Friday 18 February 2011

Dressing room update!

The chosen dress

I haven't written anything yet about my collaborative project with Stoke Potteries Museum and Art Gallery this year! So I thought I better update you and tell you how things are progressing;

My last visit to the museum was in December where we were putting together the outfit to be displayed in Mrs Brown's dressing room set. If you remember, Mrs Brown is the character inspired by our many finds in the museum's decorative arts collection. A woman of the early 1950's (late 1940's overlap) with a penchant for movies, fashion and fun, a young vivacious dreamer married to an older staid gentleman. A woman with a normal life to outward appearances but with dreams and secrets upon closer inspection of her belongings.

The intention of this project is to illustrate a story using belongings whilst celebrating femininity and artifice at the same time. The artifice of the dressing table and the artifice of the public persona.
After happily trawlling through boxes of beautiful vintage gowns and underwear (some of it not so beautiful, see The Beast, a rubber girdle, for example) and deliberating over shoes and accessories, myself and Laura, the museum's Documentation Assisitant, have whittled down an outfit fit to grace the girlsih dramatic ideals of Mrs Brown.

The dress which has been chosen came out top after much deliberation; firstly I wanted something 'young' and glamorous yet quite formal and dressy as the set revolves around an invite to Hanley's Grand Re-opening of the Theatre Royal

I had three dresses in mind and had to choose what would suit the character and situation best. One dress was too large in size to fit the idea of the flighty naive Mrs Brown, and the other although bright and eye catching didn't have the umph factor for an exclusive evening in town!

Too large, although you can't tell it from the photo this dress is a size 16

I initially bypassed the (now) chosen frock as I thought it might be too dressy for a young middle class woman living in Stoke in 1951. However it seems the dress's true history helped me to make my mind up as it was bought in a sale at Marshall & Snellgrove. This made it seem much more believable as an option as this was exclusive store with the new  sensation of ready to wear lines. Plus I was sent this wonderful press cutting about the Grand Re-opening, and as you can see everyone was dressed up to the nines!

The next decision was accesories, Laura sent me some fabulous items to choose from and in the end I've chosen these shoes from the early 1950's:

And a glamorous fur stole and classy jewellery which wouldn't look out of place on a film star, so would certainly appeal to a film fanatic like Mrs Brown. The evening bag is yet to be decided. It's been tough trying to find one in the collection which will complement the rest of the ensemble, I'll keep you posted:


These items will be arranged around the dressing room to illustrate Mrs Brown's return from the big night, her stole and shoes discarded and her gown hung up once again. Of course a lady would have to have some foundation to these garments and her underwear and stockings will also take a place in the set. So far I have chosen these unmentionables to make an appearance:

The suspender belt from this photo accompanied by a peach strapless bustier

Something else was brought to my attention whilst sorting out ideas for the set and display cases. It seems the dress which will be used has had it's pink fins added after purchase as tiny hand stitches can be seen holding them in place. This fits wonderfully well with the notion of the make do and mend generation of the time, but also illustrates another point; Mrs Brown is a  keen follower of fashion, eager to emmulate her favourite actress or singer in the glamour stakes and as mentioned before in this blog could have easily been one of the many women who used dress patterns to spruce up her wardrobe.

It was decided that to convey this idea one of the small display cases next to the dressing room set will contain sewing materials. Laura found this adorable etui from the correct era in the museum's collection along with this fabulous Balmans pattern 'Designed in Paris'. Paris being the epicentre of cutting edge fashion and of especial interest to Mrs Brown this pattern is spot on, also I think the shape is not a million miles away from our chosed dress, what a find!

As things begin to draw towards the date of completion I am busy pulling all the information  togehter about the items we've discovered, the magazines of the time and the various  references to  the local area and popular culture of the era so that Mrs Brown's hidden story will be ready for discovery!

During the exhibition of the dressing room set 'Mrs Brown's Diary' will be published online in a brand new blog to accompany the project.  This will be a first person account into her daily life focused around the 14th August 1951, the night of the Grand Re-opening! Here you will find out where her love of films and fashion stems from, why she married her husband, and who the mysterious man in the photo hidden in her handbag is... Not to mention various peeks into her private thoughts and passions which will be hinted at through the items displayed in her dressing room. 

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Interview on Cornerhouse Podcast

It was the night of the private view for The People You're Not  exhibition, it was crammed, noisey and fabulous! You can hear my chat about working on the show at 6:30 mins. There is also lots of juicey info and tidbits about the Cornerhouse films and projects, so well worth a listen!

Don't miss the exhibition!
The People You're Not runs until the 27th Feb

70 Oxford St

Galleries open:
Tuesday – Saturday : 12:00 - 20:00
Sunday : 12:00 - 18:00