NEW YORK — Conservators at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., are taking a bit of a fashionista turn. When the Lunder Conservation Center opens in the Smithsonian Saturday, the staff will be outfitted in denim aprons designed exclusively for the museum by Isaac Mizrahi.

Typically, preservation work — and the conservators completing it — are hidden in the back rooms of a museum. In an effort to bring preservation to the forefront of the museum experience, the Smithsonian has spent the past five years developing the 10,200-square-foot Lunder Conservation Center, which brings what many in the art world consider a museum’s most important work out to the public. The center features five laboratories and studios wrapped in floor-to-ceiling glass walls, where visitors can watch the conservators at work, stop at educational kiosks and participate in public programs and outreach initiatives.

And, of course, gaze on a small bit of fashion. The conservators formerly wore whatever work clothing they chose for themselves, but now that they will be on view to the public, the museum organizers thought it was time to step up the fashion element.

“One of our board members knows Isaac personally, so she called him to see if he wouldn’t be interested in giving us a hand,” said Claire Larkin, special projects director at the museum. “He graciously said yes and met with us to discuss what our needs are.”

The new aprons, done pro bono by the quirky designer, are made of a stiff, dark denim with two deep tool pockets and are labeled “Isaac Mizrahi for Lunder Conservation Center.” This marks the first time the conservators sport any kind of uniform.

“The conservators should look smart,” said Betsy Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian. “Isaac was terrific in making a workable apron that is more than just a nifty piece of fashion. It’s a fully functional lab apron built around the specifications of our employees.”

The museum will sell the Mizrahi aprons in the gift shops for $85.

This story first appeared in the June 30, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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