Five centuries of high fashion

Lady Burlington helps put together five centuries of high society fashions, adornments and accessories taht have been retrieved from the Devonshire archives as well as from museums and private collections around the world to pull together Chatsworths biggest exhibition to date, 'House Style' which opens on Saturday. Picture Scott Merrylees
Lady Burlington helps put together five centuries of high society fashions, adornments and accessories taht have been retrieved from the Devonshire archives as well as from museums and private collections around the world to pull together Chatsworths biggest exhibition to date, 'House Style' which opens on Saturday. Picture Scott Merrylees

A unique celebration of fashion at Chatsworth House was inspired by a hunt for a special christening gown.

Denna Garrett has been project co-ordinator on an exhibition, called House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion, that opens at Chatsworth this weekend.

You can really get up close to these things and appreciate the detail

It’s the biggest exhibition ever created at the stately home.

It looks at the clothes worn by such famous figures as 16th-century political powerhouse Bess of Hardwick, 18th-century ‘Empress of Fashion’ Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Fred Astaire’s dancing sister Adele, Mitford sisters Deborah Devonshire and Nancy Mitford, John F Kennedy’s sister Kathleen ‘Kick’ Kennedy and model Stella Tennant.

Denna said: “Lady Burlington was very much the spearhead for this, which began when she was looking for a christening gown for James, her son, who was born in 2010.”

Lady Burlington was amazed at the sheer breadth and depth of the collection of clothing at Chatsworth as box after box appeared out of storage.

“The germ of an idea started,” said Denna.

The former fashion editor at upmarket publication Harper’s Bazaar got in touch with Hamish Bowles, the international editor-at large at American Vogue, who she knew from working with him during her early career.

He has his own extensive collection of fashion and costumes and a huge knowledge of the subject.

They also talked to the Dowager Duchess Deborah Devonshire, who died three years ago, about Chatsworth’s historic clothing collection.

Stella Tennant is Deborah Devonshire’s granddaughter and her wedding dress is on display in the Painted Hall, alongside a 1937 coronation gown, a gold brooch belonging to Duchess Georgiana and the 11th Duke’s crocodile shoes.

Denna said: “There is such a broad range on display.

“It’s grown in scale exponentially to include what has been found and what people are loaning, including museums, designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Christian Dior and Chanel, and there is a real range that will appeal to fashionistas.

“There are also beautiful liveries and real coachman’s outfits with amazing silver lace on, so it’s a broad spectrum, as well as 110 mannequins dotted throughout the visitor route.”

Many more top designers are also represented in the collection, including a three-metre Dior gown that Stella Tennant wore on a 2006 fashion shoot for Vogue with photographer Mario Testino.

It’s being flown in from Paris especially.

Hamish Bowles curated the exhibition alongside Patrick Kinmonth and Antonio Monfreda, the duo behind some of the most memorable fashion exhibitions of recent years.

Denna said: “The staging is on a different scale to anything we’ve done before.” One run of display cases stretches for 23 metres.

Six outfits from what has been called ‘the party of the century’ have been reunited for the first time since they were worn to the Devonshire House Ball in 1897.

Some have come from museum collections.

Every season, the 8th Duke of Devonshire, Spencer Cavendish, and his wife Louise hosted a number of parties and for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee they staged a lavish costume ball.

Costumes had a historical or allegorical theme and all the guests were photographed in their outfits.

Denna said: “Music is playing that was playing on the night and there are images from the Devonshire House ball album.

“You can really get up close to these things and appreciate the detail of the fancy dress.”

Highlights of Chatsworth’s historic collection on display include coronation gowns, the pageboy’s outfit worn for the Queen’s wedding by the current Duke and items taken to the World War One trenches by the 10th Duke, Edward Cavendish, who was present at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

A great coat with ornate frogging on it belonged to Billy Hartington, the Marquess of Hartington and son of the 10th Duke.

He married Kathleen Kennedy in 1944 but she was left a widow when he was killed in action just four months later.

Duchess Georgiana’s influence is seen in the South Sketch Gallery.

One of her dresses is displayed alongside her portrait.

The display in the chapel represents the circle of life, ranging from christening gowns to seven wedding dresses, including the ones worn by Stella Tennant, artist Lady Emma Tennant and Lady Burlington, and mourning clothing.

The State Bedchamber includes some more informal items, such as 22 jumpers with slogans on ordered by the 11th Duke, Andrew Cavendish.

One reads “Never marry a Mitford”.

He also had 11 pairs of pyjamas.

His son, the current Duke, Peregrine Cavendish, gets a look-in with a 1970s suede suit with a red embroidered rose on it.

Denna said: “It gives people an insight. You can’t imagine him wearing that!

“You see this other side of him.”

Ah, the follies of youth.

House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth runs from Saturday to October 22.

Entry is included in the admission price to the house.