Michelle Tolini Finamore (PhD 2010) is the Penny Vinik Curator of Fashion Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where her exhibition Hollywood Glamour Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen is currently on view through March 8. She has lectured widely and written numerous articles for both the scholarly and popular press. Her book, Hollywood Before Glamour: Fashion in American Silent Film (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) was cited by the Huffington Post as one of the best film books of 2013. She recently answered a few questions about her studies at the BGC and her career.

What attracted you to the BGC’s graduate program?

When I was thinking about pursuing a PhD, I wanted a program that would allow me to delve more deeply into fashion history but within the broader context of design history and decorative arts. After meeting with members of the faculty and learning about their various specialties, I could immediately tell that the BGC program would provide me with a rich framework to more generally explore visual culture. I realized that I would be moving beyond my comfort zone. And I liked the idea not only because it would be more intellectually challenging but also because it might open up more opportunities in the art world. It was soon obvious to me that I had made the right choice because I started teaching design, film and fashion history in the Art History program at RISD soon after finishing my coursework—that was a very rewarding experience.

What was your focus of study here? How did you find yourself involved with it?

Well, I intentionally chose not to take fashion history because that was the focus of my master’s program at F.I.T. Highlights of my study included courses on world’s fairs and Art Nouveau with Amy Ogata and twentieth-century decorative arts courses with Pat Kirkham. Both professors looked at their subjects from such original perspectives and helped me to become a more rigorous scholar. Michelle Majer’s incredible breadth of knowledge made her guidance essential for my dissertation work. I am constantly marveling at how, after so many years, I still draw upon the remarkably progressive and far-reaching scholarship of my professors at the BGC.

You are currently a curator at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Can you describe your position there and your current project ?

Well I describe my position to many people as my “dream job” and I feel extremely fortunate to be here at the MFA working with such a rich and historic collection and such passionate colleagues. My work entails building the twentieth- and twenty-first-century fashion collection, organizing exhibitions, and working with donors and museum supporters through our Fashion Council, among many, many other tasks!

Last year I curated Think Pink, which was an interdisciplinary investigation of the meaning of the color pink through objects, fashion, and 2-D material. I think of that exhibition as a direct outgrowth of my experience and my education at the BGC. My current exhibition is Hollywood Glamour: Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen. A collaboration with our jewelry curator, it deconstructs Hollywood image-making and myth-making by examining fashion and jewelry worn by the stars.

Interestingly, this position has also brought me full circle in a way. When I was in high school, my parents brought me to see a Renoir exhibition at the MFA and it was transformative moment in my life, fueling my passion for art history and setting me on the path that ultimately led me back to the MFA.

What is your next project?

I continue to work on articles and participate in various workshops and symposia related to my dissertation topic and book Hollywood Before Glamour: Fashion in American Silent Film. It is really a subject ripe for more exploration and so the research continues to evolve. I am working on a collaborative project with curators from various departments and the Textile and Fashion Arts department’s next exhibition, currently titled Fashion and Technology will open next fall. It will explore the exciting new developments that are fusing the worlds of science and fashion.