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Downton Abbey dresses at the Lady Lever Art Gallery

PUBLISHED: 12:42 18 November 2014 | UPDATED: 19:49 24 April 2016

(L-R) Silk crepe day dress with straw hat worn by Lady Mary Crawley (Cosprop for Downton Abbey, 2011). Silk evening dress with chiffon sleeves worn by Lavinia Swire (Acquired by Cosprop for Downton Abbey, made early 1920s).

(L-R) Silk crepe day dress with straw hat worn by Lady Mary Crawley (Cosprop for Downton Abbey, 2011). Silk evening dress with chiffon sleeves worn by Lavinia Swire (Acquired by Cosprop for Downton Abbey, made early 1920s).

Archant

Fans of Downton Abbey should pay a visit to the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight. Beautiful costumes created for the actors in the ITV series are on display for a limited period

I am sure that the Dowager Countess of Grantham, played by Dame Maggie Smith, would approve of the grandeur of the building in which her family’s clothes are currently being displayed. The new Style from the Small Screen exhibition at the Grade II listed Lady Lever Art Gallery will showcase ten glamorous gowns from Cosprop worn by characters including, among others, the Dowager Countess, Lady Mary and Lady Grantham.

Cosprop is one of the world’s leading costumiers to film, television and theatre. They specialise in the hire and making of period costume for professional productions, such as Downton Abbey.

The exhibition at the gallery in Port Sunlight on the Wirral will run until January 18, and will also feature historic garments from the 1912-1923 period from the National Museum Liverpool’s archive.

Costume and textile curator for the NML, Pauline Rushton, said there has never been a dedicated costume exhibition at the Lady Lever before. ‘People went mad for a small Victorian one we did in glass cases. So we knew there would be an audience for such an exhibition here.’

(From the LNM archive L-R) Evening dress of silk georgette and silk satin with bodice trimmed with gold metallic lace (about 1917-19, gift of Miss Catherine Holland, 1960) with silk and metallic thread brocade evening coat (about 1912-22). Tunic-style evening dress with silk net embroidered with sequins and glass bugle beads and reproduction silk under-slip (about 1920-24, gift of Mr T. A. Towers, 1973). Tunic-style evening dress with silk net embroidered with glass bugle beads and rayon silk under-slip (about 1921-23, gift of Miss Catherine Holland, 1960). Cotton velvet day dress and matching drawstring handbag trimmed with fox fur (about 1914-16, gift of Dr Alexine Tinne, 1967).(From the LNM archive L-R) Evening dress of silk georgette and silk satin with bodice trimmed with gold metallic lace (about 1917-19, gift of Miss Catherine Holland, 1960) with silk and metallic thread brocade evening coat (about 1912-22). Tunic-style evening dress with silk net embroidered with sequins and glass bugle beads and reproduction silk under-slip (about 1920-24, gift of Mr T. A. Towers, 1973). Tunic-style evening dress with silk net embroidered with glass bugle beads and rayon silk under-slip (about 1921-23, gift of Miss Catherine Holland, 1960). Cotton velvet day dress and matching drawstring handbag trimmed with fox fur (about 1914-16, gift of Dr Alexine Tinne, 1967).

This prediction couldn’t have been more accurate as there was a 62% rise in visitor figures on the opening weekend compared to the same dates last year. ‘We will exceed our target figure for visitor numbers,’ said Pauline. ‘People will travel to see these outfits due to the popularity of Downton Abbey. Where else would you get to see them so close up?’

Visitors will be able to view the detail and workmanship of the stunning garments closely as there will be no glass casing. Spread out across three rooms, you are able to compare the original vintage outfits from the NML archive to the strikingly similar Cosprop garments. ‘We got in touch with Cosprop to ask them for their help in putting on the exhibition,’ said Pauline. ‘Now that Downton is in its fifth series and is increasingly popular, it all fitted in quite nicely. With the exhibition running over Christmas it also reflected the season as a few of the dresses are quite glitzy.’

After Cosprop sent a selection of images of dresses available for display, Pauline and the team chose the Downton outfits before selecting dresses from their own archive. With over 20,000 pieces in their collection dating from 1700 to the present day, it must have been quite a task. ‘There are regular costume displays in Sudley House and the Walker Art Gallery where we utilise our collection,’ said Pauline. ‘However, with the Style from the Small screen exhibition, we have proved that costume displays work well here and we would utilise the Lady Lever again.’

‘It’s not the biggest exhibition we at NML have put on, but it will definitely be one of the most popular,’ added Pauline. ‘There is a massive Downton Abbey fan base and they will be drawn to the exhibition. It’s gorgeous stuff to work with and so beautiful, so it’s easy to make it look nice!’

The Lady Lever Art GalleryThe Lady Lever Art Gallery

The Lady Lever Art Gallery has recently been granted £1.2m from Heritage Lottery Fund for a major refurbishment in their South End galleries. It will see 500 square metres of gallery space transformed and returned to its original architectural design. More than 1,700 fine and decorative items will be redisplayed and new educational resources developed for local schools and the community. n

Style from the Small Screen is at Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Wirral, until January 18.

www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ladylever

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