V&A archive, London: Westwood, McQueen, Dior, Schiaperelli…

Feb 04 2016 Tags: Cloth, Colour, Embroidery, Exhibition, Fabric, Fashion, Hand Made, Heritage, London, Silk, Tanning

Visit to the V&A’s The Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion housed in the imposing and beautifully restored in the former Post Office and Savings Bank headquarters.

V&A archive collection, Blythe House, London

V&A archive collection, Blythe House, London

Completed in 1899 and hailed as an innovative building, over 4, 000 people passed through on a daily basis. There was even an ice-rink on is roof. Today – serene, reflective and absolutely cavernous – it’s home to over 100, 000 items.

The site – a total of 5 acres – is the size of Harrods. The hanging area alone,  longer than a football pitch with reinforced ceilings and metal joists to support 50, 000 hanging pieces.

An exquisite example of Japanese shiobri silk technique on a damask kimono is on display. The deep blue indigo cloth and spectacular circular shibori pattern highlight a heavily hand-embroidered bird in pink and golden thread.

Japanese shiobri silk technique on a damask kimono

New Look: Dior – a cream jacket, cleverly padded at the hips and down the arms, coupled with a heavily pleated black skirt, which has over 5 yards of fabric. Pariseans were so outraged at the time by the excess there were demonstrations in the streets.

Currently preparing for a Vivienne Westwood exhibition at Danson House, a corset is displayed. The curators are working to flatten the front panel, which has rolled up over time. Recently loaning a handkerchief to the Magna Carta exhibition, at the British Library. And the upcoming biggie…

Savage Beauty, Alexander McQueen: preparing an elegant man’s evening coat, with quilted paneling and hand embroidery.

an elegant man’s evening coat

A detailed eighteenth century damask shirt and skirt, which includes three techniques is carefully laid across a table. Highly skilled embroidery, hand painting and intricate brocade cover the pieces. The dress can actually be seen on a character in Beatrix Potter’s Tailor of Gloucester, following the author’s visit to the V&A in the 1930s.

eighteenth century damask shirt and skirt

Maison Schiaperelli, a hand silk screen-printed dress part of the Circus collection, which features ‘blood rips’ pattern created by Salvador Dali, lies across a worktable. The simple but timeless piece, features a plastic zip, which was extremely unusual at this time.

a hand silk screen-printed dress

The Flowers of the Fields of France, 1957 designed by Norman Hartnell, for the state opening of the French parliament. We had just signed the EEC agreement, so an auspicious time. The dress is in the collection not for its royal connection but because of the designer. Tiny blue cornflowers, and bees embroider the gold silk dress.

The Flowers of the Fields of France

The Flowers of the Fields of France, 1957 designed by Norman Hartnell

‘It’s safe to assume that textiles will grow and becoming increasingly more popular through the twentieth century. It’s a question of planning and working to our purchasing guidelines. Every piece tells a story,’ Suzanne Smith, Clothworkers’ Centre manager.

V&A archive collection, Blythe House, London

V&A archive collection, Blythe House, London

Antique celebration: the oldest British sampler is housed in the collection. Dated 1596 and marking the birth of a child, the items unfinished quality is what makes the collection so interesting. The stories behind everything stored here.

The majority of pieces are from the twentieth century. The V&A continually acquires new pieces, advising and loaning to other galleries, while also searching for pieces that are lacking from earlier times.

1930s clarks preparing daily balances, Post Office Savings Bank

1930s clarks preparing daily balances, Post Office Savings Bank

‘We do have a small African collection but we would like to have more. We hope to expand our collection. Our largest collection is in from the twentieth century. We have a wide collection of English and French designs, but unfortunately not so many Italians,’ Suzanne Smith, Clothworkers’ Centre manager.

The main block of Blythe House, in c.1924

The main block of Blythe House, in c.1924

‘Our collections have influenced students, costume and fashion designers. Erdem frequently visits,’ Suzanne Smith, Clothworkers’ Centre manager.

The store, shows the importance of fashion as something we can all relate to and the changing cultural and political times, and influence they all have on each other. There are shoes found in the plague pits, the oldest item an intestinal mummy wrapping from 2000 BC tomb and ecclesiastical robes from fifteenth and sixteenth century.

Architecture

Blythe House, designed by the Office of Works under Sir Henry Tanner in the Edwardian Baroque style, is pinkish-red brick with Portland stone dressing. The four-storey building includes attics and sub-basements. Until 1925 the building had its own power station, supplying electricity to passenger and goods lifts, printing presses and more than 11,000 lamps.

Beautiful lime green, cream and grey glazed bricks line the large workroom walls, ‘to afford a good reflecting surface for light and also to be commended for sanitary reason,’ according to an unsigned memo, The National Archives: Public Record Office NSC 23/4 Undated but likely 1899-1908.

Blythe House and the associated post office is a listed grade II building.

For more information: http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/c/clothworkers-centre/



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