Discover how objects are stored and get an insight to the work of restorers and curators
The Fashion Gallery
In the fashion gallery, a selection from the inventory is shown, from courtly rococo garments to the salon vestments of the Belle Époque and up to the couturier models of the last decade. The visitor strolls along large, illuminated display cases as it were, a panorama that impressively depicts the historic transformation in costume. Around 130 outfits spanning the 18th century to today are laid out in large showcases and accompanied by the appropriate footwear and accessories. But what happens behind the scenes?
Inventory list and location index
The inventory list and the location index are the most important archival documents in the museum. They list the locations of all the items of clothing with their inventory numbers along with descriptions of the object and information about its provenance. If a box has been stored in the wrong place or a dress has been put into the wrong box, all the shelves and boxes must be searched through.
White threads and fabrics made of natural materials are used for restoration, and must first be dyed to match the exact shade of colour of each textile. Stable chemical dyes are used for the old textiles and matched to the colour shades of the natural dyes used in the relevant historical period.
Working with the microscope
Under the microscope it can be determined whether a textile is a canvas, twill or atlas weave, so that damaged parts can be repaired using the same kind of weave. Any defects in the weave or special features in the materials used also become visible, as is the case with this silk fabric from the 14th century.
To exhibit fashion, mannequins suited to the display of a wide range of vestments that stem from the past three centuries are needed. These should furthermore satisfy both art historical and conservation requirements. Ideal display of the form and function of three-dimensional textiles such as costumes is predicated on bracing supports. A suitable mannequin lends the garment the required volume and presents it in its originally intended, three-dimensional form. The materials employed must be resistant to aging and cannot
emit harmful substances.
It is crucial to first construct the volume of the figurine per the stipulations set forth by the costume. Along with essential measurements, such as breast, waist and hips, the increments between tucks in the dress and the ratio of the width of the back to the bust provide important information about the proportions of the wearer.
Finalisation of the mannequin
The polyethylene foam figurine is used as a positive that is then coated in acid-free, chlorine-free paper until the paper reaches 2-3 mm thick. After drying the paper is cut down the centre of the back and removed from the positive form. The cut in the back must be carefully glued both inside and out. The neck area may be left open or be closed with a plate of acid-free board. Using a base plate affixed to the lower edge, the paper figure can then be fastened to a stand.
Underskirts should be pulled over all substructures with steel hoops so that the hoops do not leave any imprints upon the costume. The same applies to clothing with softly falling fabric cut on a diagonal grain. The fabric that falls beneath the figure constricts as a result of its diagonal grain, causing the lower edge of the figure to stand out clearly if no underskirt is used.
Fashion of the 18th Century
The great light sensitivity and resultantly necessary brevity of textile exhibition soon calls for change in costumes and the development of a new exhibition concept. Thus begins the next cycle of preparation, from restoration and production of figures and undergarments to the presentation of costumes selected for the next exhibition.
Text: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz / Merle Walter / Heidi Blöcher and Christine Waidenschlager in: Fashion Art Works, Michael Imhof Verlag, Petersberg 2014
Concept / Editing / Realisation: Merle Walter
Translation: allround Fremdsprachen GmbH von der Lühe, Berlin / Catherine Hales and Stephan Schmidt
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz www.smb.museum