As the Research Department Administrator it is not often that I get the opportunity to delve into the depths of the V&A stores but I recently had the chance to do just that in the old Textiles and Fashion stores. Lucia Savi and Luisa Coscarelli, the Research Assistant and Intern on the Glamour of Italian Fashion exhibition, invited me along to go through the objects that didn’t end up in the final exhibition and to tidy up the store. As part of this process we took a very careful inventory of what needed to be packed ready to be moved to the new Clothworkers’ Centre at Blythe House for storage and what packing needed to remain until objects had come off display.
It was at this point that we came upon a slightly perplexing problem. Many of the pieces in and intended for the Glamour of Italian Fashion exhibition were generously donated to the V&A by some of the biggest Italian Fashion houses in beautiful branded boxes with cotton/canvas and leather dust bags. The question was, should these items be accessioned, given a V&A object number and kept along with the items they enclose?
My initial reaction was no, I didn’t see any particular need to keep these items as surely it’s the objects that they protect that are important for the V&A’s collection and hold the relevant value?
After some more careful thinking however, it became clear that there is actually a very strong argument for keeping these pieces. It is these boxes and packaging that objects are sold in today that will in the future be an extremely important part of that objects history and provide an essential link to the way that we consume products and transfer goods. By accessioning the various boxes and dust bags along with the valuable objects that they enclose and protect institutions like the V&A are also ensuring the better conservation and maintenance of these objects.
If we take the boxes and dust bags on their own we can actually learn a huge amount about the creation and dissemination of a brand’s identity. The various sized Marni boxes that accompanied the Marni objects donated to the V&A all have the same identity. All include the brands name written clearly across the lid of the box in the same colour and font, all these boxes are of the same colour, material and quality which indicates, more than the object enclosed in itself, the strong and unified image that brands like Marni project to their clientele.
This is also true for the dust bags each has Marni written again in clear red writing of the same font on the same material and all of this packaging is of the best quality, all the dust bags are expertly sewn together echoing the craftsmanship and high standards of the brand itself. Importantly what this branding language does is further strengthen the point that when you see this packaging or this name you know that you are getting quality, craftsmanship and importantly the genuine article.
So what first seemed to me a very simple case of throwing out the unimportant excess packaging in fact importantly became a question of throwing out an important article of 20th century design and branding, which is why the decision was made to keep the boxes and dust bags and preserve them as part of the V&A’s collection.