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News Costuming "The Crown"

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​Left: Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) in season two of "The Crown." (Photo: Alex Bailey / Netflix) Right: Dress by Jane Petrie in the preparation process for "Costuming the Crown." (Photo: Jim Schneck; Courtesy of Winterthur)

​​Laura Mina, Head of Winterthur's Textile Lab and WUDPAC Affiliated Assistant Professor, talks about tasks from performing mannequin surgery to building hidden foundation garments to exhibit costumes from the series. From the March 26, 2019 article by Fawnia Soo Hoo for Fashionista:

A typical museum visit offers an immersive, first-hand experience to learn more about, say, fashion's relationship with Catholicism or 18th century Chippendale chairs. But your next culture trip could also include marveling over costumes from your favorite shows, like the royal blue Hartnell ballgown that Claire Foy wore as Queen Elizabeth II, as recreated by Jane Petrie for "The Crown" season 2, or Ane Crabtree's now-iconic blood red cloak and cap from "Handmaid's Tale," which will be officially enshrined in the Smithsonian's permanent collection. 

A costume design exhibit is actually so much more than being one degree — or a period evening gown or dashing military uniform — away from that Hollywood star or beloved character; it's also an opportunity to nerd out over the technique, artistry and delightful behind-the-scenes anecdotes into making the costume. Plus, pouring over an exhibit offers a macro look at how costume plays an integral part of a show or movie's storytelling. (And you can take it all in in your own time.) . . . .

​Mary and Matthew's proposal costumes by Caroline McCall in the 'Costumes of Downton Abbey' exhibit. (Photo: Courtesy of Winterthur)

​The Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, a former Du Pont estate in Delaware, branched out from its focus on 17th to 19th century decorative and fine arts in 2015 with its first costume design exhibition, "Costumes of 'Downton Abbey,'" in 2015 for a pretty relatable reason. "Our director was an avid fan," says Estate Historian Jeff Groff. The "Downton" exhibit "paralleled" the culture and lifestyle of the fictional aristocratic Crawleys with the American Du Ponts through wardrobe, architecture and furniture. The museum's sophomore effort, "Costuming 'The Crown,'" which opens on March 30, focuses on the creative and design processes of the Emmy-winning designers Michele Clapton (season one) and Jane Petrie (season two). (The director is a fan of the Netflix series, too.) . . . .

For "Costuming the Crown," Kim Collison, Manager of Exhibitions & Collection Planning at the Winterthur, closely collaborated with Petrie and Clapton to best showcase their design process, incorporate behind-the-scenes anecdotes and determine the final lineup. "Michele said, 'No, I really want this one here," say Collison, over the phone, about including a soft pink off-the-shoulder dress that Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) wears in two meaningful story moments in the first season.

The exhibition will feature famous recreated ensembles, like Queen Elizabeth II's gilded coronation robes and the aforementioned blue dress, but also original designs by the Clapton and Petrie, like the Duchess of Windsor's Schiaparelli and Mainbocher-inspired cardigan and dress set in season one and Margaret's fabulous abstract check coat and scarf look worn for a visit to Tony Amstrong in season two. (Spectacular reproductions of royal crowns and jewels will be featured, too.)

"We had around 50 pieces here, but we maybe could have had 500," says Rafael Gomes, Director of SCAD Fashion Exhibitions, about filtering down his selections for "Cinematic Couture." The exhibit included an expansive collection of movie and TV costumes, including the aforementioned Oscar-winning "Dangerous Liaisons" gowns, Jenny Beavan's 16th century-ish dresses for Drew Barrymore in "Ever After: A Cinderella Story," Michael O'Connor's Oscar-winning 18th century aristocratic ensembles in "The Duchess" and Rosalind Ebbutt's 19th century designs for "Victoria" on the small screen. Gomes, like the Winterthur for "Downton Abbey," worked with London-based costume house Cosprop, which has a dedicated exhibitions department. . . .

​Queen Elizabeth II's coronation robes at front and Princess Margaret's gown at back right, both designed by Michele Clapton for 'The Crown' season one and to be on display in 'Costuming the Crown' at the Winterthur. (Photo: Courtesy of the Winterthur)

For "Costuming the Crown," the clothes are displayed on linen-covered and wooden finial-topped torso forms, reminiscent of an old-time-y tailor shop (above). "It's a visual reminder for visitors to think about all the work that went into designing and constructing these costumes," says Laura Mina, Associate Conservator of Textiles & Head of Textile Lab, Winterthur Museum.

Each form was custom-padded to perfectly fit the actor's shape, but also mimic their character's stance in any given scene — be it a formal situation in Parliament or a "relaxed" private moment. "If the mannequin doesn't have that same posture, the costume looks really bad," she says. But visible arms or legs on the forms would distract, so Mina built and molded concealed limbs out of Fosshape material to fill out any sleeves, long or short, and necessary pant legs. "It's hidden underneath the garment, so it's not as creepy as Beetlejuice," she laughs. . . .

A static display also requires special tricks to make sure a costume originally made for movement stays majestically in place, and keeps its shape, throughout the length of an exhibit. "For me, I don't care about how it moves through space, but I really care about how it moves through time," jokes Mina, who swapped out elastic suspenders for custom-made non-stretch ones to avoid sagging on men's military uniform trousers. To maintain the structure of '50s dresses and royal gowns, Mina created period-incorrect metal hoop skirting, as opposed to using crinoline layers actually worn by the leads. She also built a "fortress-like bustle" foundation to support the considerable weight of the gold coronation robes from the back. 

Mina notes that the same techniques can be employed for historical clothing exhibits, too, but with one main difference in terms of research. "Part of the fun was re-watching and pausing ['The Crown'] episodes trying to see what the actor looks like in the costume," she says.

To read the full article and see more images from the exhibition, visit the Fashionista website here.

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Laura Mina, Head of Winterthur's Textile Lab and WUDPAC Professor, talks about tasks from mannequin surgery to building foundation garments to exhibit costumes from the series.

Laura Mina, Head of Winterthur's Textile Lab and WUDPAC Professor, talks about tasks from mannequin surgery to building foundation garments to exhibit costumes from the series.

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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489