It’s been a very busy week full of developments in the design and text for the exhibition. Some of the team spent Thursday morning at the Clothworkers’ Centre at Blythe House. This is where we store our Textiles and Fashion collection, which holds over 104,000 objects. It’s also a brilliant study space in which you can get a closer look at the objects you’re researching. On this occasion, it had a further practical purpose for us, as we were making a mock-up of what will be our hosiery display.
While we obviously want our displays to be visually appealing, how pretty a piece is cannot be our first consideration. No object makes its way into an exhibition by chance – we have to balance the different design and historical merits and narratives of each object to justify its place. There is a difficulty when developing an exhibition to resist only displaying ‘obvious’ yet iconic objects, and to balance such pieces with those that will surprise you and demonstrate key moments in design history.
The object also has to be in a stable enough condition to not suffer from being on display for lengthy periods. So, while we, the curatorial team, consider and select the objects initially, each one then has to be assessed by Conservation before it can be confirmed. Our in-house Design team for ‘Undressed’, Celine and Soraya, then need to see the objects and receive the estimated footprint for each one. This ensures that they can accurately plot out the space and that the case designs chime with each set of objects. This ‘plotting out’ is hugely important and varies a lot from exhibition to exhibition – so, in ‘Wedding Dresses 1775-2014’, we displayed one dress in a case which, in ‘Undressed’, will hold sixteen garments.
With that in mind, our hosiery display has taken quite a lot of planning. Considering there are around 400 pairs of stockings and tights in our collection, we had a lot to research and choose from. We had to make sure that each piece fitted – not just physically in the space, but also within the exhibition’s narrative. The display will be split across different levels, and will show a mix of objects with or without their original packaging. We made a 2D set of steps from brown paper and played around with our selections and arrangements, whittling our hosiery wish list down to the final 15. We think we’ve covered a really interesting span of designs and embellishments – from Mary Quant to Pretty Polly, from royal embroidery to seductive snakes – from the 19th century to today, and we hope that you’ll agree. While we have woven in spectacle and sparkle, there’s a running thread of the innovative and hardwearing, the unsung heroes of hosiery.