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PATCH WORK by Claire Wilcox Kirkus Star


A Life Amongst Clothes

by Claire Wilcox

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-52661-439-1
Publisher: Bloomsbury

A museum curator sifts gently through treasures from the past.

Wilcox, senior curator of fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum, has devoted her professional life to the care, protection, and exhibition of objects: a silk-lined wallet, delicately hand-stitched linen, fragile lace garments resplendent with spangles and gilt. In a captivating memoir illustrated with photographs of cherished objects, the author describes, in radiant, sensuous prose, her often painstaking tasks and her development as a curator, which began with an entry-level part-time position. “I knew how far I had to go,” she writes of those early years, “and how hard I had to work to become an expert. But I was out of my depth, and my French—the language of textile history—shaky.” To bolster her ability, she enrolled at the Camberwell Art School, which enabled her to look at the collections “with the eye of a nearly-artist.” Wilcox alludes to several exhibitions that she mounted: of Alexander McQueen, Frida Kahlo, and Vivienne Westwood, from whom she learned “through the particularity of her eyes, about pun and protest and her role” in fashion. Although these glimpses backstage at the museum are fascinating, equally so are Wilcox’s evocative recollections of childhood, marriage, her parents’ deaths, and motherhood to three children, including a daughter who suffered a frightening illness and a son who died very young. The author portrays herself as a child, defiantly “not brushing my hair, allowing it to spring in all directions. Its wildness suggested I was carefree, although in truth I was not.” As she grew up, she yearned to “have interesting things, to be well travelled, to live in a shadowy house full of books and papers and all sorts of old things. I would be complicated and well informed”—a goal that she seems to have amply fulfilled.

A finely crafted memoir of luminous vignettes.