What is the Peacock Dress?

What is the Peacock Dress?

In 1902, every society woman aspired to have her dresses made by Worth, the premier haute couture name of the day. Worth’s 1902 Peacock Dress is a stunningly beautiful feat of intricate goldwork embroidery, and perhaps the most dazzling star in their repertoire. It is a two piece dress – bodice and skirt – that is so heavily embroidered in gold and silver that the base fabric cannot be seen. The pattern is a network of interlocking stylised peacock feathers, each of which is accented with an “eye” made from a real beetle elytra (wing cover). The neckline is accented with a lace panel embellished with rhinestones and sequins, more exquisite lace hangs from the shoulders, and the hem is encircled with white silk roses. It is a unique state gown of extraordinary quality and skill. The Peacock Dress dazzles and entices the viewer to ask a hundred questions, and most of all to wonder… how did it feel to wear a dress like...
Who wore the Peacock dress?

Who wore the Peacock dress?

The Peacock dress was commissioned and worn by the American-born Vicereine of India, Lady Mary Curzon, the highest ranking foreigner ever to serve the British Empire. Born in Chicago in 1870, Mary was the daughter of Levi Leiter, partner in the Marshall Field retail empire. As a debutante she was a resounding success, and after relocating to Washington DC, she was introduced to George Curzon in London, and they married in 1895. Curzon’s success as a politician was said by some to have been due more to the winning smiles and irresistible charm of his wife than to his own speeches, but whoever deserved the credit, in 1898 Curzon was elevated to Viceroy of India, and he and Mary were received in Mumbai with great excitement. She instantly made an impression of beauty and respect that soon spread all over India. It was estimated that over one hundred thousand people witnessed the magnificent spectacle of their reception at Government House. It was in Delhi in 1902 that Curzon arranged the spectacularly theatrical celebration Durbar commemorating the coronation of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The two week spectacle culminated in a grand Coronation Ball, for which Mary commissioned the extraordinary Peacock...
Why was the Peacock dress made?

Why was the Peacock dress made?

The coronation celebrations held in Britain in 1902-3 for the new King Edward VII were reflected in India, then an outpost of the British Empire. Photographer James Ricalton says in The Underwood Travel Library: Stereoscopic Views of India (1907): “There was some marvelous and strange function for each day of the Durbar; but I only have time and space to place before you a glimpse of the most splendid and dazzling, the most bewildering and spectacular feature of the entire Durbar, viz.: – the ‘State Entry’, which included this parade of two hundred and nineteen of the largest and most stately elephants in all India, richly and extravagantly caparisoned in gold and silver and richest silks, and ridden by their princely owners dressed in durbar costumes, sparkling with priceless gems… the most magnificent procession of elephants the world has ever witnessed.” The Peacock Dress was made for Vicereine Lady Mary Curzon to wear at the Coronation Ball at the climax of the celebrations in Delhi on January 6th, 1903. By utilising the skills of Indian embroiderers to dazzling effect, it was intended to symbolise Britain’s support and patronage of Indian craftsmanship, as well as Britain’s sovereignty over...
How was the Peacock Dress made?

How was the Peacock Dress made?

We know plenty about Lady Curzon and the Delhi Durbar and we can still admire the original dress, but how was this extraordinary garment made? Examination of the original Peacock Dress and similar unfinished works reveals that rectangular pieces of the base material were stretched on a frame in order for the pieces of the dress to be marked out and embroidered. The embroidery was completed by a team of Indian “zardosi” craftsmen, using skills passed down through generations and still practised today. When complete, these embroidered pieces were shipped to Paris, a voyage of around six weeks, where they were cut out and assembled at the House of Worth into the dress we see today. Then the completed gown was shipped all the way back to India for the ball. The dress was undoubtedly made according to an existing pattern that Worth had previously made for Lady Curzon, since she was a regular client. Her Oak Leaf embroidered state gown of the same year, which is on display at the Bath Fashion Museum, UK, appears to be of a very similar construction. The Oak Leaf Dress may even have made its long voyage to India in the same packing case as the Peacock Dress, since wealthy Worth clients often ordered multiple gowns at...