Lacey Flint is The Explorers Club Archivist and Curator of Research Collections. Her support of Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme provided a truly unique partnership between two seemingly disparate institutions. She authored the essay, “The Explorers Club: A Brief History,” in the exhibition book, and here, she shares a bit about The Explorers Club’s incredible collections.
In early June of 2015, I received an email, quite out of the blue, from Patricia Mears. The brief missive served two as an introduction to both Patricia and a project she had tentatively entitled Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme. She inquired about visiting The Explorers Club and discussing the scope of the work and the possibility of our potential collaboration. I remember being a bit skeptical of both The Club’s involvement and my own. I wasn’t entirely sure what relevant resources our Collection could provide a project such as this. And thinking of explorers, past and present, in all of their gear as having influenced runway couture? Not possible. Patricia must have never seen early diving helmets or glacier goggles.
On a personal level, I know next to nothing about fashion (often overwhelmingly evident, but never more so than on any cold winter’s day when I try to convince myself that no one will notice I’m attempting to pass off fleece leggings as stockings) or its history. At the time of Patricia’s email, I was only a little more than a year into my tenure at The Club, after finishing my graduate work in Museum Studies at The University of Leicester. We can all thank my year in UK climes for the fleece legging trick.
However, after meeting with Patricia and discussing the project’s thesis, I was absolutely convinced that, yes, my explorers and their gear had indeed influenced fashion. The winter parkas we all have tucked away in our closets were undeniably inspired by polar and mountaineering treks. And what about moon boots and neoprene dresses? All of it could be traced back to various scientific expeditions. The vision and scope of the project was unchartered territory, much like the work and discoveries of Club Members past and present. I enthusiastically agreed to come on board and provide any resources I could. This brought on the next challenge: I was tasked with detailing the history of exploration.
The interior of The Explorers Club Library which features a ceiling from a fifteenth century Italian monastery. The Explorers Club Research Collections.
What is exploration but curiosity in action? Humans have always been exploring. Thousands of years of nomadic life, diaspora, conquest, trade route discoveries, colonizing, re-colonizing, mapping – and that’s just scratching the surface of geographic exploration. Add to that technology, ethnology, all branches of field science – the list goes on. My assignment then became narrowing the scope of exploration to something manageable and meaningful. I decided to focus on the history of scientific exploration as told through The Explorers Club’s “Famous Firsts.”
Since its inception, members of The Club have dedicated themselves to our mission, which at its most basic level is to explore land, sea, air, and space. Hallmarks of pioneering 20th century exploration have come to be recognized as The Club’s “Famous Firsts.” Robert Peary, the Club’s third President, and Matthew Henson “discovered” the North Pole in 1909. The discovery of the South Pole by Member Roald Amundsen followed soon after in 1911. Club Members Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to summit Mt. Everest in 1953, and the lowest point on Earth, Mariana Trench, was attained by our Honorary President Don Walsh and Club Fellow Jacques Piccard in 1960. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins reached the moon in 1969 carrying The Explorers Club Flag.