Thanks to the ever-broadening appeal fostered by the museum’s variety of exhibitions, events and tours, there’s no limit to who might decide to stop by. Two weeks ago, rising fashion designer Sandhya Garg, who competed in the latest season of the popular show Project Runway, visited the museum to go on a tour of Doris Duke’s Shangri La estate while on vacation in Hawai‘i with her family from Birmingham, Alabama.
While she was here, museum director Stephan Jost recognized her. Always connecting the dots, Jost alerted textile curator Sara Oka and introduced the two women. Oka in turn proposed a private tour of the textiles vault to Garg, who readily accepted. The result: a mutually enriching exchange of ideas the following day. Arriving in a simple floral dress, a notable departure from her ornate, edgy designs, Garg eagerly followed Oka below the museum’s surface.
“I’m really intrigued with your collection, your museum, and the Doris Duke Foundation, because Persian art really interests me,” said Garg in her lilting Indian accent. “I really want to do a collection on Persian art.”
Upon entering the vault, Garg, a graduate of the London College of Fashion and trainee under Alexander McQueen and Alice Temperley, was full of questions for Oka: Where does the museum get its textiles? How are these made? How are they selected for exhibitions?
“More than 70 countries are represented in this collection—about 6,000 pieces. So it’s just a wide range,” explained Oka, who showed Garg the preliminary selections for her upcoming show on the fashion of Tokyo’s Harajuku district. As the two women delved deeper into the seemingly endless pull-out drawers and humidity-controlled storage lockers, the tour became much more than a one-sided show-and-tell. Originally from India, Garg had a wealth of knowledge to share with Oka regarding the museum’s extensive collection of Indian textiles.
“I have factories in India and the U.S. and I try to do at least two collections a year, and then do fashion shows and sell online,” said Garg. “Project Runway was great. I did fashion week back home in India. Like how you have New York Fashion Week here, there’s Lakmé Fashion Week in India. The Indian embroideries are amazing and the designers are fabulous, if you want to know anything about them.”
As she snapped photos for her own inspiration, touched intricate sleeve hems, and turned over embroidered textiles to study their needlework, Garg offered insights and connections as a resource for the museum. Oka welcomed the input, saying that learning about the intricacies of the patterns and pieces is “one of the aspects of this job that I was hoping to try to do, because we have some of the more historic garments, to actually see that there’s a little gusset here, or learn that some of the Indian cholis are in 13 pieces.”
“That is what my collection was based on in the College of Fashion. I went to [the National Institute of Fashion Technology in India] and got all the patterns photocopied, and I did the whole construction based on the gussets and how they do stuff, like the sleeves and how they are deconstructed,” said Garg.
The ways in which the museum and young designers could continue to benefit from this type of dialogue became immediately clear. All that was required was a mutual willingness to learn and share.
As Garg summed it up, “I just came with an open mind, and I thought whatever you have to show I’d be happy to see. It was just fortunate that Stephan recognized me and we are able to have a conversation.”