Lipscomb University and Dolly Parton Take Fans ‘Behind the Seams’

Lipscomb University’s Department of Fashion and Design partnered with the music legend to create the exhibit “Dolly Parton and the Makers: My Life in Rhinestones.”
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Published on August 31, 2023
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  • Lipscomb University's Department of Fashion and Design is partnering with Dolly Parton to create the exhibit “Dolly Parton and the Makers: My Life in Rhinestones.”
  • The exhibit will be the first in-person look at Parton’s new book, “Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones.”
  • The six-week-long exhibition will open on Oct. 31 and feature 25 of the singer's iconic outfits featured in her book.

A new exhibition at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, will give Dolly Parton fans a chance to go “behind the seams” of some of her iconic looks.

The private Christian university will host Dolly Parton and the Makers: My Life in Rhinestones.” The exhibit opening Oct. 31 will showcase 25 outfits featured in Parton’s new book, Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones and give visitors an inside look at the creative process and skills required to craft a classic Dolly Parton fit.

The people who create the [looks] sometimes would spend countless hours on one single piece ... and then it would be photographed maybe from the waist up, one time, to never be seen again, Charlotte Poling, chair of the Department of Fashion and Design at Lipscomb University, told BestColleges.

So that's the story that we're going to be able to tell, really digging into their process and letting them come into the limelight for just a second.

In a video, Parton expressed her excitement to showcase her passion for fashion and collaborate with the Lipscomb Fashion and Design Team.

I am going to open up my archive to bring some of my favorite gowns, suits, and hair looks that are featured in the book to Lipscomb ... I’ll be part of the Bison Herd this fall! she said.

Lipscomb University x Dolly Parton

Lipscomb University's Department of Fashion and Design is housed in the College of Entertainment and the Arts and offers both a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of fine arts in fashion design and fashion and interior merchandising.

Poling, who is also an alumna of the program, says the small class sizes — the program only has about 50 students — and the university’s location in Nashville make Lipscomb an ideal place for students interested in the fashion industry.

But how did this small private school land Dolly Parton's most famous fits?

Its Fashion and Design Department is home to one of the largest private collections of American fashion designer Halston and has collaborated with Nashville-based, Mexican fashion designer Manuel Cuevas, who also designed pieces for Dolly Parton along with Prince and Elvis for last year’s fashion exhibit, during Lipscomb Fashion Week.

The university’s director of art and design, Rocky Horton, put the school in contact with Parton’s former head pattern maker and seamstress Iisha Lemming, Poling said.

Those conversations snowballed into where we are now, which was really kind of diving into Dolly's camp and engaging with her archivist, Rebecca Seaver. They actually really loved the idea of bringing the maker's stories to life, Poling said.

While Seaver continues to work full-time for Parton, Lemming has joined the university’s faculty for the fall, teaching one course and serving as a guiding director for the exhibit and a liaison between the school and Parton’s team.

It's exciting to have her as part of our team, her skill sets are incredibly specific and rich and to have her be able to be student-facing and teach them as well ... we're really just thrilled to have her, Poling said.

Students Key to Creating Exhibit

While the exhibition does not open until the end of October, Lipscomb students have been busy behind the scenes working on the “DP practicum,” a course that allows students to work on everything from graphic design and social media to designing the gallery installations and merchandise and building the gift shop to accompany the exhibit.

As you can imagine there's lots of moving parts to building this kind of exhibit and putting on something that is going to be this public-facing for this long, Poling explained. There will be lots of elements that students have had their hands on from beginning to end.

While it is not confirmed if Parton herself will make an appearance at the exhibit, students have been getting first-hand experience working side by side with Parton’s team.

Everybody from her marketing team to her merch team to her PR team and her social team, they're all so excited and willing to talk to our student teams. They're getting real-world experience, but also, they're networking with the real deal, Poling said.

They're going to come out of this with a relationship with Dolly Parton’s team ... so it's just incredible that they get to have that experience and that those folks were so willing and generous with their time to talk to our students.

Tickets for Dolly Parton and the Makers: My Life in Rhinestones at Lipscomb University go on sale Sept. 1 and are $25 a person. The 45-minute tour will be open Tuesday-Saturday from Oct. 31-Dec. 9.