Taking down Fashion Cities Africa

Since Fashion Cities Africa closed its doors for the final time on 8 January, it’s been a busy month. Deconstructing a major exhibition is no mean feat!

Photo of chalkboardThe take-down began with the mass ordering of all the kit required for the job; bubble wrap, textile boxes, wrapping tape, and so on. Then, with all equipment on-site and ready to use, the first job for Curator of Fashion & Textiles Martin Pel and Collections Assistant Stephen Kisko was to photograph all of the mannequins fully-dressed and in position, labelled with chalkboards. The ‘M’ on the chalkboards stands for ‘mannequin’ with the ensuing numbers corresponding to the physical order of the mannequin in the exhibition. Next, all garments were labelled and photographed in a similar fashion, this time using a slightly more complex numbering system. The ‘C’ on the board stands for ‘clothes’, with the first number corresponding to the mannequin number and the decimal point representing the particular accessory or item of clothing in the ‘order’ in which it appears on the mannequin’s body. And this is only the beginning!

Then of course came the Mannequin Challenge, the day when museum staff came together to fit in with the stars of Fashion Cities Africa by channelling their inner mannequin. This footage is in the process of being chopped up and polished as we speak and we hope to have the finished product with you very soon – keep your eyes peeled!

Photo of folded textilesMartin and Stephen’s next task was to carefully remove the clothes from the mannequins and write condition reports on each and every garment, noting any faults or wear. Luckily, the damage overall was extremely minimal and the majority of the pieces have perfectly withstood their nine months of air time. Along with the condition reports, Martin and Stephen have also written instructions on how best to dress and style the mannequins – this scarf is draped towards the front and not the back! This trilby should be worn slightly tilted! All of this literature will be passed on to Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum, where the exhibition is moving next, to help them perfectly reconstruct the show for their visitors.

All non-creasing garments were then wrapped in tissue paper and folded up into textile boxes, whilst the pieces more likely to crease over time have been left hanging on a clothes rail for the time being. Any other clothes that are in need of dry cleaning or minor repair have been stored in plastic boxes.

Photo of mannequins in gallery

Now, we are left with a room full of slightly startling naked mannequins. These nude figures were photographed, again labelled with their existing chalkboards, so that the Tropenmuseum will know exactly which mannequins are meant for which outfits. Next, they were deconstructed, each into seven parts, with each body part carefully labelled with its mannequin and part number. The mannequin number comes first, whilst its part is listed as a decimal point – the head and torso is listed as .1, .2 is the legs, .3 is for the left arm, .4 for the right arm, and… You get the picture! Such time and care was taken in cataloguing the mannequins because we will be retrieving them from the Tropenmuseum once Fashion Cities Africa is over so that we can rent them out to other museums and public spaces in the future.

Photo of mannequin parts in bubble wrapThe mannequin parts were then wrapped in bubble wrap, with some parts stored in plastic boxes and others simply stacked up in the galleries. Admittedly, large piles of severed hands and limbless torsos are a fairly sinister sight! In the meantime, members of the Programming and Design teams such as Creative Programming Curator Jody East and 3D Designer Alex Hawkey have been deconstructing and whisking away the exhibition’s staging and set work.

So, whilst none of this sounds like a walk in the park, I was intrigued to find out whether there were any processes that were particularly challenging. ‘None of it’s been easy – it has been a bit of a logistical nightmare,’ Stephen admitted. By all accounts, devising and deciding on the most effective systems for cataloguing the mannequins was tough – in fact, working with the mannequins in general was way more challenging than working with the textiles. ‘A lot of stuff we’ve just had to deal with and plan for as we’ve gone,’ Stephen told me. ‘The goat skull headdress featured in To Catch a Dream needed to be packed really carefully so I had to hand-make some packaging for the inside of a box, complete with moulds for the horns and everything.’ So, if winging it isn’t your style then taking down an exhibition perhaps isn’t for you!

The Constable and Brighton exhibition opens in April but will only take up two thirds of the gallery space. The third gallery room will be used to store all Fashion Cities Africa paraphernalia until July, when it will then begin to be packed up and shipped to Amsterdam. There’s currently some talk of Brighton Museum staff potentially nipping over to Amsterdam with the kit to help the Tropenmuseum with putting the exhibition together – but that’s yet to be confirmed. The Tropenmuseum’s doors are due to open on Fashion Cities Africa in September 2017.

So, there you have it – a full account of what exactly has been going on behind the scenes here at Brighton Museum! We’ll be sure to keep you updated on the ongoing work and how Fashion Cities Africa is getting on in Holland.

Thanks for reading!

Ruby McGonigle, Retail and Bookings Office Assistant for the Royal Pavilion & Museums