IN THE HOUSE

CHATSWORTH, ONE OF BRI­TAIN’S MOST POP­U­LAR STATELY HOMES, IS THE SITE AND AND SUB­JECT OF A GLO­RI­OUS EX­HI­BI­TION OF FASH­ION, ART AND HIGH SO­CI­ETY OVER MORE THAN FIVE CEN­TURIES.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY FIONA MCCARTHY

It’s hard to imag­ine any­thing mak­ing the ex­tra­or­di­nary rooms at Chatsworth House, home to the Cavendish fam­ily and seat of the dukes of Devon­shire since 1549, any more beau­ti­ful – but a new ex­hi­bi­tion has done just that. In House Style: Five Cen­turies of Fash­ion at Chatsworth, room af­ter room has been brought to life with col­lec­tions of ready-to-wear, cou­ture and fam­ily mem­o­ra­bilia, much of which had been gath­er­ing dust in the cof­fers of Chatsworth’s in-house tex­tile de­part­ment.

One room’s ceil­ing and walls are painted with Louis La­guerre’s scenes from Julius Cae­sar’s life; an­other is lined en­tirely in stamped and gilded leather; an­other is hung with 17th-cen­tury Mort­lake ta­pes­tries. When cloth­ing and jewellery, art and old let­ters, fam­ily por­traits and hu­mor­ous heir­looms are set against these lav­ish in­te­ri­ors, vis­i­tors are im­mersed in an­other world from the mo­ment they step into the Painted Hall.

“More than any­thing, we wanted to bring to­gether the great char­ac­ters of the past and present who have in­hab­ited and an­i­mated these rooms through the po­tency of cloth­ing and ac­cou­trements,” says cu­ra­tor Hamish Bowles, in­ter­na­tional edi­tor-at-large at Amer­i­can Vogue. “Since child­hood I’ve been mes­merised by the idea of his­toric cos­tume and what it can tell about the way peo­ple lived.”

It feels as if many of Chatsworth’s most no­table char­ac­ters might be stand­ing right be­side you, from the strik­ingly beau­ti­ful 18th-cen­tury “Em­press of Fash­ion” Ge­or­giana, Duchess of Devon­shire, to the late Dowa­ger Duchess, Deb­o­rah “Debo” Cavendish, the youngest of the fa­mous Mit­ford sis­ters, who passed away in 2014.

The spon­sor­ship of Gucci has “en­abled us to think big­ger, much big­ger than we’ve dared to think be­fore”, says the 12th Duke of Devon­shire (born Pere­grine, known as Stoker), stand­ing with his wife Amanda on the Great Stairs. WISH is be­ing given an exclusive sneak pre­view a few days be­fore the ex­hi­bi­tion’s open­ing in the last week of March (it will run un­til Oc­to­ber 22). It’s just the be­gin­ning of a three-year col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Ital­ian fash­ion house to sup­port cul­tural activities on the es­tate. Al­ready cre­ative di­rec­tor Alessan­dro Michele, a con­fessed An­glophile, has shot the cam­paign film for Gucci’s Cruise 2017 col­lec­tion with Vanessa Red­grave in Chatsworth’s fa­mous 14,000 hectares of grounds, land­scaped by Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown.

“Chatsworth has a way of draw­ing in ta­lented, cre­ative peo­ple,” says Laura Cavendish, Count­ess of Burling­ton, former model and now wife of the Duke’s son and heir Wil­liam, Earl of Burling­ton. In­deed Chatsworth is one of Bri­tain’s best loved his­tor­i­cal homes, at­tract­ing more than 600,000 vis­i­tors each year to see the house and its mag­nif­i­cent col­lec­tion of around 4000 art­works. Each year Sotheby’s holds its Be­yond Lim­its sculp­ture ex­hi­bi­tion in the gar­dens.

The idea of ex­plor­ing Chatsworth’s fash­ion her­itage came six years ago when Lady Burling­ton went in search for a chris­ten­ing robe for her el­dest son, James. The count­ess had been friends with Bowles since he styled her for a shoot for Harper’s & Queen many years ago, and he was the first per­son she thought to call.

“It’s been the be­gin­ning of a won­der­ful jour­ney for me and I’m so lucky to have found an ally in Hamish,” says Lady Burling­ton. “He is an ex­cep­tional per­son who un­der­stands the se­crets that clothes can tell, he’s like a sleuth, go­ing in­side them to look at the zips and seams.”

“Of course, she had me at ‘come to Chatsworth for the week­end’,” Bowles says. Rum­mag­ing through Chatsworth’s wardrobe and mu­ni­ment rooms, gold vaults, clos­ets, cup­boards and at­tics was “a dream come true for me”. Through racks and racks, and boxes and boxes, of chris­ten­ing and coro­na­tion robes, im­mac­u­late liv­er­ies and mar­shal uni­forms, ball­go­wns and jew­els, “in ev­ery in­stance we were think­ing about pieces that would am­plify the vis­i­tor’s ex­pe­ri­ence and an­i­mate these rooms”, he says.

The Devon­shires have long been arts pa­trons and the cur­rent Duke and Duchess are renowned for their love of con­tem­po­rary art and sculp­ture. But it’s Chatsworth’s his­tory of be­guil­ing, in­tel­li­gent and dy­namic women that makes this ex­hi­bi­tion so in­trigu­ing.

El­iz­a­beth Hard­wick, “Bess of Hard­wick”, pa­tron to El­iz­a­beth I, be­came head of the Cavendish fam­ily when she mar­ried Sir Wil­liam Cavendish, Trea­surer of the King’s Cham­ber, in 1547. With him, she built Hard­wick Hall (gifted by the fam­ily to the Na­tional Trust in 1959) and Chatsworth in the then un­tamed Der­byshire hills. Later ad­di­tions to the fam­ily in­cluded Fred As­taire’s sis­ter Adele, who mar­ried Lord Charles Cavendish, and JFK’s sis­ter Kath­leen “Kick” Kennedy, whose mar­riage to the Mar­quess of Hart­ing­ton lasted only four months – he was killed on ac­tive duty in 1944.

Bowles is par­tic­u­larly ef­fu­sive about Debo Cavendish’s wardrobe at the old vicarage, where the Dowa­ger Duchess lived af­ter her hus­band Andrew, the 11th Duke, died in 2004. It was full of “the won­ders of mid-cen­tury Parisian haute cou­ture jostling with pieces found at Marks & Spencer and agri­cul­tural fairs, be­cause as Debo main­tained ‘noth­ing in be­tween counted’,” Bowles says. One of their great­est finds was a crum­pled pale pink dress crammed into the back of a drawer. “My heart missed a beat as I knew in­stantly it was a Chris­tian Dior dress from haute cou­ture spring/ sum­mer 1953.” Debo had or­dered the “Carmel” satin ball gown that year to wear dur­ing a stay at Wind­sor Cas­tle for Royal As­cot.

This mix of ex­trav­a­gance and thrift is ev­ery­where. Along­side Debo’s Stubbs & Woot­ton vel­vet slip­pers printed with Elvis’s face, and Nor­man Parkin­son’s por­trait of Stoker and his sis­ter Emma wear­ing match­ing sailor suits in 1952, there is an ex­trav­a­gant Chris­tian Dior haute cou­ture dress from 1998 (which Emma’s su­per­model daugh­ter Stella Ten­nant wore on the cat­walk) next to Maria Cosway’s paint­ing of Duchess Ge­or­giana as Diana (circa 1781-1782). Sub­scrip­tion tokens to the theatre, a gold dog col­lar and cameos backed with plaited hu­man hair are at home with an elab­o­rately de­tailed Vivi­enne West­wood dress, in­spired by the shape and heavy em­broi­dery of a dress im­mor­talised in a por­trait of El­iz­a­beth I – which, of course, is also here.

There are copies of Ge­or­giana’s eye-pop­ping un­paid bills for jewellery and a col­lec­tion of the late Duke Andrew’s famed motto jumpers, em­broi­dered by Lords of Burling­ton Ar­cade, with wit­ti­cisms such as “Never Marry a Mit­ford” and “Far Bet­ter Not” (the 8th Duke’s re­sponse to any­one propos­ing a scheme or plan he didn’t like). Ev­i­dence of up­cy­cling is here too: in a panic over what to wear to Queen El­iz­a­beth II’s coro­na­tion, Debo rum­maged through Chatsworth’s store rooms with her mother-in-law Duchess Mary, and

“He un­der­stands the se­crets that clothes can tell, he’s like a sleuth, go­ing in­side them to look at the zips and seams.”

re­pur­posed a peer­ess robe in crim­son silk vel­vet, miniver and er­mine fur edg­ing first worn by Queen Ade­laide at Wil­liam IV’s coro­na­tion in 1831 (this stands at the head of the stairs of the Painted Hall in the ex­hi­bi­tion). The 6th Duke’s Garter Star is shown bereft of its di­a­monds, which were plun­dered to help make a sparkling crown with no fewer than 1041 stones for Count­ess Louise von Al­ten, for­merly Duchess of Manchester, who mar­ried the 8th Duke in 1892.

Along­side the stately dresses and re­gal head­wear are con­tem­po­rary pieces such as Lady Burling­ton’s dresses by Christo­pher Kane, Roland Mouret and Vete­ments, as well as the cur­rent Duchess’s im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of hats (ac­cu­mu­lated over 25 years from her long as­so­ci­a­tion with Royal As­cot), a Givenchy bolero she wore on her wed­ding day, and her col­lec­tion of Andrew Grima vin­tage jew­els.

Exclusive to the ex­hi­bi­tion are also two mag­nif­i­cent gowns de­signed by Gucci’s Michele for the ladies of Chatsworth House: for the Duchess, an el­e­gant satin in­tri­cately em­broi­dered with flo­ral mo­tifs in­spired by the work of 17th-cen­tury Ger­man en­to­mol­o­gist and il­lus­tra­tor Maria Sibylla Me­rian, teamed with the Dowa­ger Duchess’s col­lec­tion of whim­si­cal in­sect brooches; for Lady Burling­ton, a chic floor-length vel­vet gown em­bel­lished with pearls, silk and dia­man­tés.

Com­plet­ing the fash­ion pic­ture is Stella Ten­nant’s “dress­ing-up box” – over­flow­ing with McQueen, Martin Margiela, Anna Moli­nari, Prada and Hel­mut Lang, it also in­cludes her mother Emma’s late-60s Mary Quant dress. Loans from con­tacts in the fash­ion world in­clude a 1996 haute cou­ture Chanel evening coat with 1200 hours’ worth of hand em­broi­dery by Mai­son Les­sage, and the Christo­pher Kane gold lamé evening jacket and trousers Ten­nant wore to the 2012 Lon­don Olympics open­ing cer­e­mony.

With cre­ative di­rec­tion from opera di­rec­tor and de­signer Pa­trick Kin­month and art di­rec­tor An­to­nio Mon­freda, the ex­hi­bi­tion’s sto­ry­telling has great the­atri­cal flair. The cur­rent Duke and Duchess’s love of all things con­tem­po­rary “freed them up to do some­thing quite rad­i­cal”, says Lady Burling­ton of Kin­month’s mod­ern Lucite dis­play cases and the recre­ation of scenes from “The Party of the Cen­tury”, the fa­mous 1897 Chatsworth House Ball – in at­ten­dance were the who’s who of Bri­tish aris­toc­racy and the courts of Europe and Rus­sia in “al­le­gor­i­cal or his­tor­i­cal pre-1815” dress. Duchess Louise went as Zeno­bia, Queen of Palmyra, and her be­jew­elled, in­tri­cately de­tailed gown stands vi­brant against the bro­cade-lined walls.

Kin­month and Mon­freda have used each room to great ef­fect. In the chapel, the Cir­cle of Life plays out with a mix of chris­ten­ing, wed­ding and fu­neral garb, over­looked by An­to­nio Ver­rio’s 17th-cen­tury paint­ing The In­credulity of St. Thomas and Damien Hirst’s sculp­ture Saint Bartholomew, Ex­quis­ite Pain 2008. In the Oak Room next door, the 17th-cen­tury dark ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal oak pan­elling in­stalled by the 6th Duke has in­spired a col­lec­tion of black dresses that echo Bess of Hard­wick’s dra­matic 16th-cen­tury style, in­clud­ing a 2006 Ni­co­las Gh­esquière vo­lu­mi­nous-sleeved coat for Ba­len­ci­aga worn by the Dowa­ger Duchess in a Bruce Weber shoot with Ten­nant in Love Mag­a­zine in 2010.

“Pa­trick and An­to­nio un­der­stood im­me­di­ately that de­spite its trea­sures, Chatsworth is not a mu­seum, it’s a liv­ing, breath­ing thing pop­u­lated and an­i­mated by a fas­ci­nat­ing cast of char­ac­ters, some of them ghostly, oth­ers very real and vi­tal,” says Bowles.

Lady Burling­ton hopes House Style will in­spire “Chatsworth to be­come a part of a wider con­ver­sa­tion with a new au­di­ence that re­volves around all the arts, not just fash­ion, bring­ing vis­i­tors closer to some of the won­der­ful char­ac­ters who have lived here, as it has cer­tainly brought them closer to me,” she says. “It’s cer­tainly made me re­alise that at Chatsworth, the more you look, the more there is to see.” chatsworth.org

“Chatsworth is not a mu­seum, it’s a liv­ing, breath­ing thing pop­u­lated and an­i­mated by a fas­ci­nat­ing cast of char­ac­ters.”

Left, Devon­shire tweed out­fits dis­played in the Sabine Room, whose walls de­pict the ab­duc­tion of the Sabine women; this page, a silk or­ganza dress from Christo­pher Kane’s autumn-win­ter 2014 col­lec­tion

The Painted Hall dis­plays, in the cen­tre, the Mis­tress of the Robes gown worn to the 1911, 1937 and 1953 coro­na­tions and, in the dis­tance, the peer­ess robe worn by Deb­o­rah Mit­ford, Duchess of Devon­shire, in 1953.

The present Duchess’s 1970s Ru­mak and Sam­ple evening dress in silk, cot­ton, satin, lace and lurex; behind, left, Debo’s Dior dress from 1953, and right, a Burberry silk and os­trich feather dress worn by Stella Ten­nant

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