Conserving Vivien Leigh's Cleopatra Cloak

In this ASMR video, watch and listen as Senior Textile Conservator Susana Fajardo works on a cloak worn by Vivien Leigh for her performance as Cleopatra in Shakespeare's play 'Antony and Cleopatra', at the St. James's Theatre in 1951.

ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response – a pleasant tingling sensation beginning on the scalp and moving down the neck, which can be triggered by a delicate or satisfying auditory or visual experience.

Watch as Susana carefully removes folds and creases in the cloth 'feathers' of the full-length cloak. She sprays blotting paper with water to create a cold poultice and sandwiches this underneath the cloth, before gently placing glass weights on top to create tension and relax the fibres.

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See Vivien Leigh wearing the cloak:

Black and white photograph of Vivien Leigh as Cleopara. She wears the feathered cloak and a detailed headpiece.
Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra, photograph by Angus McBean. © Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University

The costume is made from black cotton and gold tinsel brocatelle, in a fish scale pattern. On the main body, this motif is outlined in pale blue paint. It also features overlapping layers of orange/brown 'feathers' or 'leaves' which are made from cotton, and are shaded with black dye and gold paint. Some of these are decorated with a plastic turquoise jewel.

Front of the cloak:

Front of the cloak featuring golden feathers, a turquoise fish scale pattern, and turquoise jewels
Cloak worn by Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, designed by Audrey Cruddas, 1951, England. Museum no. S.942-1982. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Back of the cloak:

Front of the cloak featuring golden feathers, a turquoise fish scale pattern, and turquoise jewels
Cloak worn by Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, designed by Audrey Cruddas, 1951, England. Museum no. S.942-1982. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Find out more about the detail of this costume in Explore the Collections.

Background image: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London