Fashion collection’s legacy lives on through Kent State

Jessica M. Kanalas

Late donor ‘lived and breathed fashion’

Anne Bissonnette had no idea what she was about to discover as she approached an orthodontist’s home in Dayton. The house belonged to a man turning to Kent State with trust and remorse to help him grieve the loss of his wife.

Bissonnette, the curator of Kent State’s fashion museum, said walking into the house was overwhelming.

“It was a treasure-trove,” she said.

Orthodontist Nathaniel Ritter, widower to fashion consultant Wendy Zuckerwise, owned the house Bissonnette entered. Within its walls were clothes from several well-known designers, including Donna Karan and Michael Kors, all in pristine condition. Some were never worn, with the original price tags still attached.

Zuckerwise met Ritter on a tour through Eastern Europe organized by the American Jewish Congress. The two were married three years before Zuckerwise was diagnosed with endometrial cancer and died after the cancer reappeared three years later.

“(Ritter’s wife) lived and breathed fashion,” Bissonnette said.

Zuckerwise loved Donna Karan’s designs and began collecting them along with other designer names.

She worked in New York at the Bergdorf Goodman’s Donna Karan boutique, and she was known for keeping her prestigious clients and customers for many years, Bissonnette said.

She also kept good contact with Kors, the co-host of “Project Runway,” even throughout her illness.

“He would call her from shows in Italy and ask her how she was doing,” Bissonnette said.

When Zuckerwise died, Ritter turned to Kors asking advice on what to do with all the garments she collected. The trust was placed on Kent State when Kors mentioned the school’s museum, Bissonnette said.

One-hundred and eighty-seven total garments were chosen from the Dayton home. One-hundred and seven of those were designed by Karan, 39 by Kors and the rest by various designers including Kenzo Prada, Claude Montana and Ferragamo.

“Garments are the things closest to a person. For him to see pieces taken away was part of the grieving process,” Bissonnette said.

The Kent State University Museum will display an exhibit on the collected Kors pieces beginning Feb. 26, 2009 through Feb. 7, 2010. The exhibit will be titled, “Michael Kors designs from the Wendy Zuckerwise Collection.”

Another exhibit is planned for the Karan designs, but it won’t take place for another two to three years because there is so many pieces.

The museum only accepts about one percent of donations per year because of minimal space. This collection attracted Bissonnette because the museum hosts so few female designers.

Karan gave an alternative to women. So many others were minimizing men’s suits, Bissonnette said, and Karan gave woman draped garments that were “practical yet chic.”

The clothes weren’t masculine-looking, Bissonnette said. They had “a good finish but a soft finish.”

Some of the garments included in the exhibits are a jacket with mink, a pair of pilgrim shoes and several purses still in original packaging.

The Kent State University Museum will now possess the collection from a woman who was so well known for never throwing anything away, Bissonnette said.

“What’s important,” she said, “is that when Ritter went to Michael Kors, Michael sent Ritter to us.”

Contact fashion reporter Jessica M. Kanalas at [email protected].