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Prince Charming Costume at the V & A

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is about to open their new Theatre and Performance Galleries on their main site in South Kensington.

These new galleries will display material taken from their old Covent Garden flower market site, which closed in January 2007, along with items from the V&A’s extensive theatre collections. The galleries will hold highlights of what are the largest collection of their type in the world. Of particular interest to Adam-ant.net is the inclusion of the Prince Charming costume, as worn by Adam for the filming of the Prince Charming video in August 1981 and then for the Prince Charming Revue concerts that took place between December 1981 and January 1982. The gigs were the last performances of the band before Adam went solo.

The costume will be on permanent display in the galleries after opening to the public on 18th March 2009.
In November 2008 we were granted a viewing of the costume prior to it being prepared for its display and the following month we were able to talk to Adam about his donating this costume, along with the majority of the other costumes that he had in storage, and which now form one of the largest collections from a single artist that the V&A are custodians of.
We also spoke to several members of the conservation team at the museum about how they care for and store the costumes that they receive.
The new Theatre and Performance Galleries, which will be in galleries 103-106, will also have on display costumes from the Phantom of the Opera, the Ossie Clarke designed jumpsuit as worn by Mick Jagger, and costumes from Henry V, as well as set models, stage props, paintings, photographs along with posters, flyers and handbills which focus on the complete process of performance from start to finish.

Prince Charming jacket

Whilst being interviewed in December 2008, Adam remarked on his decision to donate the costumes to the museum and of the impending exhibitions

Why did you donate all of your costumes rather than keeping them yourself?

I gave them the whole lot.
I just wanted them somewhere where they would be looked after and also where people could go and see them.
If people really wanted to go and see them close up because when something has that kind of history associated with it, when you see it in the flesh it’s quite surprising, because when you see it on stage it’s larger than life. It’s quite moving.
I think that the whole idea of museums is that they’re there and you can go, it’s always full of students, design students. I used to go and draw things that would set me off and that might end up in a stage show or a costume or something and when you go and see it, it’s like the difference between a postcard of the Mona Lisa and seeing the Mona Lisa, there is that, why do people go to the trouble of going to see it? Well there’s something magic about it.
They bring out things for a limited time and then it’s put back away again and they’re quite selective about what they do and I like that and it doesn’t become commonplace.

Adam as Prince Charming

Do you have any control over what the museum does with the clothes after you have donated them?

I wouldn’t have donated them if I didn’t think that they were worthy.
They’re very, very serious conscientious people there, they really treat the stuff like it's going into an art gallery the way they treat the costumes.
They wrap everything up; they’ve got it all detailed to the bottom line. When I went in there, there were two girls who spent the whole time that I was there drilling me like, “who’s scarf is this?”, “Who did this belong to?”, "oh, I think Marco wore that" and they were like OK, great! “What about these trousers?” and they were slowly putting this puzzle together and they were really protective about it and I’m sure whichever way they present it, it will be very well presented. They do a very good job whenever it comes to anything musical, anything rock n’roll and I think that it’s nice to see that stuff in the flesh.
I think the last thing they asked me was to exhibit the Goody Two Shoes jacket for a Maritime exhibition.

Is there anything that you kept back?

I kept back some of the skull rings, some of them. A lot of them along the way you just sort of send off for charities and whatever and things get lost, waylaid and God knows what, but I think that they’ve pretty much got everything.

They said that it is one of the largest individual’s collection that they have

Really? Primarily because it's all of the Kings stuff, all of the Prince Charming stuff, all of the Vive le Rock stuff and all of the Friend or Foe stuff as well.

Is it everybody's outfits too?

Yeah, I put the bands out and I gave them the album covers as well so when they represent it they can accurately put it together the way that it was done.

Prince Charming Jacket

We also contacted the V&A to ask about the way that they stored their items (all items, not just the Adam Ant ones) and how any restoration work or maintenance on the clothing is done.

A lot of the Adam Ant costumes were donated in 1983 how have they been stored since then?

Most of that collection is stored on hangers because it's relatively new and in good condition. The Adam Ant costumes that I have seen have all been really well made. (Unusually so for stage costume.) More delicate items are in boxes padded out with acid-free tissue. For example the 'Prince Charming' boots and knee ribbons are in a box.

The Prince Charming boots
Prince Charming Shirt, belt and sashes

Rips and tears. Do you repair or is it part of the costume history?

That's a good question. I did repair some tears in the lining of the trousers of Adam Ant's 'Prince Charming' costume recently. It was clear that the lining was simply worn through with use and would continue to deteriorate when we dressed the costume on and off mannequins in the future. All of the original material was kept in place and covered over with a transparent silk material that had been dyed to match. You can still see the original lining, and the tears, though the costume is now safe to handle. If a costume had been damaged as part of a performance and was well documented, we would leave the damage alone. A while ago, I conserved a leather jacket worn by Billy Zoom of the Los Angeles punk band 'X'. This jacket was torn and put back together with safety pins and electrical tape. This damage was clearly part of the costume history and was left alone.

Have the Adam Ant costumes been used for anything else since they were donated? (The Goody Two Shoes costume was in the Maritime museum recently)

You'll have to check with the curators for the exhibition history of that collection, though I believe they're requested for loan quite frequently. I know some of the pieces are going to an exhibition at the O2 arena shortly and some pieces are going to be on exhibition in the soon to be opened theatre galleries at the V&A.

Would you have to ask permission to use the items?

Museums have to make a formal loan request to borrow the items for exhibition but they must be able to meet quite strict standards for security, mounting, lighting, temperature and humidity control to be able to borrow. Researchers can make appointments with the relevant curators to examine specific items but they must have a legitimate project. We obviously try to minimize how much the costumes are handled.

Would you ever contact the maker?

Yes, sometimes. We recently contacted the designer of some Dame Edna Everage costumes to talk about how they were made. The costume had some odd plastic parts (fake baked beans) attached to it and we needed to know what kind of plastic it was in order for it to be cleaned.

Does the V&A ever dispose of any of the costumes due to a lack of space?

No, the V&A never disposes of anything due to lack of space. Costumes might be deaccessioned for other reasons, but lack of space wouldn't be one of them. Storage space is a perennial problem for all of the collections.

Ribbons from the boots

Do you treat stage costumes differently to historical clothing?

Not really, they have the same fundamental problems. In many ways the stage costumes are more delicate as they were often poorly made to begin with and were then worn to death in performance and not well cared for during their life of use.

Whilst in storage do you have to remove any of the things due to humidity - i.e. buttons going rusty?

No, we don't remove items from costumes even if they are deteriorating. We don't have much of a problem with rust as our storage is not particularly humid, but we do have problems with deterioration in early plastics, such as buttons and zips. These materials break down by themselves and sometimes have to be enclosed in Melinex packages to keep them touching the fabric they're attached to.

Prince Charming trousers

If you know that it is a used stage costume do you automatically clean them as they will have sweat etc... on them

No. We don't automatically clean any of the collection; in fact, aside from gentle vacuuming we don't clean very many things at all. We would be extremely reluctant to clean most theatrical costume for a number of reasons: Stage costume are often not well constructed and are often made from poor quality materials that don't respond well to wet-cleaning (washing) or dry-cleaning, stage costume may have odd trimmings and accessories that can't be cleaned, costume may have stage make-up on them that we want to preserve. Even though sweat and soiling will eventually cause damage to the costume, the risk of damage from cleaning outweighs the benefits.

How are they cleaned?

Cotton or linen items in good condition might be carefully hand washed. We very occasionally wash wool and silk garments, but if they were relatively new and in good condition we might consider taking them to a very good dry-cleaner.

Let it Rock T-Shirt

Things like the Vivienne Westwood/Malcolm McLaren Let it Rock T-shirts - how do you preserve the chicken bones?

They're stored flat interleaved and padded with acid-free tissue. No special treatment really, just more careful handling.

The V & A has currently loaned the complete "Kings of the Wild Frontier" outfit including the Hussar's jacket featured on the Kings LP to the
British Music Experience Exhibition which opened on Monday 9th March 2009 and is being held at the O2 Bubble in London.

The Prince Charming outfit is to be on permanent display at the South Kensington V & A site.
The Theatre and performance galleries open on Wednesday 18th March 2009.
Access and directions to the museum can be found here.

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