DENTON, Tex. -- Last fall when Susan Ingram was looking for inspiration for designing children's apparel, she found it at the University of North Texas.
The university houses the Texas Fashion Collection, which Ingram calls one of her "best-kept secrets." It's an impressive collection of 10,000 pieces dating from 1820 to the present.
In a vast, climate-controlled room within Scoular Hall hang choice creations by about 250 prominent designers of the 20th century. Custom-made garments that bear no label are arranged chronologically, while labeled clothing is grouped by designer.
"We're not always in Paris or New York, but we can always run up to Denton to get rejuvenated," said Ingram, owner and designer of Helena and Harry IV Co. here, which makes sportswear, dresses and coats. "It's very easy to be inspired by looking through the garments. It makes it much easier for a designer to find all these dressmaker details instead of always having to rely on your memory bank."
Visitors must wear white cotton gloves while perusing the fashion trove to avoid damaging the fabrics. Highlights include almost 400 gowns by Balenciaga, 150 ensembles by Norman Norell and 101 couture and ready-to-wear dresses and suits by Hubert de Givenchy that were donated last fall by Mercedes Bass, wife of billionaire Sid Bass.
"You can see just about anything you want from any decade," noted Myra Walker, director of the Texas Fashion Collection. "A lot of the garments are evening or cocktail wear because they tend to survive. They don't get worn out as much."
Sportswear, lingerie, men's wear and exotic furs also are part of the collection.
Stanley Marcus and his brother, Edward, started the fashion treasury in the late Thirties in honor of Carrie Marcus Neiman, their aunt and co-founder of the Neiman-Marcus store. They stowed away key looks each season and encouraged customers to donate styles.
"The strength of the collection lies in its regional flavor -- the taste level of Neiman-Marcus and the people who shopped there," Walker pointed out. "The clothing was worn by people who attended parties and made debuts in Dallas. There's a lot of history here."
A Stella McCartney sketch of a custom dress made from protein-based silk in partnership with biotech lab Bolt Threads. The dress will be displayed at The Museum of Modern Art's upcoming design exhibition, "Items: Is Fashion Modern?"