February 20, 2020

{That Downton Magic}


I recently visited Biltmore Estate, the latest host of DOWNTON ABBEY: THE EXHIBITION…called an “immersive exhibition that offers a chance to relive the story of the beloved television series—complete with set recreations, exclusive multimedia elements, and an up-close look at more than 50 official costumes.”

In the area showcasing the set recreations, in Biltmore’s new Amherst facility, the exhibition provides a fascinating look at the post-Edwardian era in which the popular TV series was set as well as insights into the remarkable events that shaped the world during this time, such as World War I. As a social historian, I especially enjoyed this broader look into the era.

Of course, as a fashion historian, I headed straight to the costume exhibition at a second location in Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village! A display of more than 50 costumes from the series’ six-season run, but also for the first time, costumes from the 2019 Downton Abbey: The Movie were on display—three ensembles worn by the Royal Family. 
It was especially wonderful to see the extraordinary “up close” details of Princess Mary’s evening gown (on the right in photo below)—perhaps now my favorite design by costume designer Anna Mary Scott Robbins! (Wish I taken some up close photos!)

However, it was a bit of a disappointment for me that the labels identifying who wore each costume and for what occasion did not include more details of its design—or its designer! (Downton Abbey had four unique costume designers during the various seasons.) So with that in mind, I’ve shared details below about another favorite Anna Robbins design from the finale of the series which was featured at the exhibition—Lady Edith’s wedding gown! (The script is taken from my talk “Vintage Inspiration: The Brides of Downton Abbey”…enjoy!)
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For Lady Edith’s gown for her 1925 New Year’s Eve wedding to Bertie (who went from being his aristocratic cousin’s land manager to Marquess of Hexham practically overnight), Downton Abbey's season six costume designer, Anna Mary Scott Robbins, created a custom-made gown from lacy vintage “parts.”

The designer said that Edith's dress started out as an original Brussels lace dress she found. Then she merged it with Brussels lace yardage found in vintage fairs with two other pieces that had a different, more light, gauzier weight to it. These were cleverly used to create this transparent sheer drop-down to give the dress more length.  She created the sleeves and the neck out of another piece of vintage lace.

Anna wanted the finished dress to be much more delicate, so they cut away the heavier neckline on the original dress. And with attention to such detail, she even wanted to create a soft transition when you see Edith in the dress….“something almost light as air as it came up on her skin and neck."
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Downton Abbey: The Exhibition runs through April 7, 2020 at Biltmore Estate…unless 'tis held over like it has been at the other venues during its run!


January 3, 2020

{Visiting Another Chapter...}


I'm sharing another chapter, divided into several parts, from my ongoing and long-in-the-making book...tentatively titled The Spiritual Mission of a PrincessEnjoy!

Fear and Loathing of Women 
{Part One}

“Diana appeared at the end of her life as a new and confident workingwoman with a political agenda,” observed Dr. Colleen Denney in her study of Princess Diana as a cultural and feminist phenomenon. And during this same time, as the social and political culture was becoming more egalitarian, Jungian professor Andrew Samuels wrote that “Diana emerged as a new kind of leader...she became the visible aspect of long-standing alternative ideas about leadership, which had been dubbed ‘feminine’ or ‘maternal’.” In his exploration of Diana’s influence, Samuels considered the “changing of relations between politicians who lead and citizens who are led is on any thoughtful contemporary agenda, and the Diana phenomenon may be understood as part of this move.” 

Diana was thrilled when the young Tony Blair and his Labor Party won a landslide victory in May of 1997. “His victory,” wrote Tina Brown, “after eighteen long years of Tory dominance, was welcomed with the euphoria of a new dawn. A young, modernizing, and empathetic Prime Minister and his independent, high-powered wife were pledging to end the corrupt, uptight ways of the crusty old Establishment.” And best of all for the Princess, Blair appreciated and supported her! 

Tina Brown talked about a lunch with Diana in New York following the “wildly successful” Christie’s charity auction of her dresses—just two months before the Princess’ death. Now divorced and free of many of the restrictions of the monarchy, Diana “was so self-processed, so exhilaratingly focused,” Brown shared. “She saw Tony Blair’s election as Prime Minister as a broom that would sweep her old life away and entrust her with a humanitarian mission.” Diana was ready to go to work! (She was just back from Angola with the Red Cross and her famous land-mine walk—her “purest synthesis of courage, calculation, and brilliantly directed media power.”) After that lunch, Brown thought Diana “a woman of substance who had found her future.” Or as Elizabeth Gordon expressed about Diana in When a Princess Dies: “It seemed that in the last months of her life she emerged not only as a ‘woman in her own right’ but also a person with a sense of her own vocation and purpose.”

As a member of the royal family, Diana had been “well-trained” in keeping a busy work schedule (the Queen had more work engagements than days of the year.) If Diana had lived, what kind of “workingwoman” would she have been? Diana was passionate—and fearless—about her work on behalf of land-mine victims and AIDS patients and she knew how to use her star power to get media attention for her causes. Brown wrote in The Diana Chronicles that Tony Blair told her “he had Diana in mind to boost the Africa initiative on overseas aid and debt cancellation that became the Millennium Campaign.” Like many modern, high-profile women who were in leadership positions in business or politics or working with social-awareness campaigns, Diana was used to being criticized, even maligned, and held to a different standard. She also knew of the backlash when a woman stepped on the toes of powerful men or stood up to the patriarchal establishment. But she was enjoying a high-approval rating with the public and the press at this time—and she needed that to thrive, because in Diana’s personal life, as Tina Brown explained, “love, or the lack of it, always dragged her down.” 

Would she have been willing to risk losing the public’s admiration or the possibility of a stable love relationship by taking a stand unpopular with her public? What would Diana have put on the line as scores of working women of her generation did—and like women of today still do? Like the women, and you may be one of them, who put themselves in the line of fire just because their “ambition” and ability and intelligence and vision placed them in an often-edgy position of telling men what to do. 

How would Diana have fared in the post-2016, Trump-led backlash against outspoken women—even pretty ones if they didn’t favor him—who threatened the patriarchy’s privileged lifestyle at the expense of others? Although divorced, but as the mother of a future king, Diana would continue to have restrictions on what she could say and do, and the work she could take on—the Queen would still have been her boss. Nevertheless, I don’t think Diana, with her intense and steely mother-spirit, would have remained quiet amidst such hypocrisy and blatant cruelty in the world of Trumpery. 

Writer and teacher Martha Caldwell wrote about her experience in 2005 attending the first Global Women’s Leadership Conference sponsored by Zayed University, the women’s college in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. She describes a glorious gathering of 750 women from forty different countries—diverse in their heritage, background, skills and challenges—most under the age of 25, all aware of the changing and expanding roles of women and all committed “to lead the larger world into a new vision.” To open the conference, Caldwell reported, a short film was shown “in tribute to important female leaders” featuring images of Indira Ghandi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher and others. Then, “near the end of the film an image of Princess Diana appeared, a photo of her visiting a children’s hospital. Spontaneous applause erupted throughout the room—the only time during the film this happened.” 

For Caldwell, the moment was a surprise—and a mystery. “Why, after so many years, does Diana’s legacy continue to evoke such a passionate response?” The rich connections and shared experiences during this confluence of international women—mothers, executives, teachers, designers, entrepreneurs—clarified her inquiry when a “style of leadership that is particularly female began to emerge from the shared work of the conference.” Martha Caldwell described this vision and what she discovered because “this very feminine style of leadership” that Diana encouraged is such a brilliant model for women today:

A style of leadership…based on a vision of deep care and compassion, a love of the Earth and her people, a style of leadership that strives to express itself in the sustainable nurturance of the whole human family. As much as anyone else in recent history, Diana, with her open spirit, her great personal warmth and charitable gift to humanity exemplifies this very feminine style of leadership. It is because of her archetypal role that she continues to be the Princess of the people.
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TO BE CONTINUED.....