The most lavish exhibition ever to be staged at Chatsworth will open this weekend. From couture dresses to coronation gowns, fancy dress to headdresses, the exhibition reveals the style and social history of the cast of characters that have graced the rooms of Chatsworth over the past five centuries.
The Duchess of Devonshire said that the idea for the exhibition came about as a result of her daughter-in-law, Lady Burlington, searching in the Chatsworth textiles archive for a christening gown for her son. She was excited to discover a vast collection of textiles in the archives. Six years on, House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth opens its doors.
In addition to dresses from the Devonshire House Ball of 1897, known as the party of the century (apparently potential guests went to Paris to have clothes made for it in the hope of securing a coveted invitation) there are over 100 items in the Chapel Corridor which give an insight into more personal style stories: letters, miniatures, illustrated books and photographs.
There is also a gold brooch belonging to the socialite and trend-setter Duchess Georgiana who married the 5th Duke of Devonshire in 1774 and went on to exert an extraordinary influence on 18th Century fashion and politics.
Fashion Revolution has been asking 'What's your fashion love story?' The more we love our clothes, the more we care for them, the longer they will last. We asked the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire to select their favourite items in the exhibition.
The Duke of Devonshire said that the exhibition was filled with a lot of personal memories, from Stella Tenant's wedding dress to items of clothing worn by his mother and father, but commented that it also revealed a wider social history. His favourite item is a David Hockney jumper from the late 1960s, although he commented that it seemed to have shrunk a bit in the intervening years! The jumper was handmade and came from a shop called Blades at the end of Savile Row which was owned and run by a friend of his, Rupert Lycett Green. He gave the jumper to his his middle daughter, who fortunately kept it and it now forms one of the many items on display in the Chapel Corridor.
The Duchess of Devonshire chose a couture gown created by Vivienne Westwood as part of her A/W 97 collection Five Centuries Ago which is a copy of the dress Queen Elizabeth I is wearing in a portrait from Hardwick Hall. The portrait was commissioned by Bess of Hardwick who was to become the second most powerful woman in the land. She is said to have designed, and possibly even embroidered, the motifs on the dress herself. Taking their inspiration from the natural world, they portray sea creatures and dragons alongside flowers and insects. The Duchess of Devonshire finds the detail of the Vivienne Westwood design fascinating as it so precisely reflects the animals on the original version of dress worn in the painting.
The culmination of the exhibition is in the Great Dining Room where thirty guests gather for dinner, glamorously attired in designer clothing including Chanel, Balmain, Dior, Tom Ford, Erdem and Vivienne Westwood.
Lady Burlington, who has spent her working life in fashion, both as a model and as contributing editor for Harper's Bazaar, said In some cases, clothes that haven't seen each other since the 19th Century are being reunited. I hope visitors will appreciate the scale and ambition of the exhibition and enjoy exploring the stories that this clothing and memorabilia reveal about the Cavendish Family.
This exhibition is a truly remarkable example of how loved clothes last, illustrated by a family with a rich history of clothing love stories.
House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth opens on 25 March 2017 and runs until 22 October 2017 at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.