Met’s Head Costume Conservator on her Career Path

Sarah Scaturro, head conservator for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has revealed her intense path to her highly-desirable profession.

In an interview by Artnet, she explained her university education of Italian and ancient history at the University of Colorado Boulder followed by a Masters in fashion and textile studies at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.

Even now she is a PhD student in material culture and design history at Bard Center for Curatorial Curatorial Studies. “It’s a lot extra work, but it allows me to approach my work with a fresh eye on theory, which is very insightful,” she said.

So education has been a massive feature in Scaturro’s career – unsurprisingly. But what did she do outside the classroom after graduating as well as before and after her Masters?

Practical skills

After school, I worked at an education nonprofit for about five years. I was taking continuing ed classes in pattern-making, dressmaking, and tailoring at FIT. I eventually decided to apply for the masters program there. As luck had it, they required applicants to have taken courses in chemistry, art history, and a foreign language. Serendipitously, I had all three.”

Despite such qualifications, Scaturro was concerned about her job prospects. “I knew I had to create my own opportunities: doing fashion archiving for designers, taking on temporary contracts at museums for exhibition installations, collection rehabbing, and other work,” she said. “Eventually, I got to know the head conservator at New York’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. She hired me for a long-term contract position and eventually there was an opening in her lab. Unfortunately, now students have to take on thousands of hours of unpaid internships to work in the field. I’m lucky I came into conservation at a point when that wasn’t yet standard practice!”

Fashion as art

When this position of head conservator opened up at the Costume Institute, Scatturo only had half the experience as they were looking for. But after four interviews with senior staff she got the job.

“The biggest change was the extremely fast pace, high volume, and monumental scope of the projects here,” she said. “At the Costume Institute, there’s much more of an emphasis on presenting fashion as art. As a conservator, I have to manage lengthier treatments aimed at restoration. We have to foreground aesthetic quality. It’s an oxymoron, trying to preserve fashion, which is in essence ephemeral and temporal. In order to display fashion as art, you have to be sure you’re creating the right silhouette, with the right hair and accessories. It takes time and skill putting garments onto a mannequin, because mannequins aren’t soft like the human body, and can stress the object. I actually took a mannequin-dressing class as a requirement at FIT!”

Header: Metropolitan Museum of Art

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