Manchester Art Gallery has one of the largest British collections of fashion and clothing. The Gallery of Costume was founded at Platt Hall, a separate building two miles south of the city centre, in 1947 when Manchester acquired the large private collection of Drs Willet and Phillis Cunnington. The Cunningtons amassed their collection during the 1930s, concentrating on 19th century middle-class and ordinary dress, alongside a large archive and library of fashion related material. Manchester had started collecting clothing and accessories in the 1920s and, with its textile history, provided the perfect home for their collection. It still forms the nucleus of the Gallery’s costume collection today.
Beginning with the stewardship of Anne Buck in 1947, a succession of curators has ensured that the strengths of the collections have been built upon in such areas as sportswear and occupational dress, whilst the breadth has been considerably expanded so that we have a wealth of representative material from 1600 onwards, including the Filmer collection of early 17th century dress. We also have a fine selection of 18th century women’s clothing with over 100 dresses, and an excellent collection of children’s costume. Menswear too has been a priority, as has Manchester-labelled clothing.
More recently we have concentrated on increasing the Gallery’s holding of top-end couture to complement the more mainstream or high-street pieces, ranging from Schiaparelli and Chanel to McQueen and Westwood. A Collecting Cultures grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund is currently assisting with the purchase of some seminal couture pieces.