Before it reached London, ‘Wedding Dresses 1775-2014’ was part of the V&A’s touring exhibition programme. Over four years, it was shown in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. While new pieces have been added to the displays of the exhibition in its current incarnation, some garments from the tour have now returned to us in order to be stored.
Due to the fragile material nature of textiles and dress, it is important that, as well as controlling the conditions in which a piece is displayed, the piece is allowed periods of ‘rest’. During these times, the garment may be treated by our expert Textile Conservators in order to stabilise its condition, or safely stored at the Clothworkers’ Centre.
This week we had two deliveries of expertly packed crates containing pieces ranging from a 19th century wedding dress to a cloche hat from 1928. The dresses and wedding outfits were packed, stored and moved while mounted to their specially made mannequins. They travel in this way in order to reduce the amount the pieces are handled, and so that upon their arrival they can be dismounted and stored in the method we use for our archives.
Much like the installation of the exhibition, the dispersal process for the tour crates was one of collaboration. Once the crates were delivered by MOMART, our Technical Services team securely opened each one and carefully removed the pieces packed inside. The interior structure of each case was specifically built to best support the stored items.
Once they were removed from the crates, Mary Linkins, Exhibition Assistant on ‘Wedding Dresses 1775-2014’, and Keira Miller, textiles conservator and mount specialist, and I packed each of the items into tissue lined boxes for their next, this time short, journey.
Every piece has its own requirements, depending on its size, condition and materials, for how it should be packed and moved. The Textiles Conservation team make the coverings and supports necessary to fulfil these needs. For instance, the front net decorations on the skirt of a wedding dress from 1841 were buoyed by specially made cushions.
Repacking the pieces was an excellent opportunity to look at some of the garments which we were unable to include in the exhibition for its London run. This included a delicate silk georgette and chiffon nightdress by Lucile, from 1913. Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon) was Britain’s most successful couturiere in the early 20th century. Daringly transparent, with a gossamer-like sensuality, when this nightdress was donated to the collection it was said to have come from the trousseau of an unidentified lady “with luxurious tastes”.
Another example I was pleased to have the chance to see was the Lamborghini suit by Ossie Clark from 1969, decorated in the ‘Chinoisery’ print by Celia Birtwell. The suit was worn by Hilary Milne for her wedding. She spotted the suit having already selected ‘a white, Jane Austen style’ dress, but, falling in love with Clark’s work instantly, soon changed her mind.
While we seek for these great pieces and their stories to be shared and seen, an important part of function of the museum is to preserve its collection for future generations. Therefore, rather than having them forever on tour and on display, we must prioritise the preservation of these garments and the maintenance of their condition. However, these pieces will now be stored at the Clothworkers’ Centre in Kensington Olympia, where visitors can book appointments to view garments in our stores for their research. So, if you’re interested in seeing any of the pieces I’ve mentioned here in the future, please take a look at the Clothworkers’ Centre for more information.