The Duchess at Berrington Hall

The Duchess at Berrington Hall, until June 30th 2014

In rural Herefordshire, amongst acres of field and farmland, Henry Holland’s perfectly formed and beautifully designed mansion, Berrington Hall, is deserving of its accolade ‘a Georgian gem’. Most would consider this an accurate description but some find the austere design in stark contrast with its elegant, jewel-like interiors. Almost everyone will agree that, of late, a little bit of Georgian glamour has been weaving its way through the house in the form of a few wonderful costume exhibitions; more recently the exhibition of costumes from the 2008 film The Duchess, on loan from COSPROP, have been stealing the show. The costumes currently on display at Berrington Hall were worn by Ralph Fiennes and Keira Knightley who played The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire respectively, in the 2008 motion picture directed by Saul Gibb. The costumes were designed by Michael O’Connor and earned the designer both the Academy award and BAFTA in 2009. It comes as no surprise as the costumes are breathtakingly beautiful and elegant and are more than fitting displayed against the elegant Georgian spaces within Berrington Hall. On the day of installation Costume Curator, Althea Mackenzie, and Conservation & Engagement Assistant, Chloe Reynolds, were on hand to dress the purpose-built mannequins as worn by Knightley in the 2008 film. In the gallery below you can see exactly how the shape has been built up on the mannequin and how no detail was spared by the costume design team.

 The Wedding Dress

This sack back dress, with folds at the back falling from the shoulders is an excellent illustration of formal dress of this time (1770s).  The 3 dimensional trimming, made from the same fabric as the body of the gown is typical as of course are the skirts held out horizontally by panniers or hooped petticoats. In the film The Duke is seen to cut the wedding dress from his new Duchess, not only was this scene evocative but also accurate, it would not be unusual to be sewn into your dress. Geogiana’s wedding took place in secret with only several guests to avoid throngs of curious onlookers. The costume reflects the understated simplicity of an 18th century wedding. It is cleam silk with a sack back and decorated stomacher, pinned to the corset beneath. It has a separate under skirt. “Diamonds” decorate the center front of the stomacher.

The Duchess Bath Park Day Dress

The Duchess of Devonshire was well known for her beauty, charisma and as a leader of fashion.  In the film the clothes illustrate the changing fashions of the times.  Starting with sack back and panniered dresses the style moves on to the polonaise style of this dress.  With its flounced petticoat and looped up robe this dress epitomises the style favoured around 1780. The move from heavy brocades to lighter silks like taffeta work well treated in this way The style is not only fashionable it is also practical lifting the hems up and away from dirt and dust on the ground. Notice also the frayed edges to the ruffles on the robe, this is also a style detail from this time many ruffles were finished this way or were pinked which gave a looser softer ‘Rococo’ look.

The Duchess at Berrington Hall, until June 30th 2014


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Mike Rendell says:

    Hi Ellie. Great to meet you – and what a stunning day out! Loved the building and grounds – and thought that the various displays were fascinating. I hope that the Pride and Prejudice costume exhibition is as good – I have made a date in the diary!
    Mike (Georgian Gent).


    1. Thank you so much Mike & it was lovely to meet you too-I’m sure we’ll cross paths again soon 🙂


  2. Emanuele B. says:

    Hi Ellie,
    my name is Emanuele. Thank you so very much for this amazing post! I can’t believe I’m the first to comment, iIt seems impossible not to celebrate these absolutely stunning costumes from The Duchess movie! I am in love with them since 2008! The fabrics, the silhouette.. and what about the details of the stomachers of the sack back gowns? Wow!
    Your pictures of the undergarments are fantastic, you don’t often have the opportunity to see those that originally went under a specific movie dress.
    The post is really enjoyable and exhaustive, even though, being passionate in historical fashion, I wonder if these dresses were made using historical sewing techniques or not. Aren’t them? My idea is that they’re not, because of the logistics of a movie production (and budget), but who knows! Would be great another post with pictures of the dresses are not included in the previous one! I can hope for? 🙂
    BRAVO to all the team of Berrington Hall for the great work and many congratulations to you for this blog: it’s wonderful recognize many historical pieces I’ve seen before in books like “Costume in Detail” by Nancy Bradfield and “Patterns of Fashion” by Janet Arnold, specially if they’re so well described by a enthusiastic person like you. The Charles Paget Wade costume collection looks really great and I’ll wait impatiently for the next blog posts! Thank you again!
    Emanuele B.


  3. What a treat to have a look at these sumptuous dresses. Thank you for sharing!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s