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Classic gowns designed by some of the most famous names in world couture are on display at the Fashion Museum in Bath throughout this year.
They include Madeleine Vionnet, Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior, as well as Yves St Laurent, Ossie Clark, Bill Gibb and Alexander McQueen.
The new Great Names of Fashion gallery display showcases some 20 works by these stellar designers – principally glamorous evening dresses worn by some of the leading personalities of their day.
Councillor Ben Stevens (Lib-Dem, Widcombe), the Cabinet Member for Sustainable Development, said: “Fashion is not just about the clothes we wear, what’s in and what’s out, it’s also the story of originality and master craftsmanship in cloth. Fashion is made up of beautiful fabrics, great design and inventive ideas, all realised in 3D by supremely talented and skilled men and women.
“This is what the Fashion Museum collection is all about: beautiful, exquisite, clever, inventive, astounding, amazing, intriguing items of dress, created by master craftsmen and women, whether in couture houses, tailoring and dressmaking workshops, or at home with needle and thread.
Fashion Museum Manager, Rosemary Harden, said: “In every area of human endeavour there are ‘big hitters’ such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh, J S Bach and Beethoven, George Best and Pele.
“The Fashion Museum displays next year are about the work of the biggest names in fashion: Dior and Balenciaga, Lucile and Lanvin, Schiaparelli and Vionnet, Yves Saint Laurent and Ossie Clark, Bill Gibb and Alexander McQueen.
The work of these leading designers in fashion history is right here, right now in Bath, at the Council’s Fashion Museum, for everybody to see.”
The Fashion Museum is located in the Grade 1-listed Georgian Assembly Rooms in the Upper Town in Bath, near to the Royal Crescent in Bath.
Some of the works on display include:
Madeleine Vionnet (1876 – 1975), one of the most revered of all the Parisian couturiers, was known for her skill in cutting garments on the cross grain of the fabric. This display, however, shows how her originality extended beyond pattern cutting to new ideas about decoration and embellishment.
Rather than using embroidery for small feature details on a garment (as in the past), the whole of the cream silk net dress is covered with giant-sized embroidered swirls of cream silk floss embroidery on a delicate cream net ground, which makes a striking and bold visual statement.
The evening dress on display was worn by Molly the Rani of Pudukkottai (1894 – 1967) in 1929, only a year or so after she was tragically widowed in 1928 at the age of 34. Molly’s husband, the Raj, had abdicated as ruler of the Southern Indian princely state in the early 1920s, and the couple lived as part of glittering society in the south of France. Molly, who was born an Australian, bought her clothes at the finest French couturiers, and Vionnet was a particular favourite.
In 1967, Molly’s son Martanda donated her lavish wardrobe to the Fashion Museum (then known as the Museum of Costume, Bath). It included classic gowns by Callot Soeurs, Paquin, Patou, Vionnet, and Schiaparelli. The swirl patterned evening dress on display was originally worn with a silk crepe evening cape, decorated with feature long cream braided tassels.
Elsa Schiaparelli (1890 – 1973), also worked in Paris in the 1930s although she was Italian by birth. The display will include a powder blue silk crepe slender-line evening dress, decorated with an all-over pattern of embroidered motifs of the crossed keys of Saint Peter. The dress has a curved yoke made entirely of pearls and jewel-like beads.
The evening dress originally belonged to Lady Jane Clark (1927- 1976), wife of Sir Kenneth Clark (1903 – 1983), Director of the National Gallery in London. The story goes that the Keys of Saint Peter dress was Lady Jane’s fashion choice as so many of the pictures in the National Gallery depicted the saint, who by tradition guards the entrance to heaven. Elsa Schiaparelli herself also wore a version of this dress, but in orange rather than blue. That dress is now part of the collection at Philadelphia Museum of Art in the United States of America.
Schiaparelli was, like Vionnet, a master of the inventive cut but she is famed too for her witty use of figurative details and embellishment, such as decoration shaped like giant colourful insects, or painted ceramic mermaids as buttons. She was part of the inner circle of French Surrealists in the 1930s and her work is often taken as an extension of this movement in art history.
Christian Dior (1905 – 1957) dominated French couture in the 1950s until his early death in 1957. The display includes one of his grandest of evening dresses, a style called ‘Henri Sauguet’ from 1950. The gown is made of yards and yards of cream silk tulle in knife edged pleats which, by some strange transformation, creates a diaphanous feel, at odds with the sharp folds in the fabric. The gown is strapless and is worn with an over skirt in rose-pink design silk chine´ which rests low over the hips.
Worn by Madame Massigli, the wife of the French ambassador to the Court of St James in London, her role included presenting the very finest French couture as both a hostess and a distinguished guest in English society of the day.