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 build a new orphanage in Haiti. With an audience of fellow costume makers, it just made sense to raise money not by running a marathon or climbing a mountain, but by making a nearly-impossible dress. The effort worked, and we raised approximately $20,000 for Haiti and helped fund this. That made the Peacock Dress project real, but due to their status as a charity, the Trust were unable to be named in tandem with separate fundraising efforts, and as such I was unable to give the property the plug I wanted to.
Luckily, given the end of the Hope2Haiti project, a few years, and a change of personnel, I have a chance to try again.
In those four years, I’ve also had a chance to do some of the research on the dress and make samples of the embroidery. I’ve done enough to demonstrate that I’m serious, and that I really do mean to make a stitch for stitch replica. I have found out things that the Kedleston team do not know, and even in talking about it briefly yesteday, I was able to clear up a mystery surrounding the contents of a little box in their stores from the 1950s marked “Peacock Dress”. More on that another day…
The long and the short of it is that Ffion and the team are hugely excited about collaborating. Between us we have tons of ideas about how to use my work to add to the present knowledge of the dress and enhance the visitor experience at Kedleston. Our ideas need to be run past higher Powers That Be before anything’s definite, but from correcting a couple of inaccuracies on the notice next to the dress, to talks for staff and visitors, to working on the dress in public at Kedleston, I can hardly sleep with excitement about the possibilities that are now potentially on the table (but of course, I must stress, all are so far unconfirmed).
I’m relieved and glad that we have found a way to work together, and I’m looking forward very much to this opportunity to work together with the Kedleston team to make my work more than just an exercise in satisfying my own curiosity. Thank you to all of you who have been with me since the start, and thank you for your interest to those of you who are coming to this anew. I can’t wait to take you on the rest of this long, exciting journey!