I am eager to share my enthusiasm for vintage shoes and clothing with anyone who is interested. And I am always happy to share my knowledge and my collections – as long as nothing bad happens to them! I am delighted to be able to blog about them and post pictures and discuss the details with people online. I am pleased that this venue for sharing has evolved because it is so much safer and easier on the vulnerable vintage clothing and shoes to share them this way. Lending your physical collections out can be risky and hard on the delicate items. Please be warned by my past experiences.
I learned this the hard way when I loaned three dozen pairs of prize vintage one of a kind shoes to a venerable institution for display. They displayed them in light boxes which were supposed to be archival and safe for delicate dyes, cloth and leathers. Unfortunately, their museum light boxes turned out to be regular light. Even more unfortunately the dyes in my shoes were bleached or the colors turned by the strong light and the delicate old leathers dried out and shriveled up in some cases. The fabric shoes were bleached out beyond recognition. Just as your skin would be by over exposure to the sun. Remember, leather is skin!
All the shoes loaned out in that display were completely ruined. Fortunately, I had insurance, but it was an awful experience. And the shoes I lost can never be replaced. The worst of it is that I had carefully inquired to be sure the light boxes were safe and the shoes would be protected before they went on display and I was assured, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the light boxes were museum safe. As it turned out, the people in charge of the loaning and display contracts did not know what they were talking about!
Unfortunately I have heard horror stories of owners of delicate vintage clothing and accessories loaning them to local museums and department stores to display in their exterior facing store windows. The antiques are exposed to natural sunlight in store window displays. The sun exposure lasts all day, day after day. And, within a very short time, (it can happen in just one day!) the delicate old clothing and accessories are bleached and damaged beyond recognition by the sun! And permanently ruined. I think it is absolutely tragic to have something exquisite that has lasted decades or generations or centuries ruined in an instant of carelessness! It is completely irresponsible and tragic!
A large and very well known (and extremely successful) store in my city expanded a few years ago and sent out a call to the local citizenry for “interesting fashion objects that might have been bought there over the last 100 years” to put on display during the month of their grand opening. People with interesting items to loan sprang out of nowhere. The array of unique things was amazing and filled every store window. People were eager to participate and contribute to this bit of local history. Special things like Grandma’s wedding dress with a 30 foot train and Grandpa’s wedding tuxedo from 1910 were graciously loaned for their historical relevance and sentimental value.
Incidentally no one was compensated for loaning out their priceless family and personal treasures. Unfortunately, every article was returned to the owners, after being on display for a month, with terrible sun damage. The department store did not take any responsibility for any of this. They did not even apologize! Instead, they would not answer phone calls or inquiries or respond to calls or letters from concerned and disappointed owners when they received their damaged antique textiles back after the show. No one knew what to do because this place who had borrowed and displayed the items was well known and well respected in the community and therefore, expected to be responsible and know what they were doing! They didn’t. And when it came right down to it, they didn’t care!
The same thing, essentially, happened to me when my vintage shoes were returned to me, damaged, after I loaned them out for display as described above! Had I heard about the antique clothing incident prior to my own experience I would have been much more guarded that I was. I only learned about the above people who loaned things for the ill-fated window displays after my own shoe loan fiasco!
What I learned from this experience is that big businesses and corporations love to associate themselves with interesting people who have interesting collections that make them (the stores in this case) look good. These corporations are completely self serving. If something goes wrong, as in the cases with the antique clothing described above, or my vintage shoes being on display, they vanish, taking no responsibility for the items or individuals involved. This was all very unfortunate. Not to mention impolite and inconsiderate!
Another thing I learned from this is never to let other people handle my collections when I am not present. They will not be respectful or careful enough. No matter what they say! They do not have the knowledge or experience in most cases to handle valuable and delicate antiques with proper care. Now, if other people want to view or photograph my collections, I insist on being present so I can watch over the entire process.
I also insist on being paid for my time. After the shoe collection fiasco described here I also make sure the collection is adequately insured. However, insurance doesn’t completely protect one – it cannot even replace items like these because there are no replacements to be had! It can only compensate you with a little money if you are lucky, for irreplaceable items you have lost. This isn’t enough to make it worth it. I know because I have been through it.
Photograph by Frederic Lehrman, styled by Violette de Courcy.
Shoes from The Lady Violette Shoe Collection.