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


Boot Button Bears said...

Hi Ruth,
Thanks so much for visiting and linking with my Blog. It was really kind of you. I have just been reading about your visits to various places in England. The Marilyn Monroe exhibit looks just superb. I would have also loved to have been with you to see the vintage exhibit. To see one of Queen Victoria's gowns in person would have been terrific. Will pop back to your Blog again to see more about your wanderings!!
Boot Button Bears.

Ruth said...

Hiya Christine ,
Lovely to have you over :0) I'll pop by your place again soon too ! ( I love finding out about Aussie culture !)
Hugs , Ruth

TinyBear said...

Oh - those dresses are soooo beautiful. Your photos are great Ruth. Thanks for sharing.
Hugs, Tina

Draffin Bears said...

I have enjoyed visiting your blog Ruth - thank you.
It was wonderful to see all the beautiful Marilyn
Munroe dresses.

What a wonderful time you must have had visiting
all those interesting places, Anne Hathaways cottage etc.


Ruth said...

Thanks for stopping by Carolyn :0)
I think I managed to make the best out of a somewhat dreary summer time here ! I just love visiting new (historical) places too !
Hugs ,