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Le Strange Fruit

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Back arrow17/01/2006      Back to blog      19/01/2006Forward arrow


Feeling rather curious about a bunch of green acquisition files today, began ploughing through a collection of files dated 1844 going through to 1993 (after which I am imagining that the system was computerised and no longer used? For some reason I began looking in 1974. Each file contains the fashion and textile acquisitions for each year, including textile, garments and no real ordering other than the date which the items were given. A series of notes pertaining to each item: register number, date of receipt, how acquired (sometimes a gift, sometimes bought, price etc), condition, and so on. And a rather detailed description of the item or items, typewritten, hand edited, sometimes with a picture, photograph, notes, and whether or not it has been exhibited, when, where etc. Strangely, the books themselves seem to go through a series of changes depending on the person placing the entries, who took the pictures, etc. Funny really that what it seems to me is that the museum itself is a strange fruit, undiscovered and forgotten systems of archiving and administration, filing and storage. Content wise: came across several Vionnet, many Balenciaga, Callot Soeurs, etc - all the usual suspects, but interestingly some garments that I have not come across before, what a wealth of information: my only regret is that there seems to be a fundamental lack of any technical interest in the pieces within the catalogues themselves. Another surprise is the way that groups of things arrive in a sort of fashion - suddenly the introduction of several of fans, broaches, hats, 18th Century textiles, all seeming to enter the archives in natural groupings. Also a lot of dust on some of these books suggests that they have not been used for some time. An excellent resource although I am curious as to what happened towards the late 80’s when things were poorly filed, and the archiving system seems to have been totally ignored. Following a chat with other members of staff to answer some of my questions, it transpires that these are the records of everything that ever came into the fashion and textiles department, until around 1993 when things became computerised and changed systems. The reason why things go in and out of ‘fashion’ depends entirely on who was donating what etc. What happened in the 60’s and 70’s were the constant donations from Cecil Beaton who gave many fashion garments and object and which accounts for the ‘burst’ in the V&A modern fashion items, and some amazing stuff. If I recall, a lot of the Beaton collection is available for public access at Blythe House. I Spent the afternoon going through more of the Cecil Beaton donations. Wonderful.

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