In 2015 alone, 85 items from the Textiles and Fashion Collection went on short loan to museums nationally and internationally. And to mangle the old saying, what goes out must come back. Here at The Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles & Fashion, we’ve recently had a spate of returns from exhibitions around the world.
21 mounted outfits from 7 exhibitions came back within a two week period in May. So what happens when an object comes back from loan? The Textiles Conservation department make a custom padded mannequin with the correct historical silhouette, to bear its weight and keep it in shape for the duration of the exhibition. We mount the outfit at the V&A, and ship it a specially made crate, secured at the neck and base. They return the same way. This means we don’t need to dress and undress the figure, reducing stress on the garment that may be caused by handling. Specialist handlers deliver the crate to the Clothworkers’ Centre at Blythe House where I meet them and unpack the crate. The crate is taken away to be reused or recycled.
The dress will stay on the mannequin while a member of staff performs a condition check, to make sure it has returned to us in the same condition it left in. Some pieces have never had studio photography, or the photos they have look dated, like the green Zoot Suit. These are waiting to go to our in-house photography studio, where they will be professionally photographed and the images uploaded to the Search the Collections database. Most objects then are unmounted by me and returned into storage, either lying flat in a drawer or hung on a rail in one of our 152 mobile base units where they are available for study appointments.
Occasionally an outfit might be going back out on loan or on display in one of our galleries. In this case we keep the outfit mounted until it’s ready to go back out on show. The “Angel” Alexander McQueen dress is waiting to the shipped overseas. The riding habit is heading to Versailles in October. The beautiful 1740-1745 embroidered mantua above is being considered for rotation back into the permanent galleries. Maybe you’ll see her soon.