How Do We Prepare For Pleasure & Pain?

In preparation for our next blockbuster fashion exhibition ‘Shoes: Pleasure & Pain‘ from the Victoria and Albert Museum, we have been removing all the objects from our Fashion & Textiles Gallery (that’s nearly 200 of them). All the 20th century costume and accessories have been condition checked, and packed for loan.

Naked mannequins in the showcases (the costume undressed and packed for loan)

The gallery decant has been carefully planned, a new store prepared in which to house the objects, and plenty of archival boxes ordered, and Tyvek covers made. We also designed a custom-made trolley, on which our hanging items can be transported from the cases and into the store (the mannequins hang at a height of 3m!). In order to keep the gallery open for as long as possible, and still give our visitors something to see, we’ve been carrying out all the undressing, packing and labelling within the Glass Cube area of the gallery, with helpful signs to explain what’s going on. The process took 4 weeks, and in the last 2 days, we shifted all of the objects from the gallery into our new store.

Empty window cases, used to store boxed textiles while the gallery decant was ongoing

All the costume accessories (that’s shoes, bags, purses, fans, and so on) have been packed in archival boxes with acid-free tissue paper. All the hanging flat textiles (seat covers, lace, pelmets and tapestries) have been unhooked from the display, and packed flat in boxes. The quilts have been removed and rolled. The paintings have been removed by an art handler, and the miscellaneous objects (including chairs, a radio, and several lampshades) removed and packed by our Preventive Conservators.

Mannequins enclosed in Tyvek bags

All the costumes have stayed on their mounts, with custom-made Tyvek covers for their protection while in storage, whether the mannequin stands on a pole stand, or hangs from a wire. The Tyvek bags offer protection from dust, a barrier to pests, and are waterproof. They have been made to float over and around the garments with minimal contact. This has required some clever engineering, as our mannequins have been cut away (so have no heads or necks to rest the tops of the bags on).

Tyvek garment bags (not unlike a pop-up tent) enclosing the costume
Eugenie’s bodices, enclosed in Tyvek bags, and hanging on our custom-made trolley to be moved into the store

With the Fashion & Textiles Gallery now empty and closed to the public, work is continuing behind the scenes. The exhibition build consists of plinths, graphics, installations and lighting, with lots of hard work to do before the shoes arrive, along with the V&A couriers, in early June.

Boxes of textiles in the new store
Garments hanging in storage, dressed in Tyvek covers. The cope made from 18th C French dress silks in position, awaiting a cover

We’ll blog daily updates as we install the Shoes exhibition, and incase you don’t already, you can follow us on Twitter, we’re @fashionatbowes

Shoes: Pleasure & Pain opens on Saturday 11th June 2016.

Highlights of 20th century costume from our collection will be on display this summer at the Garden Rooms at Tennants Auction House, Leyburn.

Katy Smith, Textile Conservator

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