Costume Society Ambassadors, Costume Society, News, Reviews  |  October 16, 2017

House Style at Chatsworth

Lottie Moss

 

‘House Style’ reveals items of dress from the Cavendish family collection, previously stored in the family archive. Located in Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, costume is dispersed throughout the established route of the house, bringing tangible bodies back into the stately home setting.

 

The collection had remained in storage until Laura Burlington, future Duchess of Devonshire and previously a fashion stylist and buyer, was encouraged to explore Chatsworth by her parents-in-law. Laura was first introduced to the family collection of dress in a manner which may be familiar to anyone who has recently had a child; she was invited to see if there was a suitable christening outfit for her daughter. She discovered the gown her daughter would later wear amongst boxes containing coronation robes, livery and a Jean-Phillipe Worth gown. Understanding the significance of these items, Laura contacted her friend and International Editor at Large of American Vogue, Hamish Bowles, to assist her in reviewing the objects.

 

Together, with the blessing of her in-laws, Laura and Hamish carefully researched the collection and called on other family members to contribute to the exhibition. These women were Deborah (Debo) Devonshire, née Mitford, married to the 11th Duke of Devonshire and Stella Tennant, niece of the current Duke of Devonshire. Due to their involvement, and particularly to Stella’s career as a model, the exhibition often juxtaposes historic items with contemporary garments from the current Cavendish family. Perhaps the most poignant display (and also the slowest to view) is the timeline of objects from the 17th Century to the present. It introduces visitors unfamiliar with the Devonshires to notorious family members including Bess of Hardwick who, besides Elizabeth I (and after four marriages) became the wealthiest woman in England (Bowles, 2017:37), and Georgiana, a fashion icon of the 18th Century and inspiration behind the film ‘The Duchess’ (2008). 

 

Although the exhibition is scattered with ‘glamourous’ objects, the dining room is clearly intended to be a spectacle with dress examples from the old masters of couture. Personally I found the most memorable member of the family to be the 11th Duke of Devonshire whose humour is subtly scattered throughout the exhibition, often in the form of jumpers. He is most noted for the navy knitwear he commissioned to be customised with slogans such as ‘Don’t Just Sit There Do Something’, ‘Stop Talking About Yourself’ and the favourite of many visitors (and Gucci, the sponsor’s) ‘Never Marry a Mitford’.

 

‘House Style’ reveals the personalities that have made up the Cavendish family for four-hundred years, a perspective that in my opinion can only be achieved through the presentation of dress. This archive has been four centuries in the making so if you have not been able to visit Chatsworth already, I would highly recommend a trip!

 

‘House Style’ is showing at Chatsworth House until 22nd October 2017.  

 

Reference:

Burlington, L & Bowles, H. (2017) House Style. New York: Rizzoli.

 

  • A Fancy Dress Costume by the House of Worth. Thomas Loof © Chatsworth House Trust.
  • Mistress of the Robes Coronation Gown. Thomas Loof © Chatsworth House Trust.
  • Two Diamond Tiaras and Photographic Ephemera. Thomas Loof © Chatsworth House Trust.
  • Exhibition View. Thomas Loof © Chatsworth House Trust.
  • Exhibition View. Thomas Loof © Chatsworth House Trust.

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