House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth



The Devonshire House Ball in 1897 was described as “the party of the century,” attended by the crème de la crème of British Society. Louisa, Duchess of Devonshire had organized the costumed masquerade to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee around the theme “allegorical or historical costume before 1815.” She came as Zenobia, the warrior Queen of Palmyra, dressed in an embroidered gown with a sweeping train created by the House of Worth and wore an elaborate headdress with amethysts and pearls.

The headdress has not survived; however, as the Lafayette photography studio had been hired to document the ball, the jeweler CW Sellors has been able to use the photographers’ negatives to make a new one. It is now presented along with the original gown and six other dresses worn at the famed ball as part of a new exhibition at Chatsworth: “House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth.”

With couture dresses, christening gowns, coronation robes and tiaras, the exhibition tells the story of a rich sartorial heritage revealing a cast of glamorous characters.


Six years in the making, the scenography makes full use of the extraordinary decor and artworks (including works by Thomas Gainsborough, and Joshua Reynolds) that pepper the grand country house, with the exhibition organized around several themes, from Coronation Dress to Country Living and Entertaining at Chatsworth.

The long “Georgiana” corridor, filled with portraits of the 18th-century Duchess of Devonshire, provides the setting for a pale, puffy ball gown created by John Galliano for Dior, worthy of the flamboyant Duchess, while a Christian Dior 1953 pink satin gown is the centerpiece in the State Dining Room, and a Stephen Jones fascinator made from the pages of a Robert Burns poetry book is displayed in the library.


An array of christening gowns, mourning clothes, and family wedding dresses are displayed in the baroque chapel, joining a Damien Hirst’s Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain and Antonio Verrio’s 17th-century The Incredulity of St. Thomas.

Sponsored by Gucci, the exhibition also features two dresses especially created by its artistic director, Alessandro Michele, for the current Duchess of Devonshire and her daughter-in-law, Lady Burlington, who spearheaded the planning of the exhibition after learning of the breadth of the fashion archives at Chatsworth while she was looking for a christening gown for her son.


Patrick Kinmonth, who co-curated the exhibition, commented: “The patina of Chatsworth House itself is one of the greatest treasures of the collections, and looking at the surfaces and materials of clothes worn over hundreds of years in these very rooms proves to be a novel way to rediscover both the house and the wonderful things in it.”

“Clothes and personal objects (especially jewels), in turn bring ghosts and visions of remarkable characters to the surface of the place, and we hope to conjure the presence of these remarkable men and women who have animated, loved and created this unique ensemble of great art, furniture and personal style in its many layers,” he added.

The exhibition runs until October 22, 2017.