The Clothworkers Centre
By BEL JACOBS
Its full title hardly rolls off the tongue but that doesn’t matter: I was so happy recently to be one of several press allowed access to the V&A’s Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion before it opened on October 8, 2013.
The Centre is based in Blythe House, built in 1903 as the headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank. It’s an enormous building, with long corridors of pale glazed bricks and echoey stairwells that once buzzed with activity.
Now, it’s used to store artefacts from the British Museum, the Science Museum and the V&A, which has spent the last few years developing a new home for its unrivalled collection of textiles and fashion.
It’s quite difficult to grasp the extent and significance of this collection. In hundreds of custom-built drawers, which most visitors won’t see, lie thousands of woven, printed and embroidered textiles, lace, tapestries and carpets.
Early fashion pieces include rare 16th century children’s kaftans from the Ottoman Empire, important examples of 17th century European dress right up to present day Versace and Stella McCartney.
During the visit, we were invited to view the contents of certain drawers – an Austen-era lace dress here, a prayer robe there, always with the the frisson of wondering what extraordinary item you might find in other drawers.
It was so quiet – and will remain so, so that students and historians can study the pieces in a contemplative environment. You have to book in advance, so that researchers can pull out appropriate objects, but every second spent there will be worth it.