Bowes Museum saves a piece of history

GLAMOROUS 1930s evening dresses have come to a North East museum after a temporary export ban prevented their sale abroad.

An example of one of the dresses by Madeleine Vionnet

GLAMOROUS 1930s evening dresses have come to a North East museum after a temporary export ban prevented their sale abroad.

The three examples of haute couture, created by the eminent Parisian fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet, are part of a collection worn by British socialite Lady Foley. The dresses would have been lost to the nation were it not for a successful collaboration between three museums.

In order to save the whole collection, the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, County Durham, formed a consortium with London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, which bought four dresses, and the Fashion Museum, Bath, which purchased two.

The acquisition of the nine dresses was supported by the Art Fund, which gave a total of £102,527 towards the collection, and £71,000 from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund. The Bowes Museum raised £125,016.89 to buy three of the gowns.

The UK’s leading independent art charity, The Art Fund, allocated £59,017 to the Bowes , The Friends of The Bowes Museum gave £40,000, the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund £21,000 and £5,000 was raised from private donors.

The collection as a whole represents a rare group of Vionnet designs for a British client, which has remained in private hands until now.

All the dresses were originally bought and worn by Lady Foley between 1929 and 1938. She is listed in The Times Social Register as having travelled to Paris frequently in the early 1930s. Vionnet championed fabrics that were luxurious and sensual, which expertly draped the body, using the bias-cutting technique which she perfected and the Bowes Museum’s dresses are outstanding examples of her work.

They consist of a gold tulle evening dress with extravagant use of gold embroidery; a striking blue and red poppy printed silk chiffon design and a sophisticated black Chantilly lace creation with bold appliqué of black velvet bows.

Joanna Hashagen, keeper of costume and textiles at the Bowes Museum, said: “We have no examples of work by Vionnet and she is underrepresented in public collections in this country as a whole. There were certainly no examples of her work in museums in the North of England until now.

“These dresses are evocative of a particular era and are very beautiful objects. They are superb examples of both Vionnet’s sophisticated design and her craftsmanship, which will be appreciated by our visitors.”

The museum’s interest in French couture reflects one of the passions of its co-founder, Joséphine Bowes; a fashionable Parisian who shopped mainly at Worth, the leading couturier of the day. All her dress bills from the Paris couturiers she patronized survive in the museum’s archive.

The acquisition of the three dresses comes at a significant time for the Bowes Museum, with the creation of a new Textiles & Dress Gallery due for completion next spring.


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