New Worth Evening Gowns, 1

New Worth Evening Gowns, 1

Okay, okay, I’ll share! Here’s the first of the *other* gowns in the Worth photo album. (The album I looked at, anyway. There were at least a couple more huge tomes, just for that year.) I planned to do one of those viral list posts you see all over social media – “20 Worth gowns you’ve never seen before – OMG I nearly died when I saw #12” – but honestly, each one of these gowns is worth (ha) a good long look and a few huge detail shots, as well as a front and back. So without further ado, here is evening gown number 60734, a picture of simplicity (for 1902)… Gorgeous. The description reads, “Robe satin blas avec noeuds argents et fleurs”, or “Lilac satin gown with silver knots and flowers.” Let’s take a closer look at the bodice. I LOVE the shape of these gowns, and since I made the Oak Leaf dress in 2009 I now know that this was not only achieved with the lacing of the corset, but by padding the bust and hips too. The draping of the satin over a tightly fitted lining is to die for. Looking even closer… There’s one of the “silver knots”. Find a few similar silver/diamante brooches, and some silk lilacs, and you’d be good to go with this project. But of course, if a costumer was going to make this, they’d need to see the back… If the front was gorgeous, the back is breathtaking. Worth documented front and back shots of every gown, which makes me very, very happy. With a front and a...
What did the roses look like when they were new?

What did the roses look like when they were new?

In my last post we discovered that the white roses at the hem of the Peacock dress are not, in fact, original, but are replacements made by the milliner Reslaw Hats in the 1950s. We also saw what we think are a few of the original roses. These are a wonderful find, it’s priceless to see size, shape, fabrics and method, but there’s still a missing piece of this puzzle. If I’m going to recreate the Peacock dress exactly as it looked when it was packed in a case in the Paris workroom of Jean-Philippe Worth and shipped to India, I’d like to see more than the present day remains of the roses. What did they look like as new? We could look at the portrait (top of this page), but as we discovered in the last post, those bold strokes (which don’t tell me a great deal anyway) were painted in 1909, when the dress had already been in storage for six years and Mary was already gone. The painting was undoubtedly completed with the help of the photographs taken of Lord and Lady Curzon on the night of the Coronation Ball, but those photos are rather overexposed, leaving the roses as no more than an expanse of white. Can we do better? We can. If you move in costuming circles, you’ll know about the V&A’s recent book The House of Worth: A Pictorial Archive, which documents the vast and extraordinary collection of photographs that Worth routinely used to document its seasonal offerings. To London! Here is just one of the books of ballgowns from 1902 that were...
What’s in the box?

What’s in the box?

So you wanted to know what’s in the little box? Well, to answer that I have to backtrack a few months. The Peacock Dress was on loan to the Museum of London for most of its lifetime, from at least the 1930s to the 1990s. My interest was piqued when a contact at the Museum told me that they still have “a file” on the dress. Intriguing… So a new part of the story develops: what happened to the Dress after the ball?   Lady Mary Curzon died young. In fact, she was gone just three years after that glittering night in Delhi, at the pitifully young age of 36. The grieving Lord Curzon built her a tomb at Kedleston – even though he married again, he lies next to her there to this day – and commissioned the famous portrait of her in her dazzling Peacock Dress. Her dresses were the only possessions that were passed directly to Mary’s three daughters (she is reputed to have asked specifically for the “feathers dress” to be kept), and we pick up the story in 1938, with a series of letters that passed between the eldest daughter, Baroness Irene Ravensdale, and the Director of the Museum of London. They certainly did keep the dress, but lent it to the Museum, during which time the Baroness arranged for the dress to be displayed in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. (It was the first of two appearances; the dress was lent again in 2004.) One can sense her pride in her mother’s achievements shining through, not only in these...
Collaboration

Collaboration

Yesterday I returned once again to visit the National Trust at Kedleston Hall. I must have been to Kedleston thirty times if I’ve been there once, but I can never come back without recalling the first time I ventured into a dimly lit basement museum and saw that glittering dress, resplendent on a pedestal, gently lit in its own special glass case that one can walk all the way around. The Peacock Dress is still spectacular, no matter how long I look, and I still cannot approach it without a leap in my heart and an electric magic tingling through me. It is, for me, the ultimate gown, my Holy Grail. Ffion George is the new House and Collections Manager, with responsibility for both the welfare of the fragile building and its equally delicate contents, and also for continually finding new ways to present them to visitors in an interesting and engaging way. It’s not an easy task to balance those two responsibilities. Being a sewer herself – with an interest in Forties dresses, no less – as well as recalling a childhood of half-made wedding dresses spread across her mother’s dining table, she was equally as excited to meet me as I was to meet her. I have found a kindred spirit, which is a great relief after so many years of my plans and dreams going unnoticed.     But there’s another reason that my early efforts to connect took a bit of persuading. My pipe dream about recreating the Peacock Dress became a real plan in 2011 when I got involved with Random Acts‘ efforts to...