UKRG Event: “Kanwe, Acquirem & Howe LLP!”: Museums, acquisitions and the Law
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Friday 21st April 2017
Talk: “Fashion and Style at National Museums Scotland: Acquiring Contemporary Fashion”, Georgina Ripley, Curator, Modern & Contemporary Fashion & Textiles, National Museums Scotland

In the realm of acquisitions most of us are familiar with gifts, bequests, and purchases from dealers or auction houses. When it comes to expanding a collection of modern fashion, there are other, less travelled avenues into which you can delve, each with their own unique challenges and unusual procedures.

The closing talk of the event was given by Georgina Ripley, Curator, Modern & Contemporary Fashion & Textiles, National Museums Scotland. With a collection of international significance and the third largest collection in the UK, expanding the modern part of the museum’s textile and fashion collection has required a more creative approach in the pursuit of new items.

Going directly to designers is one of the ways in which Georgina has sought out new pieces for the collection. Approaching the designers in this way and developing the relationships with them has led to the museum acquiring better pieces, styling them faithfully with the help of the designers for display. Previously they had more access to watered down versions of catwalk pieces, but by heading directly to the designers they have been able to acquire better examples of their work and enhance the collection. However in some cases the museum has missed potential acquisitions because of the difficulties in contacting the designers, competing for their attention during busy periods in the run up to fashion weeks. Knowing that the designers work to schedules six months in advance and understanding when fashion weeks fall can help to ensure you don’t miss out.

One of the acquisition channels that many of us would be familiar with on a personal rather than professional level are websites such as Ebay and Net-a-Porter. For the acquisition of shoes Net-a-Porter has provided an invaluable resource for the museum, yet it has also presented challenges regarding payments and invoicing, as well as use of images. As a large retail brand it has been difficult to find a suitable contact to help resolve these issues, and required a lot of perseverance on the part of the curators. Ebay, despite their deadlines for bids and the risk of being outbid at the very last minute has also provided some key acquisitions. Items can however be hard to authenticate, and with our increasing emphasis on due diligence this can be a concern for registrars.

Whilst these new means of acquiring items for the collection are still being established the museum’s approach has had to be flexible at times, but it has also been important and possible to uphold the practices and procedures that the registrars strive to maintain. With shipments, for example, designers would pack the items as they would for a customer. The museum found a compromise by sourcing a courier company that also works with museums in order to please both parties. As Georgina concluded, it is important not to lose sight of the museum processes and that the registrars become your best friends at this time, guiding you through what can be done to get these items safely into your care.

Francesca Sidhu, Exhibitions Manager, Victoria and Albert Museum