A TREASURE CHEST FOR KENT STATE
Byline: Sharon Edelson
NEW YORK — After years of living with Empire and Art Deco furniture, antique carpets and primitive art, Cyma Rubin, a Broadway and television producer, decided it was time to simplify.
So she packed up her treasures and sent them to Christie’s for auction.
Next, Rubin turned her attention to her closets, which contained dozens of couture evening dresses designed for her by Balenciaga, Pedro Rodriguez and Balmain in the Sixties and Seventies.
“There comes a point when you part with many of the possessions of the past,” said Rubin. “If they’re wonderful, others can enjoy them as you have.”
With that idea, Rubin donated her entire collection to the Kent State University Museum in Kent, Ohio.
She said she chose Kent State because she wanted “an academic institution where students could learn from the masters by actually handling the pieces.”
“I didn’t want my dresses to get lost in a mega-collection,” she said. “Besides, middle America could use a dose of high style.”
Not that Kent State’s collection of fashion and decorative arts is paltry by any means. The museum owns 20,000 costumes, many of which were donated in 1985 by Shannon Rogers, who was the design half of the powerhouse dress company Jerry Silverman Inc., which cornered the better market in the Sixties and Seventies.
“Cyma’s collection provides us with wonderful examples of couture from the Seventies,” said Jean Druesedow, director of the museum. “These are really fun, wonderful pieces.”
Rubin’s offer, however, was initially met with some skepticism.
“The curators at Kent State said, ‘Why don’t you call Sotheby’s or Christie’s? People are paying a fortune for that retro stuff,”‘ Rubin recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t want some bimbo buying my dress and wearing it once and then seeing it at a secondhand shop. I would kill myself.”‘
Rubin laments the decline of civility and style in an era ruled by shock jocks and trashy starlets. It’s the antithesis of the life she led with her husband, Samuel Rubin, who founded the Faberge cosmetics company.
The couple, who married in 1962, divided their time between New York, Paris and a 16th-century chateau in the Basque country, which gave Rubin plenty of opportunities to dress up. She and her husband were founders of the American Symphony Orchestra and threw an opening-night party every season. There were galas for the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic, as well as the United Nations Ball and the April in Paris Ball.
Rubin, who was regularly photographed with Leopold Stokowski, the conductor of the American Symphony, Leonard Bernstein and Yehudi Menuhin, said most of her fittings took place across the border from the chateau in San Sebastian, where Balenciaga and Rodriguez, both Spaniards, kept ateliers.
“Rodriguez was a little bit regal,” Rubin said. “Before he would enter for an appointment, there would be one or two assistants who would make an entrance, then a few models would come in and after a little fanfare, he would finally arrive.
“There was a great simplicity and fluidity about the designs,” she said. “Rodriguez was a little bit more fanciful than Balenciaga. He’d pin a piece of muslin on me and begin to drape. He seemed to understand my body and my taste and was an utterly charming man.
“The workmanship of Balenciaga was so beautiful, you could wear his dresses inside out,” she added. “The funny thing is I never put those clothes away. I continued wearing them for special occasions.”
In addition to the couture pieces, Rubin donated original costumes designed by Raoul Pene du Bois from two Broadway shows she produced in the Seventies, “No, No Nanette,” the winner of four Tony Awards, and “Oh, Kay!” Her daughter, Loni Ackerman, also caught the acting bug, having starred in “Evita” and “Cats” on Broadway.
For the past seven years, Rubin’s life has been consumed by photography. She was the New York producer for the first exhibition of Pulitzer Prize photographs in Japan and Korea and curated and co-edited the catalog for the Pulitzer show, which opened here on Tuesday at the Newseum, 580 Madison Avenue, and runs through Sept. 23. The show includes famous photos like “Jack Ruby Shoots Lee Harvey Oswald” and the shot of Jessica McClure, the “Baby Girl Rescued From Well,” as well as lesser-known, but no less dramatic, images.
Rubin also produced a special for Turner Network Television, “Moment of Impact: Stories of the Pulitzer Prize Photographs,” which explored the stories behind six of the photos and won a 1999 Telly award for best documentary. The show also ran on CNN.
Rubin, who is as compulsive about her work as she is about her wardrobe, organizes her closets by color and purpose, with separate sections for activities such as riding and skiing.
“In today’s world, people don’t dress that much, but you still want to look smart,” said Rubin, whose favorite designer today is Geoffrey Beene.
“His clothes are timeless,” she said. “But then again, the only time anything really goes out of style is when it doesn’t fit you anymore.”
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