When Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week wraps in New York and designers and editors come up for air after a strenuous month of runway shows and events, that’s when The Wardrobe founder Julie Ann Orsini begins her work. Orsini is the archivist for Tom Ford and Jason Wu, preserving their cherished garments. As part of her work, she physically and digitally catalogues, then properly stores the precious pieces that designers and celebrities hope one day might be part of museum exhibitions.
It’s a labor of love, especially when it comes to Wu’s clothing. “Jason’s garments are exquisitely crafted, with exceptional attention to detail,” says Orsini, who counts Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig of Marchesa, Céline’s Phoebe Philo, Isabel Marant, and Azzedine Alaïa among her design heroes.
After the runway shows, once the showrooms are finished with the collections, Orsini starts preserving them. The process is hardly as simple as slipping a dress into a garment bag, or even putting it in a box. Ball gowns have their own complications— they are very long, and care must be taken in how they are folded so as to not stress the garment. “They are three-dimensional objects not necessarily meant to lie flat, yet the weight of a heavy embellishment might put too much stress on the fabric if you were to leave it hanging,” says Orsini, who relies on her expertise in fashion history and collection management to properly store garments with delicate embellishments, including the feathers, beading, and sequined embroideries on Wu’s creations. “So many factors can damage garments.”
Orsini got her start as an intern at City magazine under Christene Barberich, today the editorial director at refinery29.com. “As a fashion writer, I felt that a deep knowledge of the history of my subject would give me a better voice, so I enrolled in the History of Fashion and Textiles master’s program at the Fashion Institute of Technology and fell into the museum/archive world,” says Orsini, who has also worked on the archives of Calvin Klein and Stephen Sprouse and for private clients such as socialites, gallerists, and vintage collectors.
As part of her service, each piece is tagged and photographed on a mannequin, then stored either in a client’s home or in a private museum-quality storage facility in Manhattan. She creates a database for each client that includes every garment and accessory, and all reference information such as when it was purchased and worn, whether it’s vintage, and its history. Once or twice a year, Orsini opens every box, making sure the garment is pristine, changing the way it is folded, and checking for possible pests. “You can’t just put it away for a decade,” she says. “Of course, it is always a little nerve-racking opening the box, but we need to treat fashion like art and protect it the way we would fine art.”