Nicole LaBouff, PhD

Nicole LaBouff, PhD

Assistant Curator of Textiles

Department: Decorative Arts, Textiles, and Sculpture

Background/Work History

Nicole works with the MIA’s remarkable collection of textiles, particularly those from Europe and America. A Los Angeles native, she came to the MIA in 2013 after working for six years in the Department of Costume and Textiles at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There, she developed an exhibition on Elza Sunderland’s iconic mid-20th century textile designs and helped showcase the museum’s recent acquisition of 18th- and 19th-century European garments. She has a background in anthropology, studied for her MPhil (1997) in archaeology at the University of Cambridge, and for her MA (2001) in art history and the history of dress at the Courtauld Institute of Art. For her PhD from the University of California, Irvine (2013), she countered notions that women’s domestic needlework—ubiquitous throughout Renaissance Europe—distanced women from learning, showing that the surviving embroideries of Mary, Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick were influenced by the books they read.

Q: Your PhD research led you to some rather famous women. What fascinated you about them?
NICOLE LABOUFF: First, it was the embroidered objects they created. But as the project progressed, I grew increasingly interested in their private lives and their complicated friendship. Mary, Queen of Scots was basically under house arrest in Bess of Hardwick’s house. So there was this weird power dynamic at play in that Bess was warden to a queen who outranked her. Still, they developed a friendship, supported by their shared appreciation for needlework. 

Q: Are you a fan of any historical television shows for the clothes?
NL: Mad Men—I love the costumes and set design. I was also really impressed with Elizabeth I, an HBO mini-series starring Helen Mirren as the queen. You can see that the designers meticulously reproduced costumes and interiors based on some famous paintings from that period.

Q: Any style blogs you follow?
NL: The Sartorialist. I don’t read a lot of fashion magazines anymore, so that’s often my first exposure to what’s going on in that world. Also My Closet in Sketches which is a very playful blog by a fashion illustrator who sketches her own wardrobe. And then of course there’s Cute Overload but, well, that’s not really about fashion.

Q: Many museums are developing fashion exhibitions now—and they’ve proven popular. Why do you think that is?
NL: Museums are waking up to the fact that fashion is really relatable. The construction of garments, how people moved in them—a huge range of people can find a point of entry into these kinds of objects, even ones from distant historical epochs.