Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Mounting Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion.

A little while ago I promised to write about the mounting of the clothing for Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion. Those of you who are eager to see the exhibition in person will be pleased to know that it will be on display next year in Europe with some new garments added to the collection. I cannot give definite details yet but please watch this space.


When I started to work on the collection with Cristina and Martin the main consideration regarding the display of the clothing was that the outfits should appear as they would have been worn in their time. It was also essential to consider the preservation of the clothing whilst on display as although all the collection had been professionally conserved, the clothing was still fragile and needed to be handled carefully. With these thoughts we started to plan how best to show the dresses with correct support underneath but also to give a subtle appearance of underclothes without detracting from the garment itself.

The mannequins were sculpted to look like the body was already wearing the dress. This meant that the bust was shaped to be pushed up and the shoulders pulled back. Although we did not use any body padding, we did use flesh and white coloured tulle to support some of the sleeve puffs on the arms. Ester Paronetto and I also made a lot of tulle gathered petticoats to give the dress skirts some lift.


Annette with a medium weight cotton support chemise and tulle  petticoat underneath.
We wanted the dresses to become ‘alive', to appear realistic, and have a sense of movement. Clothing is a three dimensional object and so many times I personally have been disappointed to see interesting garments displayed in a two dimensional boring way.

  We decided that every dress needed a 'chemise' support. This was a sleeveless under dress cut on the same pattern as the actual garment but simplified. The seam lines of the bodice were not exactly replicated except for the level of the high waistline and neck edge. Ester and myself took patterns and measurements from each dress to make these chemises. We used different types of fabrics for different dresses. For example, the earlier Directoire and Consulate dresses had chemises which were semi- transparent which is appropriate for this early period. The redingotes and pelisses had silk under dresses to give the impression that there was an actual dress under the garment. The dresses after the 1808 period had chemises made from a medium weight cotton to give the impression of more 'layers' which started to be worn under the dresses of this period. The support chemises were semi fitted, but had a drawstring at the high waist and neckline to give extra fit. Following the fashion in Costume Parisien, Cristina Barreto was inspired to use some coloured chemises to enhance the actual dress. You can see this with the example below of Fortunee which has a gold coloured silk support chemise.


Fortunee with no support chemise.

After with gold silk support chemise.
Below is a detail photo of 'Eglantine'. You can see here the support chemise has been fixed to the mannequin using invisible body tape between the breasts. This gives the impression of an underpinning with a busk which is appropriate for 1815.

All of the dresses had a support chemise apart from 'Therese' which is the sleeveless dress of the Directoire period. This was to show the extreme of fashion in this epoch which was well documented in contemporary illustrations. The post 1808 dresses with chemises made of a thicker material still were slightly transparent which makes you wonder how many layers would have been worn underneath in the epoch?
Virginie before restoration with incorrect chemise support
Virginie after with correct support chemise
Cecile with light pink support chemise.

*Please do not reproduce these images without permission. Thank you*