Belonging to the Royal Opera House costume collection, we were tasked with the conservation of two costume body suits. One wonderfully grotesque male figure belonging to the character of Falstaff and a female suit worn by a Rhein maiden in a production of Das Rheingold.
The main material used to fabricate the suits was latex. Arresting the degradation of latex is a major challenge as the factors which accelerate its deterioration are oxygen, moisture, heat and light. In their lifetime the costumes have suffered the perfect storm for degradation: heat, sweat, lights, movement, and abrasion.
In areas of mechanical stress such as the armpits and groin there was considerable tearing. Areas where the latex is thinly applied such as the neck and ankles had become embrittled and extremely fragile. In order to repair the deep tears, we used a foam latex adhesive, the weight distribution of the object creates forces which tend to cause the damaged area to pull apart, and so the adhesive was applied in sections starting at the deepest level of the tear and moving towards the surface whilst gentle finger tight padded clamps were applied to the inside.
The skin of the suits had multiple small cracks, tears and lifting flakes, these were meticulously laid down and consolidated. Where the “skin” of the latex was completely lost a thin layer of liquid latex was applied, allowed to dry and retouched.