This New Gucci-Sponsored Exhibition Explores 5 Centuries Of Fashion

This weekend, an extravagant exhibition celebrating the couture designs worn by various members of the British aristocracy opens at Chatsworth House, the Derbyshire mansion owned by the Duchess and Duke of Devonshire. For House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth, the magnificent home will display the designer dresses, tiaras, headdresses, wedding gowns, coronation robes and 19th-century fancy dress costumes worn over the years by notorious and noted characters from the house’s history.
Home to the Cavendish family since 1549, you may recognise Chatsworth House from the most recent film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice – it was in fact the fictional inspiration for Mr Darcy’s Pemberley estate. Many a distinguished guest has walked the rooms of this stately home; in 1897, the 8th Duke of Devonshire and his wife hosted a seasonal ball here that became known as ‘the party of the century’. Six of the dresses worn by guests have been brought together in this exhibition for the first time since the soirée. Other esteemed visitors to the house include Adele Astaire, sister and dancing partner of Fred; JFK’s sister, Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy; one of the infamous Mitford sisters; and Stella Tennant.
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The house has always been associated with fashion. Georgiana Cavendish, 5th Duchess of Devonshire, was a socialite, author and activist, most recently played by Keira Knightley in The Duchess. Georgiana was a style icon, often wearing fabrics and cuts ahead of the crowd, and people looked to her for inspiration. The great-great-great-great aunt of Princess Diana, the tragic lives of both women are often compared – “There were three of us in this marriage” can just as easily be applied to Georgiana’s marriage to William Cavendish; her life was generally marked by debt, ill health and sadness.
When the history of the house is so well documented, why host the exhibition now? The concept was born when Lady Burlington (who is married to the next Cavendish in line) browsed the Chatsworth textile archive for christening gown fabric for her son. She invited Hamish Bowles, editor-at-large for American Vogue to view the extraordinary amount of clothing amassed at the house; he then decided that such a culturally valuable collection should be shared with the public. Bowles, who curated the exhibition, worked alongside creative directors Patrick Kinmonth and Antonio Monfreda, the duo who brought us the 2005 exhibition of photographs of Princess Di by Mario Testino, as well as the Met Museum’s 2004 Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century.
So what can you expect to see at the exhibition? Over 100 items will be on display, from Duchess Georgiana’s gold brooch and crocodile shoes owned by the 11th Duke, to a gown worn at the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Gucci is also sponsoring the event, which comes as no surprise considering the beautiful home was the backdrop to the Gucci Cruise 2017 campaign. Filmed in Chatsworth House and grounds, the dreamy video has a quintessentially British vibe, and stars Vanessa Redgrave. The exhibition will display two dresses designed by the brand’s creative director Alessandro Michele, inspired by the naturalist illustrations in the Merian books found in the house.
Perhaps the most exciting room, however, will be the grand finale, in which over 30 evening gowns designed by Chanel, Balmain, Vivienne Westwood, Dior, Tom Ford, Erdem and many more are on display. If period dramas, stately homes with exquisite grounds, and divine couture pique your interest, this exhibition will transport you to the opulent world of the Cavendish family – providing the perfect escape from daily life.