House Style: Five centuries of fashion at Chatsworth

House Style: Five centuries of fashion at Chatsworth
April 3, 2017 Melissa Davies
In Events, Historical, News
Chatsworth House, The Library, Pure Silk Tissue Ref 2256

House Style: Five centuries of fashion at Chatsworth

Chatsworth House is loved by the nation and is one of the greatest stately homes of Great Britain. Full of history, sculptured gardens, eateries, retail therapy and children’s playgrounds; Chatsworth has a wide audience. Yet the 7month long exhibition of #ChatsworthHouseStyle is aimed at a whole new and untapped audience.

The exhibition celebrates the fashion and style of Chatsworth’s residents over five centuries. From coronation gowns to All Star Converse trainers, the house is bursting with personality alongside showcasing some of the finest tailoring millinery and jewellery making.

It all began when Laura Cavendish, Countess of Burlington, wife to the heir of Chatsworth, went on a hunt for a Christening gown in the depths of the house’s textile archives and subsequently stumbled upon rooms packed with treasures of gowns, jewellery and accessories. Lady Burlington wanted to discover all that lay within and so together with Hamish Bowles, American Vogue’s Editor at large and costume design Patrick Kinmonth, the three set about curating the exhibition.

It was only in 2004 that the tradition of changing into Black Tie for every dinner was relaxed and so the Cavendish family would have had bursting wardrobes full of formal dresses and outfits used on a daily basis. Combine centuries worth of evening dinner outfits, royal visits, political visits, shooting weekends, fashion shows, extravagant parties and Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and you have the spectacle of gowns and accessories on display throughout Chatsworth House.

There is a trail of mannequins placed throughout the house, all dressed in Givenchy to Prada and their heads adorned in co-ordinating fabric.

Textiles from various locations within the house have been used to cover the heads of the mannequins. Humphries Weaving Company supplied blue and gold silk fabric for the Library sofas and so this fabric can be seen on the mannequin pictured below.

Two costumes worn by Lady Isobel Stanley (left) and Duchess Louise Worth (right) at the Devonshire Ball 1897

Two costumes worn by Lady Isobel Stanley (left) and Duchess Louise Worth (right) at the Devonshire Ball 1897

The blue and gold silk tissue fabric was used to cover the heads of mannequins in the State Drawing Room, which comprises outfits worn at the Devonshire House Ball in 1897. Two of the costumes in this location are from Chatsworth and one has been loaned by the Victoria and Albert Museum of London.

The Devonshire House Ball of 1897 was hosted by Louisa, Duchess of Devonshire, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Louisa Cavendish was London’s foremost political hostess of the time and so once news got out about the Ball, everyone made it their duty to receive and invite. Over 700 invites were sent out but it is reported that there were over 1,000 guests. Within the invites each guest was instructed on how to dress. The Ball was a fancy dress ball and so people were given a theme of certain courts i.e 17th Century, Royal Court, Religious Courts etc.

This was the ball of all balls and all of the stops were pulled out. Guests were fantastically costumed, many in heavily bejewelled gowns. A London photographer was employed for the evening and took over 200 portraits of the guests dressed up as their assigned characters. All of which can be viewed on the National Portrait Gallery website.

Above: Devonshire Ball 1897, HRH Princess of Wales dressed as Margaret of Valois

Above: Devonshire Ball 1897, HRH Princess of Wales dressed as Margaret of Valois

House Style: Five centuries of fashion at Chatsworth is such a rare exhibition held in an unlikely, yet fitting venue. The exhibition is running until October 2017 and is included in the standard admission to the house.