Monday, 1 September 2008
The Octagon Room .
We hurried off to The Assembly Rooms , or The Upper Rooms as they used to be referred to , as fast as our tired legs could carry us up the steep hill side of Bath . The Fashion Museum is housed here, and I was really hoping to see some examples of Regency clothing - however this was one of those days when Serendipity intervenes; we were ushered toward The Octagon Room where the current travelling exhibition was Bill Travilla's Hollywood dresses ! We arrived at the exact time the exhibition's curator (Andrew Hansford) was starting his talk .
As an aside I must tell you that The Octagon Room is a beautiful , high ceilinged room , famous for being a meeting place / musical venue in Georgian times - in fact , the very setting of the music recital where Anne Elliot so romantically re-encounters Capt. Wentworth in "Persuasion"!
If I could only remember half of what the guide had to say I'd be an expert on the glamorous heyday of Tinsel Town ! His audience moved spell-bound from one mannequin to the other ; his witty anecdotes (he personally knows the collection owner Bill Sarris , who was a friend of the designer) insightful comments about dress design , and rather risque observations ( well , for 2.30 pm ) held us all captivated . Bar one . My 12 year old son was completely indifferent to the glitz and remained unaffected by so much fashion over-load !! Meanwhile I couldn't believe my luck in stumbling upon such an entertainment filled hour .
One thing the curator wanted to stress was that Marilyn Monroe , whose dresses formed the major part of the collection , was not a larger UK size 16+ as we are often led to believe . She was in fact - and I've stood in front of the dresses - a size 10 .... but in the '40s and '50s - when you could still be voluptuous at that size . She was 5ft 6" tall and a 36 . 24 . 36 hour glass .
I thought it was unbelievably generous to allow photos to be taken , and I made sure we put a donation in the Alzheimers Society tin , for whom the exhibition was to raise money .Click on each picture to see the detail larger .
The Octagon Room - and "that" dress ! On the floor are the priceless original pattern pieces , made to fit Marilyn Monroe's body , which Andrew Hansford found under the collection owner's bed !
This was one of the dresses made for "The 7 Year Itch" - 1955
Famously Marilyn never wore underwear , and one copy of the dress which was see-through , and not lined was swapped at the crucial moment as she was filmed standing over the air vent (with knickers !) The sun ray pleating was all done by hand , and it's a really pretty , feminine dress .
The pink satin dress from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" - 1953
The strapless bodice is constructed from 3 layers , and the whole dress is extremely heavy . The skirt sides are lined with metal wires , moulded to Marilyn's shape , to enable the dress to keep in place during the dance routine of "diamonds are a girl's best friend " Travilla's original design required black gloves to be worn .
In the background is a white sequin and crystal strewn gown made for Judy Garland , who never wore it . Later Susan Hayward took her place in "Valley of the Dolls."
Travilla's dress for Marilyn's private collection . The central gathering point of the pleating is held by lead weighting . As the curator pointed out ; there was no toupe tape back then !
The fur and handmade lace/rhinestone drape is actually a pair of "sleeves" and not just a wrap .
Pink ruched bias cut evening gown.
This was my favourite dress in the whole collection ; made of a beautiful silk crepe de chine .You would need a fantastic figure to carry this one off ! The dress was a prototype , later to have crystals on the topline of the bodice , but I think it's perfectly gorgeous like this - here's a close up ..
After all that we still had the rest of the museum to go round , which was extremely interesting but of course no photography was allowed . I particularly liked the case of 17th century gloves ; which I learned had extra long , slim fingers due to a fashion started by Queen Elizabeth 1st's pride in her very long digits ! The workmanship was astounding , and I could have stood there all day .
It was also amazing to see one of Queen Victoria's mourning dresses , from her later life , fairly close to, in a floor length glass case . She was very short , and very wide , and must have looked a bit like a weeble in black crepe !
If you are at all interested in clothes this is a great place to visit , with some nice little shops tucked away at the end .
Oh , I wish men could be persuaded to wear double-breasted frock coats again ! sigh .....
T.T.F.N Ruth x