Inside the V&A's Clothworker's Centre for the Conservation and Study of Textiles and Fashion

By Emily Beeson | 07 October 2013

Review: V&A Tour: Clothworkers' Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion opening for tours, Blythe House, London, October 8 2013

a photo of shoes on shelves
A selection of shoes in The Clothworkers’ Centre for Textile and Fashion Study and Conservation© Victoria and Albert Museum
Death masks, action figures and the millennium falcon; a tour of the Clothworkers' Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion begins with a cabinet of cultural artefacts from one of Crazy Kat's eclectic installations.

This miniature showcase incites curiosity and readies visitors for a dip into the hushed corridors of the V&A's new awe-inspiring fashion and textiles archive.

The Clothworkers' Centre, situated at Blythe House, has undergone renovations in order to hold the vast collection, though it retains a great deal of its original historical context.

It is a consummate fusion of traditional and contemporary in which architectural intervention has been slight, in order to channel the V&A's distinctive ambience within a space rich in its own history.

Skylights and glass walls illuminate and embrace the building's original features.

This natural light can be best appreciated in the newly instated conservation studios, in which technicians work away on a myriad of restoration projects and create new textile pieces, such as 'Felt Memories', items based on some of the archive's Iranian talismanic shirts. They are marvellous script-covered garments, steeped in history and spirituality.

a photo of an elegant silver dress on a mannequin
Gareth Pugh, 2011© Victoria and Albert Museum
A conservator works on a dress from 1912, explaining that Edwardian dresses of this type are troublesome. Gesturing towards sparkling diamantes, she says that a single sheet of silk from which this heavy decoration once hung has completely disintegrated, requiring some serious restoration. A dress of this kind requires about 4000 hours of conservation; no small task.

The fashion and textile archives are home to 104,000 items dating from as far back as the Egyptian era. From an earthy-toned, gold embroidered scarf, supposedly gifted to Sir Walter Raleigh from Queen Elizabeth I, to sharp Versace suits from the 1980s, the collection holds a wealth of historical garments, tapestry, embroidery and more.

Stepping into the heart of the building, visitors come face to face with walls of custom-built storage. An imposing sight, although one that puts fantasies of an Indiana Jones-esque warehouse piled high with dusty relics to bed.

Alphabetically and chronologically ordered into 7000 draws of different sizes, the archives are both systematic and space-age. Detailed tags mark each object, reducing the need for over-handling, simultaneously helping curators and students to expand their visual vocabulary.

Edwina, one of the collection's curators explains that womenswear previously dominated much of the available archive space, however, this new set-up changes everything, providing room for the many historical items from the men's wardrobes.

She says that at present, menswear in London is experiencing a renaissance and hopes that designers will make use of the collection in its newly accessible space.

With its large, bright study area which features the building's original cream and sage tiled walls with additional accents of gold, designers should find much to contemplate here amidst a collection and a space that equally seem to encapsulate the V&A's signature pizazz. 

  • Tours are by appointment and can be booked via the V&A website.

    What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More pictures:

a photo of a large baroque building
Blythe House© Victoria and Albert Museum

a photo od the ineriro of the V&A new Clothworker's centre
© Victoria and Albert Museum

a photo tunics in protective covers on hangers
Storage in The Clothworkers’ Centre© Victoria and Albert Museum

a photo of clothes on hangers
© Victoria and Albert Museum

a detail of a hunting tapestry
Detail of Devonshire Hunting Tapestry, 1425-30© Victoria and Albert Museum

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