A cleaning protocol for the glass fiber dress in the Deutsches Museum

Charlotte Holzer

In May 2016, actress Claire Danes stunned the spectators of the MET Gala in New York with her dress made of illuminated optical fiber glass, fascinating the fashion world with a technical fiber used in art. About 125 years earlier, the Libbey Glass Company from Toledo, Ohio achieved a similar effect at the World Fair in Chicago. In the so-called Crystal Room, the company’s show room, a glittering dress made of a hand-woven glass fiber-silk fabric was presented. The fashionable evening gown, consisting of a richly decorated bodice and a long skirt, caught the attention of an American actress and a Spanish princess, for whom copies were made. Back in 1893, the fibers were still hand-drawn from glass rods by travelling glass blowers. They were only equipped with a lamp and a large rotating wheel.

The gown of the Spanish Infanta Eulalia was given to the Deutsches Museum in 1924. The remaining parts, a skirt and loose fringes, show heavy soiling: Loose and fixed particles have accumulated on the surface and within the fiber structure, the front of the skirt is disfigured by a large stain, small accretions of brown matter are dispersed on the fabrics and braided ribbons. Ageing products appear as crystals on the glass, the silk lining and the metal fasteners. Further damage concern the costume’s structural integrity, disintegration and loss of parts as well as deformation, such as folds.

During the current conservation project, research is needed before the removal of soiling from the delicate surface can be carried out. Especially the weighted silk of the lining and the brittle glass fibers are sensitive to pressure and in parts to humidity. Further challenges in finding suitable materials, techniques and solvents for cleaning are the handling of the skirt and getting access to all areas. The first protocols were developed, while cleaning comparable textiles from the collection of the Corning Museum of Glass and loose parts of the dress. The transfer and adaption of this methodology to the dress in the Deutsches Museum will be discussed.