Poiret Coat – Conservation Treatment | MFIT

Poiret Coat – Conservation Treatment | MFIT


[♪♪♪] Hi, my name is Nicole Bloomfield and I
work at The Museum at FIT in the textile conservation laboratory. What you’re looking at is a Paul Poiret evening coat from 1917 that I treated for the exhibition, “Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits.” Paul Poiret was a couturier at the end of the 20th century and one of the earliest inventors of modern style. One of his lesser-known accomplishments was that he was the first designer to experiment with a ready-made collection. This ready-to-wear evening cloak embodies all the typical characteristics of a Poiret couture piece. It is rectangular in shape. It’s cut on the straight and drapes from the shoulders. However, because it was made for mass production, the construction is much less sophisticated than his couture work and consequently not holding up as well to the ravages of time. The cloak is loose-fitting and it drapes from the shoulders with over 50 functional buttons on the sleeves and shoulders. The sleeves, shoulders, and hem are trimmed with fringe. There are two weighted tassels at either front opening and they drape across the back to hold it in place. It is made out of a taupe and cream silk satin so that taupe is on the exterior and the cream is on the interior and a rust-colored silk fringe that’s everywhere. We recently acquired this piece for the exhibition. We found it on social media, on Instagram, to be specific, and one of the curators saw it and we realized that it would be perfect for the show, regardless of whether or not it was an authentic Poiret. You don’t necessarily think about finding a real Poiret on Instagram. You know, if you saw one you maybe would think it was a fake and even if it was a fake, it fit in very well with our story because we were talking about fakes and that was something that Poiret was really fighting against in his day, especially in the teens. So, if it was a fake, that’s great. It fit in really well and if it was real, even better, because then we got a real Poiret. It ended up being real, which was fantastic. The first thing we do when an object comes into the collection is we look at its condition and we write up a pretty lengthy report about where it is basically; its state of health. The first things that I noticed about this piece were the shoulders were really frayed. There was lots of tears and holes and rips and there were these kind of odd-looking darts at the
back that didn’t look original to me. There was also the obvious lack of buttons. It was missing all of them. The entire sleeves from all the way
up to the shoulders were buttons and there was maybe three left. It appeared to me that it was heavily altered for theatre. One of the big things that I could tell that was not original were these tassels that were the closure. There was two on one side of the opening and that just didn’t feel right to me. It felt very clumsy and they weren’t stitched on very well. That’s usually a telltale sign. Crude, quick stitching means that it was done in a hurry for theatre and so I suspected that those were needed to be moved around and it’s just generally not in the best shape. Prior to working on the piece, I wanted to do some background research and see if I could find anything else like it out there. In this case I did some online googling
and fortunately found out that The Met had pretty much the same piece, just in a different color and theirs appeared to be in much better condition. So I contacted my colleagues at the Costume Institute and I asked them if I could come and see their piece. I did a pretty thorough exam of theirs and took lots of photographs and saw a couple major differences. The first being that they didn’t have any darts at the back like ours did and all of the things that I suspected as later alterations were, in fact, later alterations. The Met piece didn’t have any of those. They had less buttons, in terms of buttonholes. They had no dart at the back and most importantly the tassel opening was
completely different. They had one tassel for each side of the cloak opening and that was a big change. While I was at The Met, they very graciously offered me a peek into their catalogue on their Poiret and within it I found an image of yet
another Poiret evening cloak held in the collection at the Museum of the City of New York. The first thing that struck me was the color. It was a completely different color. It was bright purple with a green lining. The Met’s was black with a cream lining. All of the observations that I had made of the cloak at The Met were present in the cloak at the Museum of the City of New York. Their Poiret was in just stunning condition and fortunately we were able to dress it on a form while we were there, so I could really see the drape and how the shoulders functioned, how the opening worked. The curator was incredibly kind with us and and gave us a lot of time to understand the piece. Back at FIT in the special collections section of our library, a librarian had found the 1917 catalog of the Poiret collection that our piece was from. It’s basically like a lookbook for the collection of spring 1917. Flipping through it I found our piece and was really excited to see it as it was intended to be seen. One of the first things that really struck me was how loose and open it was and how it was draped on the shoulders. I believe our piece resembles an ionic chiton, which is a Greek garment, a classical Greek garment that’s basically a large piece of fabric that’s draped over the shoulders. It very much honors the integrity of the cloth. It’s about a long large piece of cloth that’s draped around the body, which is how our piece was constructed. Armed with all of this research, I was able to approach the treatment of this object in a very different way than I would have if I had not found out everything I did from seeing similar pieces. I knew now what the piece was supposed to look like and that makes a really big difference. I began by removing all of the old alterations. This was removing the darts at the back, moving the tassels over, making sure that the fringe was aligned. Anything that looked separate from what I knew to be true based on the imagery that I had, I got rid of. The reconstruction of the shoulders and the neckline was probably one of the more labor-intensive things that I worked on. The whole thing comes together through buttons. The shoulders all the way down to the wrist is buttoned closed and I think, what I suspect, is that for theatre they sewed some of that shut so that it would stay basically closed so that they didn’t have to worry about buttons popping off and they did that at the shoulders, but that’s not original. None of the other pieces had that. So I had to open it up again and then there was a whole new mess of problems because of that. In order to fix all the damage that was caused by the alterations and just general wear and tear, I reconstructed the shoulders and neckline by finding a matching cream silk patch to use as an infill for the areas of loss and then I stitched down all the ragged edges with a thing called laid-in couching stitches. It’s an old standby of textile conservators. It holds everything where you want it to be held. Then I covered – I sort of sandwiched – everything between two layers of very, very sheer crepeline, which helps stabilize and consolidate but they also mask some of the damage so you don’t see it so
quickly; but it serves two purposes in that way. After I had consolidated the neckline and the shoulders and I felt like the fabric could really hold up to being on display, I turned to the buttons. The buttons were a problem because there is no manufacturer of 1917 buttons today. Finding something that looked like it was made from that era proved to be much harder than I thought it would be. I literally went to every trim shop in the garment district seeking buttons that resembled what I knew ours originally looked like. Eventually I found them from a button shop on the Upper East Side. However, they weren’t the right color, so I kind of played around with a bunch of different sheer fabrics and layered them over the button to see if I could get the color matching right. It’s almost like mixing colors in a palette and finally found the right combination and covered all 59 of them and then sewed them onto the sleeves and the shoulders and was pretty happy with the final result. And here is our lovely cloak installed
on the mannequin in the exhibition, I think looking much better than she did
when she first came into the lab. [♪♪♪]

7 Replies to “Poiret Coat – Conservation Treatment | MFIT”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *