The quiet quarters of a gallery archive are – by definition – hidden from view. Immaculately protected in this format, artworks remain untouched with the exception of the gloved hands of the Curator and Conservator. Fashion objects present an even more peculiar case, where garments – once so intimate with the body – become ghosts of their former wearer in a museum context. When exhibited, a garment is likely to filled by a mannequin, closely mimicking its intended function as a worn object. From couture to ready-to-wear, what remains concealed are the construction details that underpin a garment, telling stories of the maker and wearer alike.
A recent collaboration between Paola Di Trocchio, Curator of the Fashion and Textiles Department at the NGV, and the fashion journal Vestoj, explored these hidden spaces within the garments of the gallery archive. Working with photographer Adam Custins and writer Winnie Ha (Mitford), the two-part collaborative project, ‘Inside Out’, was presented on the Vestoj blog last week.
The garments, selected by Paola Di Trocchio, were chosen for their noteworthy construction details and provenance: a classic Chanel tweed classic jacket with its signature chain-stitched hem, a demure eighteenth-century cotton dress, a Savile Row masterpiece of tailoring, among others, became the models for the shoot.
The result was a beautiful series of Adam Custins’ delicate photographs, shot on large-format Polaroid film to reveal these internal features – belts, gathers, labels and immaculate stitching – as abstract forms. The images remind us that a garment is a multi-faceted object that can be examined in intimate detail, as well as a stylised object in a gallery space. Winnie’s elegant text that followed completed the pairing of the series, creating a literary narrative between the garments.
The project highlighted the potential for engaging with garments in an institutional archive through collaboration, to reveal what is hidden from view in exhibiting and storing fashion objects in the absence of a body.