Building the collections

In the mid-20th century, the City of Brussels owned just a few pieces of Brussels lace, exhibited in the Maison du Roi in the city’s Grand-Place. This lace, the product of an industry that has now entirely disappeared, carried the reputation of Belgium’s capital throughout the western world. By buying lace from private collectors, a coherent collection was built up, representing the work produced here in Belgium. But presenting lace outside its particular context, which of fashion, is inconceivable. Which is why, soon after the Museum opened in 1977, it proved essential to establish a collection of old costumes in order to exhibit the lace in context. 

Building up an iconographic collection is also vital when it comes to dating costumes. Entire collections of illustrated fashion periodicals were included in the museum’s library. Portraits of interest from the point of view of the history of costume, particularly if they are the work of Belgian or Brussels painters, were added to the collections, making the exhibitions more attractive and more easier to understood.  

Conservation – Restoration 

Every exhibition provides an opportunity to launch a campaign to restore the items to be exhibited: the selected pieces are checked, repaired and cleaned. For some garments, particularly those in lace, a lining or even an undergarment has to be produced and the mannequin used to display the models has to be adapted. Most of these tasks are entrusted to specialists, mainly from outside. The Museum does not have a restoration workshop, but above all the diversity of the collections calls for as many disciplines as there are types of objects. 

Acquisitions at auctions 

Aware of the need to enrich the textile heritage of the City of Brussels, the public authorities have, for the past few years, encouraged purchases from leading auction houses abroad.  

Two examples provide a perfect illustration of the relevance of recent auction purchases: after the death of Princess Liliane de Réthy, her heirs sold her prestigious wardrobe at Sotheby’s in London in May 2003. The Museum was thus able to add to its collection a lady’s riding habit bearing the label of “Séverin”, a Brussels-based house that no longer exists, a Givenchy gown and an inventory comprising sketches with tissue samples for outfits by Dior, Saint-Laurent, Balenciaga and Chanel, taken from her 1950-1960s collection. 

When the Belgian airline Sabena was wound up in April – May 2003, the Museum acquired the last two uniforms worn by the cabin crew, which were created by Olivier Strelli. 

The contribution from antique dealers 

Rather than putting items of interest up for public sale abroad, antique dealers keen to preserve the heritage of Belgium and Brussels here in their own country, fortunately sometimes take the initiative to first offer them to the Costume and Lace Museum. The Museum seizes these opportunities to add to its collections, in particular when they are pieces from houses based in Brussels. 

Gifts: contributions from private individuals 

Alongside these items from prestigious origins, the Museum also receives gifts from private individuals wishing to ensure the long-term future of certain objects which are dear to them and which they would not like to see forgotten. These items bear witness to the lives of ordinary people; they are expressions of respect for past generations on the part of scrupulous heirs. 

The collections expand with every exhibition. Each one prompts a wave of gifts of items related to the topic of the exhibition, from captivated visitors.