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Reframing Vivien Leigh
Reframing Vivien Leigh

Visiting the Ark

Paper materials at Ark

Paper records in the Ark

Accession cards for dresses at RAMM

Accession cards for dresses held at RAMM

Exploring research files at the Ark

Hunting for records

Archival dress tags at the Ark

Tags on the archived dresses

Protecting the Harald evening dress

Protecting the evening dress in storage

In June 2019 the research team took a trip to the Ark, an off-site storage facility based in Exeter as part of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM). 

The Ark is a fascinating space hosting a wide variety of museum treasures and an especially rich store of dress and costume items. Upon entering the building we were able to wander through the rolling stacks and view a dazzling array of dresses, coats, skirts and other fabrics alongside a great many paper records. These included some wonderful historical material documenting the kinds of fashion histories in which stars like Vivien Leigh were enmeshed as style icons and as the customers of very exclusive high-end designers.

Within these rolling stacks we got a chance to go deeper behind the scenes of RAMM's connection to Vivien Leigh. We gained a detailed insight into how the dresses that RAMM holds are stored and cared for and how they are interpreted and researched by curators and dress history experts.

Assistant Curator Shelley Tobin showed us items with which we were already familiar: namely the broadtail dress and 'Harald of Mayfair' evening dress we had photographed on-site at RAMM, now boxed back safely into storage. She also showed us items we had not yet seen, including a beautiful evening dress designed for Vivien Leigh's daughter Suzanne Farrington. We had the opportunity to learn more about the handling of such items to ensure their longevity, but also about how a curator views and makes sense of such materials and the kinds of histories they might reveal.

Click on each image for more detail about these processes and about what we learned from being able to handle historic dress materials off their mounts in the archive.

The video clip also includes audio from Shelley Tobin about working with these dresses.