Last Monday morning, I found myself on a cold, 9am train headed to Chesterfield. Bear in mind that I spent 10+ years (unfortunately the prime of my adolescence) at a boarding school in Kent. So you can imagine my mixed feelings of excited nostalgia as I headed to St Pancras Station for the type of early morning train that I was all too familiar with.
I was invited on this day excursion by Sotheby’s who had invited members of the Fashion Trust and some of the designers they support. The plan for the day was to visit the newly opened fashion exhibition at Chatsworth House. I had never visited Chatsworth House, the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire (who I was enjoyed a lovely lunch with), nor am I an expert on fashion-centred exhibitions; As an art-history student I tend to go to more thematic, and medium focused exhibitions, so I was really looking forward to a different exhibition experience.
After the train ride, it was straight on a coach for a short ride to Chatsworth House. As I began to see the stately home from a distance, my mind couldn’t help but jump to scenes from Downtown Abbey or Atonement. A home of that grandeur always has a way of imposing itself on my mind. After a quick coffee, the group began a guided tour of the exhibition, which is entitled: House Style: Five Centuries Of Fashion At Chatsworth. It was curated by Vogue editor, Hamish Bowles, and presents the history of fashion within the Devonshire family. Remember, this family includes a nearly mythical fashion legacy. From the 18th century “Empress of Fashion” Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, to supermodel Stella Tennant, the Devonshire family has an undeniably rich fashion heritage.
I loved how the objects on display were so deeply intrenched within the history of the space they were being displayed in. Even if a dress or suit had not been actively worn at Chatsworth House, the story of its owner maintains a deep connection with the narrative of the home. For example, take Stella Tennant – model, furniture designer, and Cavendish descendent. The feathery, blue, Burberry dress Stella wore to the 2014 Met Ball was on display in the banquet room scene (see below). Although she wore the dress nearly 4,000 miles away on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, it has now become a part of the Cavendish narrative.
So I’m sure all of you Londoners are now thinking to yourselves: is this exhibition really worth a 2 hour train to Chesterfield? YES. I can honestly say it is one of the best fashion exhibitions I have seen in years. House Style covers centuries of the family’s lineage, whilst being able to seamlessly incorporate 17th century coronation attire alongside Vetements. I mean, what else could you want in a single exhibition?