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News Inside the conservation laboratory at the Met's Costume Institute

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​Left: WUDPAC Class of 2014 alumna Elizabeth Schaeffer studies a 16th-century European jerkin. Right: Snapshots from the walls of the Met's Costume Institute. (Photos: Shaniqwa Jarvis/Vogue)

​WUDPAC Class of 2014 alumna Elizabeth Schaeffer is among those featured in a behind-the-scenes article from British Vogue. From the November 18, 2019 article by Kira Garcia:


The Met Gala is the most glamorous event in the fashion calendar. But all year round at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York, a team of experts works diligently to conserve its collection of 33,000 fashion items, some of which date back to the 15th century. . . . Tucked below street level is a well-lit, climate-controlled, state-of-the-art conservation laboratory. Inside, a highly skilled team of specialists diligently toil to preserve some of the world’s most fascinating works of art, which just so happen to be clothing.

Sarah Scaturro, head conservator at the Costume Institute, is energetic and friendly. She towers in her red suede Salvatore Ferragamo platform sandals, and is the first to relieve laboratory visitors of their ballpoint pens in favour of less-threatening pencils. It’s a relief, actually; who wants to be guilty of disfiguring an Edwardian wedding gown or a Renaissance tunic? . . . Alongside her co-workers, Scaturro cares for a collection of 33,000 objects dating from the 15th century to the present day. The team assesses, repairs, preserves and prepares this massive catalogue for exhibition, but its work is far more complicated than a day at the dry cleaners. History, ethics, philosophy and science all influence a conservator’s decision-making — it can be surprisingly complex. . . . As the Costume Institute prepares for its forthcoming exhibition, In Pursuit of Fashion: The Sandy Schreier Collection, the laboratory’s “patients” lie obediently still. The show will reveal highlights from the collection of Schreier, a fashion historian and collector whose childhood passion for beautiful clothes and silver-screen Hollywood glamour grew into an unparalleled treasure trove of significant clothing.

European jerkin, maker unknown, ca. 1570-80: This mysterious garment’s imposing and questionable history is a reminder that fashion can leave us with a haunting sense of lived experience long after the wearer is gone. Valuable even at the time it was created, this velvet jerkin has likely been reworked — as Scaturro notes, “Very few things come into our collection 100 per cent unaltered.” Atypically, it does not open at the front. This, combined with its relatively small size, may mean it was worn by a woman. In preparation for an exhibition in another department at the museum, conservator Elizabeth Schaeffer uncovered more of the jerkin’s story, beginning with a microscopic analysis of its cut velvet pattern. By distinguishing between worn patches and places where the velvet was intentionally “voided”, or flat, Schaefer has rediscovered the fabric’s original pattern. With each layer of new information, the stately piece reveals its story.


To read more about the range of collections and conservation at the Met's Costume Institute, visit the British Vogue website here.

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WUDPAC alumna Elizabeth Schaeffer is among those featured in a behind-the-scenes article from British Vogue.

​WUDPAC alumna Elizabeth Schaeffer is among those featured in a behind-the-scenes article from British Vogue.

11/27/2019
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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489
  • art-conservation@udel.edu