Preserving the Cherished (Part 1)

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(Photo: © iStockphoto/MariyaL)

Bruce Beggs |

Answering the call to clean, preserve delicate gowns and more

CHICAGO — Wedding gowns, christening gowns and the like carry special significance to their owners and require a high level of attention and care.

This month, American Drycleaner invited representatives from three businesses and organizations devoted to garment preservation to answer some basic questions about what it takes to provide such services and how they meet the challenges that come with the territory.

Sally Lorensen Conant, Ph.D., operates Connecticut-based gown preservation service Orange Restoration Labs and is the executive director of the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists, a not-for-profit trade association that has members in 10 countries that focus on the care of specialty gowns. Association members share their experiences and promote the brand with designers, wedding publications and wedding websites.

Kyle Nesbit is vice president of business development for Memories Gown Preservation, a Texas-based gown preservation company that services more than 90,000 bridal gowns annually. MemoriesGP provides wholesale, environmentally friendly gown cleaning, preservation, packaging and shipping services to bridal salons, tux shops and dry cleaners across the continental United States.

Michael Schapiro is president of the Wedding Gown Preservation Co., a family-owned and -operated business based in New York that celebrated its centennial last year. Schapiro is the third generation of his family to run the business.

While there may be slight differences in their approach, each described utilizing a highly detailed process for receiving, logging, cleaning and packaging the cherished and oft-delicate garments, as well as communicating with customers throughout.

Q: How would you say that garment preservation differs from traditional drycleaning services?

Conant: Traditional dry cleaning is short-term care, and the goal is a clean, wearable garment that looks and feels as close to new as possible. Preservation is long-term care, and the goal is the same, but it often requires extra steps as well as special packaging to achieve that goal.

For example, any foam rubber pads must be removed and discarded or returned separately. If left in place, they will emit fumes as they disintegrate over time, and the fumes will not only discolor the fabric but also pearls and other decorations.

Nesbit: Garment preservation differs from traditional dry cleaning with added levels of inspection, gentler cleaning cycles, more labor added in finishing, and the most important difference: the packaging materials are utterly imperative for guaranteeing the integrity of a garment. All cardboard storage materials should be clean and completely acid-free. The garment isn’t left hanging because this can cause the fabric to stretch over time.

Schapiro: Our facility is specifically designed for the processing of wedding gowns. All of our focus is on cleaning and preserving wedding gowns. This, in combination with our specially tested formulas and highly trained cleaning technicians, allow us to offer the highest-quality service available in the industry for the care of wedding gowns.

Q: Besides the preservation of wedding gowns, what other types of special garments does your business or association members offer to heirloom and/or restore for clients?

Schapiro: While we specialize in wedding gowns, over the years we have preserved many special items such as celebrities’ garments, quilts, uniforms, dance gowns, Azalea Trail Maids gowns, kimonos, Indian ceremonial garments, children’s clothing, and vintage clothing.

Nesbit: Flower girl dresses, baptismal/christening gowns, letter jackets, quinceañera dresses and military uniforms.

Conant: We offer care for everything—vintage veils, christening gowns, uniforms, quilts, linens, doll clothes, nurses’ caps, etc. If it is important to someone, it is important to us, too.

Dublin Cleaners in Ohio was asked to preserve khakis for “Jungle Jack” Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium—complete with the mud from a special occasion. Another member was asked to clean and preserve a wedding gown without disturbing the candle wax that dripped on the gown during the ceremony.

Q: What special precautions must be taken during processing to protect these unique, often one-of-a-kind garments?

Nesbit: Special precautions are taken with bead work, embellishments, and when actually processing the garment with formulated cleaning cycles. These delicate cleaning cycles are especially important when trying to restore an aged garment to prevent the material from tearing or falling apart.

Schapiro: During out 12-point inspection process, each gown is inspected for fabric content, embellishment, staining and damaged areas. Based on these findings, certain precautions are taken to protect the gown in processing. An example would be to cover or remove appliqués or embellishments prior to cleaning and then replace them in their original position. Photos are often taken to match the placement of decorative items.

Conant: In order to avoid mistakes that will damage the garment, we evaluate it and develop a plan of action before beginning treatment. Ideally, special garments should be spotted by hand. At a minimum, fragile decorations should be covered with muslin, or even padded, to protect them. Often, it is better to remove such things, add them to the record of receipt, and reposition them later. Here again, photographs or even drawings recording the original placement are critical.

Throughout the process, the less mechanical action the better, so the machine should be set for the shortest possible cycle. Some garments may be so delicate—even brittle from age—that they must be processed by hand throughout.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion!

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.

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