By  on October 6, 2008

NEW YORK — For the first time, nearly all of the Costume Institute’s large collection of clothing has been translated into an online database.

The project was started in 2000, and since then the department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has worked on formatting and digitizing information on 29,432 objects from the 31,000-piece collection. It is available to view through the museum’s Web site under Collection Database at metmuseum.org/works_of_art/the_costume_institute. The move is part of the museum’s initiative to showcase its entire holdings online.

“We’re involved in working with the collection to prepare for a rehousing of it,” said Harold Koda, curator in charge of the Costume Institute. “We have grown so much and would like to house everything properly, and in conjunction with that, we started to document things that hadn’t been reviewed since they first came in in the Forties. Once we got the information together, we thought it would be ideal if the general public could log in and, for instance, find all of our Christian Diors.”

The online archive will be continuously updated, and viewers can zoom in on many of the pieces. It serves as more than just an online catalogue. During the Costume Institute’s recent “blog.mode: addressing fashion” exhibit, the curators learned it has an engaged audience beyond the New York metropolitan area, with e-mails coming in from Eastern Europe and Asia.

Not every documented piece is accompanied by an image, and the Costume Institute continues to photograph items and update their information. Koda said that, in the same vein as “blog.mode,” the Costume Institute also hopes to gather more information on pieces in its collection, as well as corrections, where appropriate.

Asked about the process, Koda said: “You had to transfer all of the information from different record systems. Some were files, some were cards, but through the years, there was a great deal of inconsistency.

“Some of the things we learned were completely unexpected,” he added. “One of the things we found out was that we had some very early Vionnets that were never classified as Vionnets because whoever catalogued it originally in the Fifties or Sixties just happened to miss the label.”

The project was made possible in part by the The John and Annamaria Phillips Foundation, Jane Hays Butler, Paul D. Schurgot Foundation and an anonymous donor.

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