For anyone who saw the Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones exhibition at the V&A a few years back, you will already have been invested with the ill-kept secret that the Museum has one of the finest collections of millinery in the world.
As discussed in my previous post (since when I have been promoted to Assistant Curator and am thus now an even more fervid proselytiser of the V&A brand) the collections have not always been boarded in appropriate quarters, and so the move to Blythe House seemed to us to be the perfect opportunity to raise many of our oldest chapeaus from their cramped, dusty surroundings into something a bit fancier.
You might remember 110 Store from a few posts back. If you don’t, or just want an excuse to revisit its lofty environs, here it is
110 Store. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Before we started to empty this room, there was also a row of cupboards placed bang down the middle of the store. These were second-hand from the Natural History Museum when we received them in the ‘50s, so were certainly over a hundred years old by the time they were unburdened. All the cupboards and drawers in the store were solid mahogany, some were splintering, and many were warped; obviously very dangerous for their precious contents. The Natural History Museum cupboards were in particularly bad condition, with many drawers either stuck in their runners or falling down onto the ones below. It was in these that some of our most venerable hats, bonnets, coifs and caps were kept, a bit squashed and a bit sad-looking.
With the careful assistance of Museum Technician Phil Evans and volunteer Liz Tregenza, their situation has been very much improved. All of the most vulnerable have been permanently mounted by Phil, to give them the internal support they badly required. Each was also carefully packed to ensure there would be no damage during transfer to Blythe House.
Hats awaiting transport. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Not only is this extremely useful for purposes of conservation and storage, it also gives us something to present to visitors who make appointments to see hats at the Clothworkers’ Centre. Being presented with a hat properly-filled with a tissue paper head, being seen as it is meant to be worn, is certainly a good deal more inspiring than a limp piece of fabric at the bottom of a wooden drawer.
Boxed hats ready to go. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Liz packed all the men’s twentieth-century hats carefully in bespoke hat boxes provided by Paper Conservation. They will be kept permanently in these lovely white cuboids and, along with Phil’s mounts and packing, will speak volumes about the dedication and professional pride of all the staff attached to the project, as well as our shared excitement for the possibilities and advancements of the Clothworkers’ Centre.
A few of Phil’s beautifully mounted hats. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
A new home for headgear. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion is part of FuturePlan and will be open to visit by appointment later this year.