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‘Dolly Parton and the Makers’ exhibit opens to enthusiastic crowd on Oct. 27

Beaman Library bedecked with butterflies and rhinestones to celebrate Parton’s iconic fashion and career.

Janel Shoun-Smith/Photos by Kristi Jones | 

Dolly Parton and Candice McQueen at the ribbon-cutting ceremony

Dolly Parton wore the dress featured on the "World On Fire" single cover to cut the ribbon, along with Lipscomb President Candice McQueen, of the "Dolly Parton and the Makers" exhibit.

According to Dolly Parton, “A rhinestone shines just as good as a diamond.”

Lipscomb University took that homespun wisdom to heart and decked out the Beaman Library and its John C. Hutcheson Gallery in rhinestones for its festive opening of the exhibit “Dolly Parton and the Makers: My Life in Rhinestones,” which opened to the public on Tuesday, Oct. 31, and runs through Dec. 9.

Check out photos from the exhibit, the opening ceremony and gala.

The exhibit, a one-of-a-kind, limited time fashion event, offers a glimpse “behind the seams” at 25 of global superstar Dolly Parton’s iconic outfits from throughout her storied career. It highlights the makers behind the looks, the songs, the stories, and the magic that happens behind the scenes.

It is the first physical interpretation of Parton’s new fashion-focused book, Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones, released on Oct. 17 and having already reached No. 4 on the hardcover nonfiction NYT Bestseller List.

The Dolly and the Makers Exhibit

The exhibit, a one-of-a-kind, limited time fashion event, offers a glimpse “behind the seams” at 25 of global superstar Dolly Parton’s iconic outfits from throughout her storied career.

In a week of events leading up to the public opening of the exhibit, Lipscomb held its annual Fashion Week with several on-campus events relating to Parton’s fashion influence and the Rhinestone Gala allowing students a sneak peak of the lavishly decorated exhibit space.

Friday, Oct. 27, brought a special VIP opening reception and ribbon-cutting where leaders of the Parton organization, Lipscomb officials and Nashville Mayor Freddie O’Connell among others gathered to see Lipscomb President Candice McQueen and Parton herself cut the rhinestone be-decked ribbon on the exhibit.

Norah O’Donnell of CBS and Parton came to campus in October to shoot a national pre-event feature on the exhibit and ABC was on-site for the opening ceremony. Local and national media reports of the Oct. 27 opening ceremony brought news of the exhibit on Lipscomb’s campus to more than a billion potential viewers all over the globe.

“I’m just really proud. I’m amazed at how much I’ve done!” said Parton as she described her first impression of the exhibit which includes shoes, jewelry and patterns as well as dresses from her concerts, movies and special events. “I just thought, ‘Whew! That’s a lot of livin’! Looking at all those clothes, I have memories of almost every outfit that I have worn: shows that I’ve been on, movies that I’ve been in, and I remember the people. 

“That is why the book is something to celebrate the people behind the scenes… because it takes a team. I look around and think, ‘A lot of love, a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of creativity from a lot of people,’ and I can’t take credit for all of that, just the living part,” she said.

A pattern by Steve Summers showing Dolly Parton and a dress design

“That is why the book is something to celebrate the people behind the scenes… because it takes a team.," said Parton at the Oct. 27 exhibit opening.

Various members of that team passed on their expertise and advice to Lipscomb students through the preceding Lipscomb Fashion Week events, including a rhinestoning and tambour beading workshop and an industry panel including seven members of the Parton organization team who keep the superstar fashionable each day as well as contributed to the book Behind the Seams.

Matt Inman, of Ten Speed Press, attended the VIP reception and surprised Parton with news that the book debuted at No. 4 on the NYT Bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction for the week of Nov. 5. “I remember the first time we thought about this book, and you were sharing all the stories with us, and there was love in every stitch,” he said as he gave Parton the good news at the ribbon-cutting.

Dolly Parton book cover

Among the dresses in the exhibit are the 1989 dress Parton wore to perform “He’s Alive” at the CMA Awards. That dress, created by Tony Chase, is one the singer singled out as her favorite during her remarks at the ribbon-cutting.

Other garments on display include a 1985 dress worn on the “Kenny and Dolly Real Love” HBO concert special (Ann Roth and Tzetzi Ganev); the 1989 dress she wore to the Louisiana premiere of the movie Steel Magnolias (Tony Chase and Sylvia’s Costumes); a 2017 dress worn on a Dollywood parade float (Steve Summers and Iisha Lemming); a 2015 dress worn to the Coat of Many Colors premiere (Robért Behar and Sylvia’s Costumes); and the 2022 dress Parton wore to her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (purchased dress altered by Silvia’s Costumes).

At the ribbon-cutting, Parton acknowledged her niece, Rebecca Seaver, lead archivist of the Dolly Parton Collection, who curated the items for both the Behind the Seams book and the “Dolly Parton and the Makers” exhibit.

At the Lipscomb Fashion week industry panel discussion on Thursday, Oct. 26, Seaver said she had originally made the pitch to follow-up Parton’s book Songteller with a book focused on her iconic fashion. She picked out the 175 garments included in the book and worked with Parton to tell the story of each one.

“I wanted to tell the story of a woman who defied all odds and stayed true to herself even when it was off-putting to some,” Seaver told students at the panel discussion. “She garners her strength from being who she is.” 

Lipscomb students at the make-up table at the exhibit

More than 42 students in 12 majors were involved in creating and marketing the exhibit and preparing to host the crowds. Student team leaders were invited to the VIP opening reception.

Parton reinforced those comments at the ribbon-cutting, telling a humorous story about Chet Atkins advising her when she first came to Nashville to tone down her fashion because she would not be taken seriously as a songwriter because of her wardrobe.

“Years later,” she said, “when I didn’t tone it down–it got worse–but I was a big star, he came over and said, aren’t you glad you took my advice,” she chuckled. “So I think it’s important for people to wear what they are comfortable in.”

The Rhinestone Gala, 2023’s version of the annual student gala that caps off Lipscomb Fashion Week, was also held on Friday, Oct. 27, and featured samples of student fashion designs honoring Dolly Parton, a photo spot with face cut-outs, a “Dolly and the Makers” neon sign festooned with balloons in the library courtyard and trees lit up with pink lighting and butterflies, in addition to the exhibit itself in the gallery.

Three of the dresses in the exhibit.

Parton singled out the pictured dress in the center as her favorite in the exhibit.

Lipscomb Fashion Week, Oct. 23-27, coordinated by the Department of Fashion and Design and its students, featured ambush makeovers, a consignment sale and three events featuring members of Parton’s creative team:

  • A rhinestoning workshop by Iisha Lemming, Parton’s former head pattern maker and seamstress, who is serving as an artist-in-residence for the fashion and design department this fall,
  • A workshop on tambour beading (a style of French couture embroidery) by Hillary Adcock, Parton’s costumer, designer and seamstress who learned the technique in order to apply it to Parton’s fashion; and
  • An industry panel featuring seven members of the team, including Seaver.

At the industry panel, John Zarling, co-founder/partner of 615 Leverage + Strategy, said the Parton organization’s partnership with Lipscomb was a good one because “we felt a passion from you guys!”

Kelly Ridgway, vice president of global marketing, CTK Enterprises, noted that Parton is personally “really motivated by how to touch the community,” So holding the exhibit in a library, reminiscent of Parton’s Imagination Library philanthropy, and making her fashion available to the public at-large is right in line with Parton’s approach to management and life, she said.

Zarling, who handled the deal with Ten Speed Press/Penguin Random House to publish Behind the Seams, said the partnership with Lipscomb was the largest non-media partnership involved in the release of the book.

The beginning of the exhibit with information on Parton's career and fashion

The beginning of the exhibit highlight's Parton's influence in music, books, philanthropy, fashion and entertainment, and includes a timeline of her iconic fashion.

Purchase Tickets

See iconic fashion from the ancient eras as you exit the "Dolly Parton and the Makers" exhibit, compliments of the Lanier Center for  Archaeology.