Charleston: Orlando at the Present Time

Charleston’s inaugural exhibition held in the Wolfson Galleries opened in September 2018 with ‘Orlando at the Present Time’, marking the 90 years since the first publication of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando: A Biography.  The exhibition included contemporary interpretations alongside rarely seen letters, photographs and objects connected to the original publication of the novel.  Also on display were a selection of original costumes, designed by Sandy Powell and Dien van Straalen, worn by Tilda Swinton in the 1992 film – ‘Orlando’, directed by Sally Potter.

Charleston loaned the Orlando costumes directly from the designer and we were asked to treat the costumes, still streaked with mud from their use nearly three decades prior, and mount them for open display in the exhibition.  After consultation, the female costume was sent to Upstage Theatrical in London for solvent cleaning; Upstage are a specialist dry cleaner that we have happily used for a number of projects and who are amenable to altering their methods to the requirements of conservation.  The costumes then underwent a minor amount of remedial treatment in the studio; loose threads were tethered, seams secured and additional fastenings stitched in place, before being mounted onto Proportion Ltd. stockman mannequins by Natalia Zagorska-Thomas.

The mannequins were padded to accommodate the costume’s and therefore Swinton’s exact dimensions, which included extending the mannequin neck. Fibreglass legs were sourced to allow the doublet and hose costume, complete with replica stockings and rosette embellished shoes, to be exhibited as a full costume.  Zenzie and Natalia installed the costumes at Charleston and undertook the condition statements required for the loan. The costumes were displayed alongside excerpts from the film adding another dimension to the hugely popular exhibition which ran until February 2019. We are currently working with Charleston on another exciting textile-focused exhibition that we hope will come to fruition in the months ahead.