Monday, September 24, 2012

D'Nalof Design Donation to FIDM 2012: Beaded Vest Bodice

This is an excerpt from a Facebook Note I posted up in February of this year.  Hope you enjoy it:   

 Last year I was searching around on Ebay.UK and located a wonderful black beaded Vest.  I missed the end of the auction, and surprisingly the item went to "zero bidders" and closed.  I sent an email to the owner inquiring if she would be willing to sell the vest at her opening bid price, plus shipping and handling for a total of $50.  Amazingly, she agreed!  I knew it was a unique piece and could not wait to see it!  The vest was even more impressive in person.
I then contacted the FIDM Museum Conservation department about donating this item possibly for their permanent collection. I selected FIDM for several of reasons, first  being that one of their specialties is the conservation of vintage textiles, second that they offer their items online for research to both the general public as well as the professional design and film industries, and lastly that their museum is free to all to enter and enjoy.
I emailed them pictures at their request and set up an appointment.  They wanted to review it in person!  How exciting indeed!  Arriving at the security desk in the rotunda, I signed in and received my guest badge and was directed upstairs for my meeting.  Walking down the halls they are lined with breathtaking original colored fashion sketches by all the major designers, all behind protective Plexiglas.  There are vintage couture gowns in the reception space, and it was just amazing to walk through the sitting area.  I can only guess at what treasures the rest of the building must hold!
I arrived at the conservation department and met with the Associate Curator-Collection Manager.  Handing over the little bag with the fragile box inside, she carefully lifted the lid and simply touched the item with her right hand.  She then slipped on some white cotton gloves, lifted the vest out, and placed it on a white desktop.  She leaned in with both hands on the desks, took a deep breath, and then said "please excuse me" and walked quickly off.  She returned a moment later with the Head Curator, he was also pulling on white cotton gloves, and they both had large magnifying glasses.  There was a palpable excitement in their manners and glances.  I was feeling a little bit nervous, but was also picking up on their nervous excitement!  After approx ten minutes, they both looked at me with smiles.  "You have a wonderful piece here.  Quite Charming.  May we move it over to the mannequin for further examination?" asked the Senior Curator.  "Yes, of course.  Please tell me what you are looking for and what your thoughts are thus far."  I asked.  They had concluded that the beading was actually Whitby Jet, late 19th century (1880/1890s), and of English construction.  They then carefully draped the vest on a perfectly sized white mannequin.  I could then truly see the 3D beauty and construction by contrast!  I must say that looking at it on a table compared to seeing it on a "body" made a huge difference.  It was simply breathtaking!  They could easily follow the Princess seaming, confirmed it was all original; that the net lace was fully intact and had never had alterations or repairs.  What seemed to be most exciting was, upon examination, they could determine it was a custom made piece, which you can decipher when you look at the pictures, in that there are what they called "Mirror" images on Both Sides that line up perfectly at all seams on the Front, Back, and Sides!  After another few minutes or so of inspection, the Senior Curator turned to me and stated that "This is an important piece and we would love to add it to our permanent collection!  Out of the 15,000 items we have in our collection we do not have anything like this!  It is an amazing piece to find as so many of them did not survive due to the net fabric and the weight of the jet beading.  It is a very unique piece and we are excited and appreciative of your donation to FIDM"!  Smiles and handshakes all around then everyone was just standing back admiring the beauty of this wonderful little piece of Victorian history.  He stated it is actually a "Beaded Bodice" not a vest and would have been worn over a fitted silk gown to add sparkle.  They could not confirm if or when it would be on display, but did state that were an exhibit to come up to which it would be appropriate, it could be used, and possibly photographed for online reference.  I told them that was what I was earnestly hoping would occur as there was such little information about these "beaded bodices" available.
I took a moment to sign all the necessary paperwork, gave a quick look around, taking in the lovely black jet beaded bodice one last time, and left knowing that it was where it needed to be so that it could be properly cared for and preserved.  If I am lucky, perhaps at some future time, I will be able to come back and see it on display!


  1. What a marvelous piece and a marvelous story! This is simply fabulous! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. SewFits - Glad you enjoyed it! Check back often!