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Curious About Your House of Mirelle or Elka Couture Item? Susan Capes From Hull Museums Answers Your Questions

June 21, 2017

Hull Museums are situated in the grand old sector of the British city near to the River Hull

The group of buildings house collections focusing on the rich and long cultural history of the once medieval city.

In the Hull Museums catalogue, avid fashion researchers find it includes an Elka Couture dress. The museums also house hats and a suit from the Hull fashion house, The House of Mirelle.

This catalogue is the only museum in the UK that has Elka or Mirelle items readily find-able in an internet search and because of this, attracts interest from owners of similar items from around the globe.

Owners may have had an item in their wardrobe for many years and are curious about its history or have found something in a charity shop or attic and have hit on Hull Museums’ website.

Questions like ‘how old is it?’, ‘is it valuable – how much is it worth?’ and ‘would Hull Museums like my outfit too?’ are often asked of me as I speak to owners.

Donating historic clothing – or ‘costume’ – to a museum seems like an ideal way of preserving an item of clothing, ethically correct even. After all it secures it for other people to see, learn about and enjoy.

But storing, caring for and restoring costume is meticulous, requires appropriate storage space and needs regular skilled and expert maintenance.

For that reason it might not be the best thing for you to consider for your special possession.

I asked Susan Capes, Assistant Curator at Hull Museums about the history of costume in the City of Hull and what she would advise owners of Elka Couture or House Of Mirelle items to think about before they contact the museum to ask about valuations and donations.

She took time out of her busy schedule setting up a new project at the Ferens Art Gallery, another of Hull’s museums, to answer my questions:

How important is costume to the history of Hull city?

Costume is a very visual and tangible reminder of Hull’s history. The clothes we wear have always reflected people’s status, attitudes and tastes. Through costume, we can open up a window into the very real past.

Can people donate an Elka Couture or House of Mirelle item to Hull Museums

Each donation offer is considered on an individual basis although we adhere to specific collecting guidelines as laid out in our Collecting Policy.

What process do people need to follow to talk about making a donation 

Contact the Collections Team at Hull Museums with some information / context about the item (and if possible photographs) who will consider the decision on a case-by-case basis.

Can owners contact Hull Museums for an estimated value of their item. 

No – for ethical reasons museums are unable to provide valuations of any items.

What are the contact details of the person they need to approach 

museums@hcandl.co.uk / 01482 300300

Will Hull Museums pay for a donation 

This will be considered on a case-by-case basis, although we are rarely able to pay for a donation.

Will someone need to supply photos or any other information before the donation is made

Context about the object and photographs where possible are helpful to assist the Collections Team in making an informed decision.

Factors such as condition and conservation treatment required can affect a decision and this is easier for the team to gauge from photographs.

How will the item be stored, curated, catalogued and photographed 

If accepted, items are generally documented shortly after entry to the museum and are detailed on the Hull Museums Collections website.

After it is given to Hull Museums, will the museum then own the donated item  

Yes – legal ownership is transferred from the donor to Hull Museums.

Will the item be physically displayed in the Museums

Costume is very fragile and sensitive to light so it is difficult to display costume over a prolonged period of time.

We unfortunately do not have sufficient space to display costume except when individual pieces fit within the context of a specific temporary exhibition.

Visitors should be aware that the Mirelle or Elka items you see on the Hull Museums website are not currently part of the collections that visitors can view if they visit.

Can the owner’s name be displayed in the information about the donation

This can be discussed during the acquisition process but the donor’s name is not normally displayed unless it contributes to the exhibition content.

Thank you Susan, and good luck with the project at the Ferens Art Gallery!

© HouseofMirelle.uk 2015

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