March 2013 saw the opening of the exhibition ‘Hatch, Match, Despatch’ at Jersey Museum, St Helier. Amongst the wedding dresses to be displayed were two late 19th century gowns that had been made in St. Helier, one from each of two rival couturiers: Madam Henry and Madam Coffin.
The Textile Conservancy was asked to prepare the ivory-coloured silk dresses for the exhibition. Both treatments required previous alterations to be reversed, as they were either disfiguring or causing damage to the fabrics. The Madam Coffin dress comprises a boned, sleeveless bodice and skirt. On the bodice, a fine gauze border around the neckline had been altered to disguise structural damage. It was removed, blocked out, repaired and reattached around the neckline. Pictorial research was undertaken to assist with configuring the positioning of gathers and arrangement of decorative elements.
The Madam Henry dress was formed from three components: bodice, skirt and train. The previous alterations had joined the train to the back of the bodice and also linked it to the sides of the skirt. The gathers on the skirt were asymmetric as a result of a panel being added on one side; it is also likely that is had been shortened from the waistband. The treatment centred on separating the components and re-working the top of the skirt.
Display mannequins were prepared to ensure the wedding dresses were fitted correctly. For the Madam Coffin Dress, a bustle was prepared and attached to the mannequin to create the correct profile for the skirt. Both wedding dresses followed the ‘S’ shape body form that was fashionable in the Belle Epoch era.