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Thursday, May 29 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Textiles Session) Blown up: Collaborative conservation and sustainable treatment for an inflatable dress

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Innovative and unusual fashion design calls for innovative and unusual approaches to textile conservation. This paper will discuss one such approach which was the result of a process of consultation and collaboration, combining the expertise of several fields to develop a treatment that was not only effective, reversible, and stable, but also sustainable for the long-term use and exhibition of a piece of fashion art.

The treatment was for a “pneumatic dress” designed by Issey Miyake, circa 2000. The dress features inflatable, beach ball-like sleeves, which no longer held enough air to achieve an inflated appearance. In addition to the “normal” parameters of textile conservation, the dress came with some unique ones: first, while the dress will eventually be accessioned at the Cincinnati Art Museum, its current owner wishes to wear it a few more times, adding the challenge of wearability to its care; second, the sleeves’ materials include polyester, nylon, and polyurethane with vinyl inflation valves, adding the challenge of intrinsically unstable materials; third, as a recent artwork, it was in excellent repair except for the glaring aesthetic problem of its wilted sleeves.

The conservation treatment was a collaboration between the textile conservator, the objects conservator, the curator, and the owner, balancing the unique concerns of each and drawing on their fields of knowledge. Other conservators were consulted via the Conservation “DistList” and by phone and email. Plastics specialists were consulted on the current and anticipated future degradation of the materials. The owner contacted the Issey Miyake flagship store and another owner of a similar piece. Research and consultation continued during treatment and the treatment approach evolved in response.

Ultimately, the sleeves were filled with polystyrene beads inside a polyester gauze bladder inserted and filled through the inflation valve hole. After filling, the inflation valves were tacked back in place with skins of Beva 371. The original aesthetic appearance of the dress was regained, complete with the final touch of the original vinyl inflation valves even though the dress could no longer be inflated with air. The owner came to the museum for a fitting and the dress was declared wearable again, despite some added weight from the filled sleeves. The polystyrene bead treatment prevents the necessity for re-treatment in the future because as the polyurethane film degrades, the correct shape of the sleeves will remain, supported in position by the filling, making this a sustainable treatment for a problematic and continuously deteriorating material. The dress is stable enough to wear on an evening out on the town, but will enter the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum as an exhibitable work of the fascinating fashion art of Issey Miyake.

avatar for Chandra Obie-[PA]

Chandra Obie-[PA]

Conservator, Cincinnati Art Museum
Chandra Obie is the first textile conservator at Cincinnati Art Museum and also in private practice as Obie Textile Conservation, LLC.  She studied costumes while earning a B.A. in Drama at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and went on to earn her M.A. in Textile Conservation... Read More →

Thursday May 29, 2014 2:30pm - 3:00pm PDT
Seacliff A-B