Go behind the scenes of a new exhibition of great costumes from Irish film and television industry and what you discover is not so much a costume drama but a drama about the fate of Irish costumes.
Emmy-nominated costume designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, and costume practitioner Veerle Dehaene set up the Irish Costume Archive Project (ICAP) to collect, preserve and exhibit Ireland’s film and television design heritage.
Their pieces are on display in The Art of Costume exhibition, which opens today at Russborough House near Blessington, Co Wicklow, and explores the relationship between actors and costumes, and the growth of the Irish film industry.
The exhibition, which runs until October 16, features 17 costumes, from 12 film and television productions, including Liam Neeson’s army uniform and big coat from the 1996 film Michael Collins, vintage pieces worn by Marianne and Connell in Normal People and pieces from the Oscar-winning film The Favourite, made by Element Pictures, which are in demand from museums around the world.
The two women work as volunteers to safeguard the afterlife of costumes which they believe are “an integral part of Ireland’s cultural heritage”.
At present, ICAP has access to temporary storage facilities thanks to Ardmore Studios in Co Wicklow where they care for more than 300 costumes.
However attempts to get funding assistance from Irish government agencies or private companies in order to create a permanent archive with one full-time staff member to conserve the pieces has hit a stone wall.
“We see ourselves as custodians of these costumes and five years on, we are in a huge predicament because we have no funding to preserve the costumes and some of them are beginning to deteriorate,” Ms Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh says.
“We went to the Arts Council and they said if we were making a film they might be able to fund us. We approached the Heritage Council to have some conservation work done on the costumes, but we were told we were too niche.
“We went to the Crafts Council who said you are not a commercial entity. We went to Screen Ireland who gave us funding five years ago towards our website, icap.ie but that was it.”
While the iconic Michael Collins uniform in the exhibition is safeguarded for the future as it was bought by a private collector, costumes from films and TV shows made over the last 35 years face an uncertain future.
“We have a very good relationship with Element Pictures, who produced The Favourite, Room and Normal People, so we are looking after their archive for them as part of ICAP so that’s really fantastic, and Andrew Lowe, co-director of Element Pictures is on our advisory board,” Ms Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh says.
The exhibition, was opened by actor Brendan Gleeson whose silky blue dressing gown from The Guard is included.