A rainbow of rare designer pieces, ‘toxic’ colours and secret dye recipes were revealed as the National Trust delved into its wardrobe of over 20,000 pieces from Killerton’s fashion collection for the latest exhibition, Fashion to dye for.
Drawing on the extensive dress collection at Killerton, the largest in the National Trust, selected objects tell the story of how colour in fashion has evolved and meant different things to people over time. Visitors can learn about colourful dress from the historic collection made of silk, wool, cotton and synthetic materials dyed both naturally and chemically.
From a 50’s red silk gown (said to have belonged to Princess Margaret), a young boy’s red frock from c.1855 and designer clothes by Emilio Pucci, Ossie Clark and an early Laura Ashley dress, the collection brings to life how colour can reveal much about the wearer and also looks into the origins, status and function of colours and dyes.
The exhibition focuses on seasonality in fashion – why black is associated with mourning, white with weddings, why red is seen as racy but was also a masculine colour in the Tudor period and how people used toxic arsenic to formulate a particular shade of green – if absorbed through the skin, it could be deadly. It also looks at cultural shifts in fashion – why young boys were often dressed in red frocks similar to girls’ clothing until aged four, when they were dressed in trousers and had long curls cut. This ‘breeching’ was an important rite of passage for the child and his family.
Rare treats from Killerton’s collection include:
• Boys red wool frock, 1855
• Man’s denim jacket and flares, 1970s
• Afternoon gown of printed yellow silk, 1860s
• Evening dress in crimson jersey by Worth, 1950s,
• Reception gown in red Chinese silk, 1950s, said to have belonged to Princess Margaret
• Designer clothes by Bernat Klein, Emilio Pucci and Ossie Clark, 1960s and 1970s
The exhibition includes an exciting display of over 100 pieces of work by Exeter College Art and Design students, inspired by the ever-changing colour palette of Killerton’s estate.