I’ve been visiting Chatsworth since I was a little girl. I live relatively local (well an hour away) so I try to get in a couple of trips a year, one in Summer and one for its Christmas show extravaganza every December which has become a family affair.
I’ve always admired the Devonshire’s for their entrepreneurialism – whilst many houses have fallen into disrepair and have been gifted to the National Trust, Chatsworth has remained in private ownership and has gone from strength to strength – largely due to the late Duchess of Devonshire’s foresight.
Chatsworth is very definitely one of the most impressive historical houses in Britain and the gardens and the grounds are something to behold. If I look in childhood purses (which I have carefully stored) I know I will find sprigs of lavender stolen from my childhood adventures in Chatsworth. Back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s we were allowed to play in the cascade fountain (you are probably not allowed to do anymore due to ‘health and safety’ issues) and we gleefully rolled down the hills after eating lavish picnics.
In the last few years, Chatsworth has ramped up its Christmas offering with themed creations and visiting Christmas markets. It has celebrated Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wind in the Willows, Nursery Rhymes and this year, The Nutcracker – literally no expense is spared as the house is wrapped up in whatever theme is on offer – it’s very definitely the thing I look forward to most every Christmas.
This year, Chatsworth has attempted and pulled off something very, very special. HouseStyle: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth, which runs from 25th March until 22nd October 2017 is INCREDIBLE and is a MUST SEE if you’re a lover of history and fashion.
I’ve seen many fashion exhibitions but this is quite possible the best I’ve ever seen – better than Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty – and that takes some beating. I don’t know whether it’s the setting, or the fact that these outfits were actually worn at Chatsworth that makes it so special? Regardless, the curating, the theming of each room and the lavishness of the outfits and the stories behind them is a wondrous sight.
The idea for the exhibition came from Laura Burlington (ex model and fashion editor), who is married to Bill Burlington, heir to the 12th Duke of Devonshire. She was searching for a christening robe for her son, which began with a visit to the house’s textile department (I think my house should have one of these!). What she found was dozens of windowless storerooms packed with white boxes; each piece had a handwritten label with details of its provenance. Nobody, not even the family had any idea of the extent of the clothes that were in storage there and so HouseStyle: Five Centuries of Fashion was born.
Laura knew she couldn’t curate the exhibition alone so she asked her friend, American Vogue International Editor at Large, Hamish Bowles to assist. Seeing the task at hand, he in turn insisted costume historian and exhibition curator Patrick Kinmonth and his creative partner Antonio Monfredo, were brought in.
What they’ve achieved is simply exquisite. 25 state rooms have been used to exhibit the 100 mannequins dressed in clothes dating back five centuries, with some of the pieces displayed in 10 ft high curved glass cabinets – all amongst the many priceless artefacts owned by the Chatsworth estate, including many pieces of contemporary art.
I don’t know what my favourites are? There are simply too many gorgeous things to mention. Perhaps the most entertaining is the collection of 28 navy jumpers owned by the 11th Duke all bearing one of his slogans including: “All passion spent”, Never argue with a Cadogan”, “Never marry a Mitford” – why Chatsworth hasn’t merchandised these (it has produced some t-shirts) alongside Bella Freud I don’t know?
My favourite outfits are two of Laura’s own dresses (I presume) both by Christopher Kane, alongside two of the costumes from the 1897 Devonshire House Ball which the 8th Duke threw in London to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the dress – which Duchess Louise wore – and was designed by the House of Worth is on display.
A visit to Chatsworth and its surrounding areas is worth a visit at any time of year, but particularly now, since HouseStyle is included in the entrance ticket price. And if for some reason you can’t visit, the book is on sale on Amazon – although I can’t imagine it will go anywhere close to giving you the same experience.
So take my advice and make time to visit, it’s 1000% worth it.