The elegance of an empress: Josephine
Robe Empire datant de 1810-1815Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (musée des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau) / Franck Raux
Restoring and exposing the lineage of a prestigious wardrobe.
As part of the “In the Wardrobes of the Empress Josephine” exhibition at the Château de Malmaison, we met with Céline Meunier, heritage curator of the exhibition, and Marie-Flore Levoir, a professional conservationist specialising in textiles, in order to understand all of the preliminary work that needs to be carried out before the exhibition opens!
Four years of preparation were required to allow the general public the opportunity to discover the Empress’ finest wardrobes, those of her daughter Hortense and a new collection of female clothing from the First Empire.
One of the essential stages is the assessment and planning of the restoration work required on the various garments. Planning the return of the outfits in order to organise the various activities required on the clothing.
Before any renovation can begin, the restorer carries out research and analysis to map out the history of the dress. She analyses the threads and stitching, allowing her to give approximate dates to work that has been done on the fabric.
Without any written documents or representations available, this evidence reveals the transformations the dress has undergone. It’s not easy to find out if the dress has been restored or not because it has often been worn and modifications may have taken place throughout its history. Following in-depth and detailed analysis, the conservationist and the restorer decide which modifications are required on the garment in order to faithfully restore it to its original state.
For the Château de Malmaison collection of outfits, particular care has been given to the most beautiful dresses that will be exhibited on special mannequins designed to order. The restorer's work will continue after the event as the various treatments required on the dresses for exhibition require a final procedure.