Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Frankly,my dear I give a damn

Yes, I know I have changed the iconic line from "Gone With The Wind". But I do give a damn about the dresses worn by Vivien Leigh in the Oscar- winning movie. Now, you Rhett Butler's out there will care less - unless one of us Scarlett's show up wearing the drapes. But we gals, we remember all those beautiful gowns and if asked we all have a favorite. So southern belles - this column is for you.

Restoration has started to preserve and restore the dresses from "Gone With The Wind." The bad news is - some of the gowns cannot be made to look like they did on screen. The holes, and dropped stitches can be repaired. Feathers added to the Burgundy ball gown removed. But, the dresses are old, badly faded in spots and one is too fragile to handle.

In 2014 an exhibit will mark the 75th anniversary of the film. The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas acquired five of the dresses from the collection of David O. Selznick in the 1980's. The center will spend $30,000 to preserve the five dresses. The five dresses are Scarlett O'Hara's green curtain dress, her velvet gown, a burgundy ball gown, a blue velvet night gown and Scarlett's wedding dress.

Cara Varnell, an art conservator who specializes in Hollywood film costumes is doing the restoration work. Varnell has studied the dresses. The waistline of the green curtain dress has been altered several times and extra feathers were sewn on the ball gown. The dresses are in rough shape. The reason was David O. Selznick realized the value of the dresses and put them on tour. They went through decades of traveling displays and were even loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City ( fell free to utter the Pace Picante sauce line from the their commercial here) Plus, costumes were never made for everyday use- they were made to wear for the filming of movie and then be discarded.

But thankfully, since 1980 the Ransom Center has has kept them in a properly temperature and light controlled storage environment. Sadly, the the curtain dress has long faded streaks that have turned the fabric an ugly brown mustard color. Ms. Varnell does not believe this was caused by light fading because the fabric is not dried out or fragile in those areas that would be typical of light fading. Records show the dress was likely sprayed with Sudol, a disinfectant similar to Lysol, which may have affected the rate and nature of the discoloration. ( note to selves - never spray disinfectant on your clothes)

So the curtain dress will not be restored to it's original shade of green. Ms Varnell said her job is to keep the dresses sturdy enough to endure in as close to original form as possible, not to recreate their precise look in the movie. ( so disappointing but hey - it's going to be 75 years old - none of us look as good as we use to)

Varnell believes the dresses travels and faded spots are " part of it's history".( kinda like my wrinkles, grey hair and a few extra pounds) She believes she should "honor the history and honor the piece."( ha- take that husbands - honor the history - honor the wrinkles) The Burgundy ball gown, however, is still it's same vibrant color. Scarlett's silk wedding dress veil cannot be restored. It was brittle and lined with permanent creases when it was acquired and is now so fragile that it will likely disintegrate if handled. But Ms. Varnell said " we are all organic material ans when a costume has come to the end of its life, it is no different than we are.

So in 2014 - head to Austin to see Scarlett's dresses. But use what happened to them to as a reminder to be careful with your clothes. Proper care and storage would have kept Scarlett's dresses in better condition. Proper care and storage will do the same for yours. But no matter the condition, aren't you thrilled to know the dresses are still here? Can't you still picture Clark Gable looking up the staircase - when Scarlett asks who is that man ? Don't you still wonder why she preferred Ashley Wilkes over Rhett Butler? And don't ya just feel like saying "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn?"