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Mystery solved | Artifact's origins revealed thanks to luck, quarantine

In 2010, a dress was donated to the Grand Rapids Public Museum. It was added to the collection with no context, until May when the 95-year-old designer reached out.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The mystery behind an artifact donated to the Grand Rapids Public Museum a decade ago has finally been solved, thanks to the internet and the quarantine that was mandated due to the pandemic.

In 2010, a party dress was donated to the museum. It was part of a collection of dresses that were owned by Grand Rapids residents and sisters Doris and Janice Cole. For ten years, the dress hung in the GRPM's collections archives, until May 2020 when a random comment happened to be left on the museum's website.

"I was working remotely last spring like most everybody was," said Andrea Melvin, who is the Collection's Curator of the Grand Rapids Public Museum. "Part of my job is to check the comments being made by the public on our website, and a comment by a man named Frank Perullo grabbed my attention."

Mr. Perullo's comment read, "I was astonished to see a design from years ago in a museum collection. When I looked at the photo of the dress, I recalled very clearly the making of it and the specifics of the creation of the dress — from the designing, draping and cutting, to finally preparing the models to show the finished dress to the sales staff and buyers.” 

Melvin's interest was piqued.

"I immediately began researching who Frank Perullo was and realized he was a prominent fashion designer, based out of New York City, back in the 1950s," said Melvin. "I reached out to him and he told me that while he was quarantining back in the Spring, he was surfing the internet and happened to Google his name one day and the image of the dress in our collection popped up."

Credit: Frank Perullo
Frank Perullo (photo taken sometime in the 1950s) was a prominent American fashion designer from the 1950s-1970s.

Frank Perullo's fashion designs were very popular in the 1950s. This particular dress was designed in 1954 by Perullo of David Hart Incorporated. 

"While speaking with Frank, he said he was amazed that the dress had been so well preserved," added Melvin. "He said he remembers doing the braiding and the sequins on the dress.

"He was so excited to see that it still existed and was part of our collection here at the museum."

Melvin says the museum takes in artifacts all the time that don't have context or backstory, so it's always nice to have that happen for some of their pieces, regardless of how long it takes for it to happen.

"Previously, we had no information on Frank Perullo," said Melvin. "We didn't know who he was.

"If we ever want to put this dress on display, we now have primary-source information that we can attach to it."

You can visit the Grand Rapids Public Museum's collections database by clicking HERE.