One size does not fit all

March 27, 2014

Every ensemble in a V&A fashion exhibition is carefully mounted by our team of in house Textile Conservators and expert Costume Mounters. The V&A mainly uses stockman/dress figures or fibre glass mannequins to display its fashion collections. Stockman figures are what you might picture when thinking of a dressmaker, a torso form covered with material and displayed on a pole and base. Readers may be most familiar with fibre glass mannequins from shop displays, they are full figures held upright using metal rods (spigots).

An assortment of mannequins. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Exhibition Curators and Conservators decide what type of figure will best showcase the garment and fit the design of the particular display. A well mounted mannequin can prove invaluable in helping to demonstrate aspects of the piece such as form or texture.

The museum mainly uses standard mannequin sizes but every so often comes a garment requiring particular attention. This stunning Valentino couture gown is one such exception to the rule. The gown, from Valentino’s couture Autumn/Winter 2013 collection arrived at the V&A in January. Valentino have generously donated the piece to the V&A for inclusion in our exhibition, ‘The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014’.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Valentino Spa

Upon receiving the gown our mounting team soon found it would not fit onto a standard fibre glass mannequin. Even the smallest of our mannequins were too large for the long, slender silhouette of the gown. We swiftly called in our expert colleagues at H&H Sculptures Ltd. Just as a dressmaker may make a personal visit to measure a client at a fitting, Gary from H&H visited the V&A to measure up our couture loan.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Valentino Spa

Creating a bespoke mannequin. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Such bespoke mannequins can take many weeks to produce so time was very much of the essence in this instance. Preparing pieces for a fashion exhibition can take many months of careful and expert work. Our team began mounting the 92 ensembles for the exhibition as early as late 2012. Once ready, the mannequins are carefully covered with silk hoods and tyvek (special polyethylene)’coats’ to keep them in pristine condition. We keep the dressed mannequins in our exhibition stores ready for their big moment! They look rather ghostly all lined up in their coverings….

Mannequins in storage. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

You can see the Valentino couture gown in its full glory from April 5th at the V&A’s The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014.

For more insights into mounting costume you can also follow Keira Miller’s blog series on the forthcoming V&A exhibition, Wedding Dresses 1775 – 2014.

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