Last week I visited the exhibition Romantic Fashion, Mr Darcy meets Eline Vere, at the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague. This major 19th-century fashion exhibition features costumes from the time of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Eline Vere and Downton Abbey. You are swept away to foregone times by the rustling silk, breathtaking embroidery, and frills and flounces, sharply tailored suits for dandies and elegant ball gowns for ladies. In addition to entire costumes in all their glory, the exhibition also includes glamorous accessories, tightly laced corsets and original fashion prints and photographs.
With the help of the Prince Bernhard Culture Fund, many items have been restored especially for the occasion and are on show to the public for the very first time. The exhibition shows that the female fashion silhouette underwent frequent and dramatic changes from 1800-1914. It began with the slender Empire line and ended with the S-curve and vast puff sleeves. In the intervening period fashion ranged from simple slim-line gowns of rustling silk to elaborate dresses with huge crinlines, and bustles, sometimes with a 3 metres circumfence.
The exhibition throws light on a range of hot topics of the 19th century: health & hygiene, colours & materials, etiquette & status, the fashion world & couturiers, and plenty more. The fashion is brought to life by linking it to well-known characters from literature, film and television as the Dame aux Camelias, Mr Darcy, Eline Vere and the Kegge family from Dutch writer Hildebrand’s Camera Obscura.
Visitors can see that the fashion worn at the dawn of the 19th century was characterized by its simplicity. Women wanted empire style, unadorned, cotton white dresses with white embroidered details and complemented by a large cashmere shawl. Neoclassicism was the rage.
But in the 1820s skirts began to get fuller, reaching maximum volume around 1850. Fashionable gowns were worn over sturdy petticoats, stiffened with ropes or horsehair. They became so heavy and unbearable, that they came up with another solution: the crinoline. In 1856 the developed the structure made of hoops linked by vertical tapes like a cage to support the skirts. The crinoline went out of fashion in 1870.
The inclusion of contemporary creations shows how the 19th century still influences life today, as modern designers continue to draw inspiration from its forms, silhouettes, materials and techniques. Famous examples include the magnificent embroidery of Jan Taminiau, the dandyism of Vivienne Westwood, and the (often dark) romanticism of Jean Paul Gaultier and Edwin Oudshoorn.
Photos by Koen Hauser and art director Maarten Spruyt
Photographer Koen Hauser and art director Maarten Spruyt drew inspiration from the 19th century and used classic settings with designs by Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gautier and Jan Taminiau to shoot the photos for the catalog. The combination of that environment with contemporary fashion has resulted in exciting images that are also on display at the exhibition.
Fashion from movies and series
As a visitor you will encounter a dozen or so creations from popular series and movies as well. For example, the hat of the mother of Rose as they gets into the lifeboat from the movie the Titanic, the red dress that Nicole Kidman wears in Portrait of a Lady, a suit of Mr. Darcy, ball dresses of the ‘Netherfield Ball’ from Pride and Prejudice and the famous shirt of the pond scene. And I was thrilled to also see some dresses from the hit series Downton Abbey!
For more information about the exhibition go here. The Romantic Fashion exhibition lasts until March 22, 2015.
Although this blog post was created in collaboration with the museum through a free press ticket, I like to reiterate that I only recommend products and services I really like and feel are good for my readers.