations like Straight Street and the Kell House.

"Most of what she wore was suits, whether she was around the house or working. There are a number of dresses and some gowns she would have worn for evenings out."

Edwards was petite and wore a size 2 or 3 (in today's size). Her shoes are tiny and are probably a size 4 or 5, Flood said.

"It was a lot of fun to curate the exhibit. Our exhibits committee put it together, and their biggest challenge was what to display and where to display it, so that pieces complemented each other in the same area."

Several of her husband's suits are on display, too. For example, his three-piece Sanger Brothers tuxedo is set next to a red velveteen dress she had made in the late 1920s or early 1930s.

"The idea is to give exhibit viewers a sort of vignette of the couple preparing to go out."

Many of her frocks are without labels and were likely sewn by hand, such as the red velveteen dress.

The luxurious exhibit opens in the Kell's receiving hall with a Neiman Marcus mink draped over a Hattie Carnegie-designed suit matched with Crescendo leather gloves

The Kell's parlor features three pieces -- a crÈme and gold dress by Shannon Rogers for Jerry Silverman, a silk purple Christian Dior evening gown with a pair of Neiman Marcus Younger set heels, and a blue lace Neiman Marcus dress with a Judith Leiber purse.

Also displayed are purses by Paloma Picasso along with one crafted by Croco Sauvage from crocodile skin.

The exhibit gathers high-heeled shoes from around the world, including those by Palter DeLiso, Delman DeLuxe, Erica and Salvatore Ferragamo. The latter appeared to be her favorite shoe designer.

A selection of hats are on view by designers such as Gilbert Orcel, Mr. John, Balliets Oklahoma City, Emme Inc of New York., Neiman Marcus and Irene of New York.

"We highlight the designers in the exhibit, and many of them have interesting stories.

"Irene (of New York) was a costume designer in Hollywood who took on making clothing for a time. There's a story that her confidant, Doris Day, later said Irene had become despondent after the death of Gary Cooper, which led her to commit suicide."

The Edward exhibit also includes the surprisingly stylish Red Cross Canteen Service dress she wore while volunteering in World War II.

The rooms and hallways of the Kell House are adorned with Edwards clothes, even the upstairs bathroom, in which viewers will find girdles, slips and even a housecoat (from Mildred's.)

Among the numerous designers, spread over six decades, is Hanae Mori, one of the first Asian designers to gain recognition in America.

"We usually focus on one thing in our fashion shows, like accessories or wedding gowns. This exhibit features the wardrobe of a very stylish woman. It's really amazing that we have some of these pieces, which could easily show in major museums across the country."

Clothing exhibits are very popular at the Kell House, she said, and the staff is excited about how visitors respond.

Admission is free, but donations are welcome to offset the price of renovations of the Kell House.


(c)2014 the Times Record News (Wichita Fallas, Texas)

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Source: Wichita Falls Times Record News (TX)

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