Collections and Research

Photo: © Laura Dumitriu, 2017

Cynthia Cooper

Head, Collections and Research
Curator, Dress, Fashion and Textiles

I love looking closely at a garment and finding stories in its materials, its stitches and signs of wear. Clothing plunges me into intimate and complex conversations with the past.

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Cynthia Cooper is particularly drawn to telling stories about dress and fashion that have become intertwined with Canadian identity projects. With the short film “Get Your Maple Leaf Tartan On!” disseminated on social media in 2019, she created a conversation around inclusivity using Canada’s most obscure national symbol—a textile.

Cooper joined the McCord Museum in 1998 as Curator, and oversees the largest museum collection of Canadian dress, consisting of over 20,000 items. She has also headed the Collections and Research department since 2009. A lifelong interest in clothing design and construction eventually led her to an M.S. in Historic Costume and Textiles from the University of Rhode Island.

She is a three-time recipient of the Richard Martin Exhibition Award from the Costume Society of America, most recently in 2018 for Fashioning Expo 67, in 2009 for Reveal or Conceal? and in 2003 as a member of the curatorial team of Clothes Make the MAN. She was curator for Love in Fine Fashion in 2014, provided curatorial leadership for the 2013 travelling exhibition From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly – Beyond the Icon, and the 2011 exhibition and catalogue 90 Treasures, 90 Stories, 90 Years. She has also been the McCord’s curatorial representative for the travelling exhibitions Balenciaga: Master of Couture in 2018 and Eleganza: Italian Fashion from 1945 to Today in 2016.

She has organized two McCord colloquia: Collecting Knowledge: New Dialogues on McCord Museum Collections in 2013 in collaboration with Joanne Burgess of UQAM under the SSHRC-funded project Montréal, plaque tournante des échanges, and Bodies on Display in 2008. She represents the McCord in the SSHRC-funded project Object Lives and Global Histories in Northern North America and the Laboratoire d’histoire et du patrimoine de Montréal based at UQAM.

She is active in professional associations and has served on the national board of the Costume Society of America. She has taught courses on the intersections between fashion and art, and on fashion history, textile history and material culture in Concordia University’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Department of Art History, and on fashion history at LaSalle College.

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Selected Publications

“A Typical Canadian Outfit’’: The Red River Coat.” In Object Lives and Global Histories in Northern North America, edited by Beverly Lemire. Montreal: MQUP, in press.

“Photographs from Nineteenth-Century Fancy Dress Balls.” In Canadian Plays and Performance Documents, 1606–1967, edited by Allana C. Lindgren, Glen Nichols and Anthony Vickery. Edmonton, University of Alberta Press, in press.

“Biography of a Collection: Costume and Textiles at the Mccord Museum.” In Collecting Knowledge: New Dialogues on McCord Museum Collections/À la recherche du savoir : Nouveaux échanges sur les collections du Musée McCord, edited by Joanne Burgess, Cynthia Cooper, Natasha Zwarich and Céline Widmer, 19-36. Montreal: Éditions MultiMondes, 2015.

Love in Fine Fashion: A Fresh Approach to an Exhibition of Wedding Dresses.Exhibition and Interpretation: Proceedings of the ICOM Costume Committee Annual Meeting, 2015.

“The Victorian and Edwardian Eras: 1860-1910.” In The Fashion Reader, edited by Linda Welters and Abby Lillethun, 69–83. Oxford; New York: Berg, 2011.

“The Garment Industry and Retailing in Canada.” In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, edited by Joanne B. Eicher and Phyllis G. Tortora, 110-21. Oxford: Berg, 2010.

“Masquerade Dress.” In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, edited by Joanne B. Eicher and Phyllis G. Tortora, 273-82. Oxford: Berg, 2010.

“Dressing Up: A Consuming Passion.” In Fashion: A Canadian Perspective, edited by Alexandra Palmer, 41-67. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 2004.

Magnificent Entertainments: Fancy Dress Balls of Canada’s Governors General, 1876-1898. Fredericton, N.B.; Hull, Quebec: Goose Lane Editions; Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1997.

Cooper, Cynthia, and Linda Welters. “Brilliant and Instructive Spectacles: Canada’s Fancy Dress Balls, 1876-1898.” Dress 22 (1995): 3-21.

Selected Presentations

“The Red River Coat,” Everyday Fashion: Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary Clothes, University of Leeds and University of Huddersfield, UK, June 27–28, 2019.

“Tartanizing Canada,” Identities, Networks, & Culture, Second Annual Colloquium in Canadian-Scottish Studies, McGill University, May 3, 2019.

“Tartanizing Canada,” Textiles in Fashion: Creativity in Context, Costume Colloquium VI, Florence, Italy, November 14–18, 2018.

“Fashioning Expo 67 Hostesses,” Making Connections, Costume Society of America, Williamsburg, Virginia, March 13-16, 2018.

“The Red River Coat,” Portal to Progress, Costume Society of America, Portland, Maine, May 29–June 4, 2017.

“La mode et Expo 67,” Montréal, ville de mode, Association francophone pour le savoir (ACFAS), Montreal, May 2017.

When Too Little Became Too Much: Low Necklines, Imperialism and Resistance in Late Nineteenth-Century Canada,” Excess and Restraint in Dress, Costume Colloquium V, Florence, November 17–20, 2016.

“The Roman Scarf: Ephemeral Fashion from the Eternal City,” Dressing Global Bodies, Pasold Conference, University of Alberta, Edmonton, July 7–9, 2016.

“Uncloaking the Red River Coat,” What Does Heritage Change? Association for Critical Heritage Studies, Montreal, June 3–8, 2016.

“Love in Fine Fashion: A Fresh Approach to an Exhibition of Wedding Dresses,” ICOM Costume Committee Annual Meeting, Toronto, September 8–13, 2015.

Biography of a Collection: Collecting Costume and Textiles at the McCord Museum,” Collecting Knowledge: New Dialogues on McCord Museum Collections, Montréal, Dynamic HubSpace: History, Heritage, Future and the McCord Museum, Montreal, November 7–9, 2013.

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