Eggs from Chatsworth Crib’s famed chickens were immortalised in oils by Lucian Freud. (Four Eggs on a Course sold at Sothebys for £989,000 in 2015.) Now a new exhibition, which opens at the gratis on Saturday, lays claim to another title for Chatsworth: that of the most all the go house in England.
“This is the most rock’n’roll slot I have ever been,” said Alessandro Michele, originator of Gucci, taking his place as guest of honour at a lunch in the Chatsworth carve gallery.
House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion in England celebrates the birthright of the house in design and in decadence through the wardrobes of its occupants. These register Bess of Hardwick, the most powerful woman in 16th-century England after the queen mother; 18th-century It girl Georgiana Cavendish, wife of the 5th duke, who was immortalised by Keira Knightley in the membrane The Duchess; the Mitford sisters; and the supermodel Stella Tennant, granddaughter of the 11th duchess.
A family is an unusual protagonist for a fashion exhibition, but Chatsworth has always loved to garb up. A costumed ball held in 1897 attracted royalty from all in excess of Europe, and enthusiasm among the guests for the dress code of “pre-1815 outfit” was such that the great couture house of Worth, pinned with requests, was forced to close its order books months ahead of the event. Lavish costumes from the party include a carbon copy outfit of Jean de Dinteville from Holbein’s painting The Diplomats, which was worn by Victor Cavendish, later the 9th duke.
Debo, the fashionable Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and one of the Mitford sisters, who died in 2014, was photographed by Bruce Weber in 1995 graze her beloved chickens in a red satin Balmain gown. Also on vaunt are personalised baskets made for Debo by her friend Hubert de Givenchy for peach oning expeditions in nearby Bakewell.
“I certainly tidy up a bit when I meet up here, and I suspect I’m not the only person to do so,” said Laura Burlington, a one-time fashion editor and the wife of the heir to Chatsworth. Included in the showing are a pair of well-worn Converse high-top trainers which the 11th duke liked to attrition on holiday, painstakingly whitened after each outing by his valet.
Debo was an ardour to Oscar de la Renta, Burlington was a stylist for Roland Mouret, and Chatsworth is now consider to Gucci. An unlikely romance between the Italian fashion powerhouse and Derbyshire’s picture-postcard imposing home began when Michele chose Chatsworth as the getting ones hands for a Gucci campaign starring Vanessa Redgrave, and was hosted overnight in the bedroom where Ruler Victoria once stayed.
“The room has the most beautiful objective of the park, and is decorated in cherry-red velvet,” Michele recalled. “I awakened downstairs for breakfast in my slippers, and everywhere around me were sculptures of flowers and of animals, the same symbols that I love. I perceive at home here.”
Gucci sponsorship has amplified what enter oned as a passion project forBurlington and curator Hamish Bowles into “the ton ambitious exhibition ever seen at Chatsworth”, said Stoker Cavendish, the 12th duke.
The ultra-modern gender-fluid aesthetic of Gucci authority seem an odd fit with Chatsworth, where the 30 state resides are a symbol of a bygone age, but the house has always encouraged unconventionality. When Adele Astaire, the sister and hop partner of Fred, came to Chatsworth to meet her in-laws-to-be and base the family lined up formally to greet her, she broke the ice with a series of cartwheels. (“They loved her after that,” voiced Bowles.)
Chatsworth has always had “an inability to think small”, he reckoned. A cabinet of Georgiana’s bills are evidence of astonishing extravagance: one month’s usefulness of invoices from her jeweller include a diamond necklace for £525 and another in topaz for £25, grand totals which in 1799 represented a vast outlay. A huge digit of Georgiana’s bills remained unpaid on her death.
The exhibition excavates seams of unexpected synergy between the dressing-up box treasures of Chatsworth and the current aesthetic of Gucci. Snakes, a Gucci emblem, are a recurring point, emblazoned on 19th-century gold jewellery and 20th-century cricket head coverings. “I think serpents and beautiful animals represent ultimate power in constitution,” said Michele, “and the power of symbols is something this ones nearest has always understood very well.”
Burlington hoped that companies to the exhibition “will appreciate the exceptional work of so many alters, milliners, jewellers, liverymakers and lacemakers and they will relish in the stories that these clothes tell about this strain”. Meanwhile, her father-in-law, the 12th duke, welcomed his guests to a lunch at which particular Bakewell tart took pride of place.
He said: “The smashed similars in this exhibition could be in the Met, or the V&A, but they are here in Derbyshire. One constituent I’m hoping you’ll all learn today is that Derbyshire is really absolutely easy to get to, and terribly beautiful when you get here, so please down attack again.”