In Depth

Chatsworth: Five centuries of fashion

Chatsworth's new House Style exhibition delves into the wardrobes of rich and famous society figures from the past 500 years

The British aristocracy may routinely line the society pages of Tatler, but – apart from Princess Diana and Kate Middleton – are not such a regular sight across celebrity magazines' best-dressed lists. But a new exhibition at Chatsworth House seeks to demystify the style of the upper classes with a landmark display of five centuries of fashion taken from the house's archives.

Curated by Hamish Bowles, the international editor-at-large of American Vogue, with creative direction and design from Patrick Kinmonth and Antonio Monfreda, it offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the wardrobes of the Cavendish family, who have resided at Chatsworth since 1549.

Beginning with such formidable figures as Bess of Hardwick, who rose to the highest echelons of Elizabethan society, and Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, renowned in the 18th century for her beauty, charisma and fashion sense, it moves right through to recognisable figures of the modern day. Central to the exhibition are model Stella Tennant, two of the Mitford sisters – Deborah Devonshire and Nancy Mitford – and American socialite and sister of John F Kennedy, Kathleen Agnes Cavendish, as well as Adele Astaire, the sister and original dance partner of Fred Astaire.

Showcased throughout the house's grand rooms, the exhibition weaves together fashion, history and design to give a well-rounded view of the changes in style over hundreds of years. Highlights include livery uniforms, coronation robes and customs spanning generations. It also brings together some of the finest examples of couture from fashion houses including Gucci, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Vetements and Christopher Kane, including a Givenchy bolero worn by the current Duchess of Devonshire on her wedding day.

"To be let loose in the wardrobe rooms, gold vaults, muniment room and closets, cupboards and attics of Chatsworth, in search of sartorial treasures, has been a dream come true for me," says Bowles. "The characters of generations of Cavendish family members who have peopled its rooms and gardens and landscapes is revealed as vividly through their choice of clothing and adornments as through the canvases and lenses of the great artists and photographers who have memorialised them through the centuries. In House Style, we hope to bring these compelling and fascinating people – and the very different worlds they inhabited – to life, through the clothes and jewels they wore."

House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth runs from 25 March to 22 October 2017; chatsworth.org

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