Siegel’s gifts to the Goldstein include: (clockwise) a Seymour Fox wool coat, Emilio Pucci printed velveteen suit, 1980s plastic mules, and a Marilyn Monroe vinyl shoulder bag.
Whenever I’m on the verge of grabbing some cheap iteration of a clothing trend at a chain store, I hear Margot Siegel saying, “But is it important?” Even when she was a young fashion journalist working for Women’s Wear Daily and paying for Chagall paintings on installment plans, Siegel prioritized good design—for its artistry, but even more so for its cultural relevance. Her closet told stories of war and revitalization, of feminism, romance, and the pop art movement of the 1960s. When she spotted a piece she thought would matter, but couldn’t afford, Siegel waited for a sale to acquire it.
She donated her most “important” pieces years ago to the University of Minnesota’s Goldstein Museum of Design. As founder of Friends of the Goldstein, she persuaded others—including designer Bill Blass—to do the same. In 2009, the museum put on an exhibit inspired by Siegel’s contributions, titled Intersections: Where Art Meets Fashion. I’ll never forget escorting Siegel to the gallery for a preview—her cane in one hand, a Louis Vuitton denim bag in the other. Age 86 at the time, she walked me through the exhibit piece by piece, pointing out the way black graphics on a Goldworm dress hinted at Matisse, and how art became accessible in the form of a Warhol print on a Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle.
“A lot of fashions end up being more important historically than in a fashion sense,” Siegel was quoted in an article I wrote about that exhibit for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “They tell you what we were like at that moment in time.”
Siegel passed away in February at 91. Those who worked with her on boards and committees—for the Goldstein, and for Fashion Group International in both the Twin Cities and Palm Springs, California, where she founded the chapter—declared it the end of an era. I found myself wondering how many “Margots” are out there today—investing in fashion for the sake of history, not just a red carpet photo op.
“The thing that made Margot so unique was her background as a journalist, coupled with her experience in retail (her mother was a Dayton’s Oval Room buyer) and her love of contemporary art,” says Lin Nelson-Mayson, director of the Goldstein Museum. “She gave us a boost we would not have otherwise had.”
Not a lot of people shop like Siegel. But many do contribute to the Goldstein, which has amassed 31,000 pieces in its nearly 40-year tenure at the U. The Goldstein collection includes furniture and small household objects—like a Michael Graves teapot from Target—as well as clothing, from the early 1800s to modern day. Currently, Nelson-Mayson says the museum is collecting wearable technology, which, as it continues to evolve, will serve as a visual timeline of progress.
And that’s perfectly in line with the Goldstein’s mission. “The objects we collect can be beautiful, but it’s more about being useful,” Nelson-Mayson says. Clothing fits right in as wearable art—the way Siegel always saw it.
Pieces from the collection are used for classroom study and for specialized exhibits in the Goldstein’s petite gallery. Increasingly, Nelson-Mayson says the Goldstein has looked beyond its own cramped quarters to do exhibits in larger spaces on campus, like Rapson Hall.
Nelson-Mayson’s ultimate goal is a larger dedicated space for the Goldstein, to display more of the collection on an ongoing basis—a source of reflection and inspiration in this design-focused town.
Were she still here, no doubt, Siegel would be leading the charge.