For as long as she can remember, Dennita Sewell was in love with fashion. “Some people save photographs, I archived my clothes,” states Sewell, who took her passion and forged a distinguished career path that has included a coveted job in New York as collections manager at The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art where she worked under esteemed curator Richard Martin. Sewell’s decision to move on and accept a position as curator of fashion design at the Phoenix Art Museum was simple. “I had ideas that I wanted to express, much like an artist,” she says. Sewell has originated 34 exhibitions since her start in 2000 and brings a definitive point of view to her curating. “This isn’t about fashion on display like in a store window,” she says. “Here, the history behind the clothes are just as important as the objects themselves.” A self-declared minimalist, most days Sewell favors black slacks and T-shirts, claiming when she’s selecting pieces from the vault, a neutral palette is less distracting. “But come opening night, I still love to dress up,” she says, “and I’m the first one to put on Ralph Rucci or Vivienne Westwood.”
LX: Every curator should:
DS: Look at their subject in context of history, the current environment and across other disciplines.
LX: Periods you find most engaging:
DS: The 18th century is so interesting to me because of the high level of craftsmanship, and the Rococo aesthetic appeals to my romantic sensibility. I also love the 1920s; it’s the first historical period that still seems completely modern today.
LX: Most treasured piece:
DS: One of my favorite items in the museum’s collection is a blue sequin dress by Chanel from 1928. It is superior in its modernity.
LX: Design icons:
DS: Fashion designers Vivienne Westwood, Yohji Yamamoto, Azzedine Alai¨a and Ralph Rucci, to name a few.
LX: Inside tip:
DS: When I am dressing mannequins in the vault, I always have music on, often from the period of the exhibition we are working on. Preparing the mannequins is a very physical process and the music gives me the energy and vibe that brings an object to life.