Connected \\ January 8, 2021
A look into how it’s made
I’ve been an exhibition graphic designer for 12 years, but every show I work on brings new challenges and opportunities. When I was lucky enough to work on Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion, I started my usual design process by asking: What does this collection say? What stories are these objects telling? And what emotions are we trying to convey?
Staring back at me in the title of the show was the ultimate inspiration for my central design idea — the women. This engaging exhibition is focused on women who overcame adversity and discrimination to put their art, their craft and their ideas into this world, forever changing how we view fashion and clothing.
The “Breaking In” section of Made It showcases clothing from the 18th and 19th centuries. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the author digitally created the wallpaper backdrop inspired by the Palace of Versailles. © 2020 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM
One such powerful female figure was designer and seamstress Elizabeth Keckley, a biracial woman born into slavery who was able to save up $1,200 (equivalent of $33,000 today) to purchase her freedom in 1855, along with her son. Her extraordinary skills as a seamstress soon led her to open her own dressmaking business in Washington, D.C., becoming head seamstress and confidant to First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. She later penned her own autobiographical narrative Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House.
The author used the Volte typeface to open the exhibition with quotes by leading designers. The classic serif Caslon font is subtly added as the quotation mark.
Choosing these typefaces emphasizes the collaborative nature of exhibition graphic design.
Any words found on a gallery wall is the work of multiple people. It may begin with the typographer who designed each letter of a word, but also reflects the exhaustive research of curators, the gentle hand of editors, the skills of photographers, 3-D designers and architects, and finally the printers and fabricators who create the finished piece.
No one person can take full credit of this process, and that’s what I love about this line of work. It’s how I imagine a fashionable ensemble being made — fabric, thread, buttons and sequins all from different places coming together to make something unique.