25 years of fashion

Emily Inverso

Saturday evening marked “25 Years of Dazzle” for Kent State University’s fashion museum, an anniversary celebrated in collaboration with its Katharine Hepburn exhibit.

Shannon Rogers was born in Newcomerstown, a town of less than 4,000 people. His passion for design with pristine, understated elegance, though, carried him to a much bigger future.

Working as a set and costume designer in New York and Hollywood, Roger’s talent caught the eye of Jerry Silverman, who later hired Rogers to work with him. A friendship grew between the men, and in 1959 they broke away to form Jerry Silverman, Inc.

Rogers began collecting historic costumes shortly after, an assortment that grew to include 4,000 dresses, 500 pieces of decorative art and 5,000 books. The men eventually agreed retirement should be their next adventure. Donating the whole of their collections to Kent State University, they created the fashion school and museum—the museum that celebrated its 25th anniversary Saturday night.

“Between their artifacts and their love and their willingness and desire to have a teaching school along with the museum,” said fashion designer Linda Allard, who cut the ribbon at the opening of the museum, “25 years ago, who knew the museum and the fashion school would be this successful.”

The first gift

“Shannon and Jerry were absolutely thrilled, and they really wanted to find a home for their clothing, but they also wanted to start a school of fashion and design.” Carol Graham, a guest curator to the museum, said. “They brought their clothes from New York and had a style show right here in the ballroom.”

“At the end of the show they asked if we would like to have them come back, so they came back a year later, more things, a bigger show. They were going to make a big announcement at the end of the show saying they would give everything to Kent State.”

“I was backstage and I said ‘Shannon, you cannot do that. You cannot make a donation and just say ‘I’m going to give it to you.” So he agreed and didn’t say anything like a good guy, although he was bursting at the seams.”

Reading the fine print

A day after their second style show, Rogers met with President Golding and offered his collection as a gift to the Kent State University foundation.

“There was a stipulation to Jerry and Shannon’s gift,” J.R. Campbell, fashion school director, said. “We had to completely renovate what was the library for the university, turn it into a museum, make it a state-of-the-art facility, and they would start and propose a full curriculum for the fashion school.”

“At that point, the only fashion-like classes that were taught were in the arts and sciences department. The fashion school was proposed, and we actually started three years before the museum was finished, so during that time there was a lot more fundraising, and Shannon and Jerry were very involved in that.”

Delayed reaction

“I was here when the museum came to Kent State,” Shawn Gordon, director of advancement for the College of the Arts, said. “I was a student. I didn’t understand the significance of Shannon and Jerry and the gift and what was happening and the development of the museum until I was living in the community, until I saw the wonderful programming and visiting artists coming in.”

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“Now, it’s so unique. We’re the best kept secret in the world, and it’s funny, it’s like either people know about us and know how great we are, or they don’t know anything about us. We shouldn’t be the best kept secret. We shouldn’t.”  

Looking to the future

“It’s always a joy to me to come back to see the whole front campus preserved the way that I remember it,” Allard said. “Particularly this building and how they’ve been able to make the museum part of a very viable school, contemporary building for the students. It’s really exciting to me because it’s kind of seeing the past, what was there and then all these young people here who are the future.”

Since Rogers and Silverman’s donation, further contributions have grown the museum’s collections to boast more than 40,000 articles—clothing, hats, shoes, purses, lamps, prints and glass and ceramics collections.

Their gift to the university has made the school known nationally for its exhibits and sought-after collections. Rogers and Silverman have changed the lives of students at this school, said Graham, whether those students fully recognize it or not.

“Shannon met me April 26, 1979,” Graham said. “I can tell you exactly. It changed my life every way you could ever imagine. They would be thrilled, thrilled to death. This is what they envisioned.”

Contact Emily Inverso at [email protected].