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Archive visit at the Royal Museum of History and Art in Brussels

Updated: May 7, 2023

Written by Noortje De Meyere and Luka Gesquiere. Reviewed by Marthe Bonnez.


On Monday, the 27th of March, the students of the research team of Fashioning Belgium, exploring Belgian fashion before the Antwerp Six, had the pleasure of looking at a selection of garments from the archive of the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels. Initially, the museum started to collect lace. Later on, the lace collection evolved to a collection of dresses. Ria Cooreman, the current collection manager of the costume and lace collections of the museum, introduced the students to an assortment of female garments – including day dresses and ball gowns – made by Belgian designers that have not yet been researched extensively.

The whole collection came into being by donations that were and are made to the museum. Those donations are done by the upper class, or at least their family in earlier period were. This has resulted in the museum now having a collection full of valuable dresses. Most of the donated garments contain labels from small unknown couture houses.

Since Cooreman is an art historian and textile restorer, she gave the students an insight in the use of different textiles, seams, and stitches. The visit took place in her office where she had displayed approximately twenty dresses. The students got acquainted with a large amount of new, unknown designers like Denise Gendry, Jean Moray, Ascot. S.A. Couturier, Jenny Van Moergastel, G.B., Butch, Valens and Bouvy. Next to these lesser known and not yet studied designers, the museum also archives 30 pieces from the famous Belgian couture house Natan, garments from the Bon Marché, the couture house Hirsch & Cie, a shoulder cape (pelerine/mantelet) that belonged to Marie-Henriëtte van Oostenrijk – Leopold II’s wife – and a whole collection of uniforms from the former Belgian airline Sabena. Additionally, a whole collection of bags and hats and other garments, for men, women, and children, is kept in the museum archive.

The introduction to the collection of the museum has provided students with ideas for possible topics to explore.



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