Monday, February 8, 2010

Celebrity Museum Mannequins

This fledgling blog and its author have been fortunate to have the encouragement of a small group readers, and you seem to have most enjoyed the peek into the Harrod's archive, so this week, another look at forgotten fashion exhibition ephemera.  This time, a close look at the 1957 guide to the  Museum Costume at Eridge Castle With Commentary on the Trends of Fashion by Doris Langley Moore.  Ms. Langley Moore, who in 1963 founded the Museum of Costume at Bath, is also famous for debunking the myth of the 18 inch Victorian waist via primary research: measuring the waists of over 200 Victorian corsets and bodices, finding none less than 21.  So equip yourself with that knowledge when the need to defend corsetry arises, as it often does.

I recently purchased a copy of The Museum of Costume booklet, bound in a metallic bronze soft cover from an Amazon marketplace seller for the bargain price of £3.50.  To my delight, it arrived with a treasure between its first and second pages: a newspaper clipping of a review of the museum! This yellowing fragment of an unknown newspaper lauds the exhibition, its life-like display scenarios, and the connections it makes between historic and contemporary fashion.  So, like the Harrod's pamphlet, it has a keen eye towards the use of history to market contemporary fashionable dress.

Inside the booklet, Doris Langley Moore introduces us to the collection, and describes some of the challenges and methods of curating dress in museums.  She outlines the problems encountered by dress historians in attempting to accurately and engagingly display items of clothing, most of which are still faced by fashion curators today.  Although the publishing of this honest and informative portrait of the work of an early dress historian is surprising in itself, what is even more remarkable are the illustrations in this booklet.  A range of historic garments from the collection dating from 1760 to 1924 are pictured - on living celebrity models! 

Yes, photographs of historic and irreplaceable garments modeled by contemporary celebrities.  Needless to say, this choice of presentation is not an option for fashion curators in the 21st century.  Wearing museum artefacts is anathema to the very aims of textile preservation, but I am fairly certain that when faced with archives full of beautiful garments, even the most dedicated fashion academic must have considered slipping something on...just for a moment-just one shoe? or something from a handling collection? Even if you have resisted the temptation up to now, then take a look at these gorgeous, if slightly anachronistic portraits of British actors and aristocrats in the togs of yesteryear, and then just imagine yourself or your favourite thespian in a pelisse, petticoat or polonaise. 

While the opportunity to actually don fashion artefacts does not come around too often, portraits of present day people wearing historic dress have not been entirely eschewed by British photographers.  Take as example the recent work of Tom Hunter, whose portraits of Museum of London staff and patrons in varying degrees of anachronistic dress and settings are currently on display in the museum lobby.  So, despite the preciousness of artefacts, there is still room for some dressing up and posing in the dress of days gone by. All hail the glamour of anachronism.  

Please do check out the work of Tom Hunter at the Museum of London, and read more about him and see more of his work here.

1 comment:

  1. Often faced with debunking the 18 inch waist myth? Funny, but this is the first time I've had anyone tell me that it was a myth. Thank you for the enlightenment!