The reason that the Peacock Dress was always a joke, and the reason I pledged to go ahead and do it anyway if my blog readers sent me to Haiti, was because it was obviously a maddeningly complex project. It teased me from inside the glass case: “Betcha can’t make me.” It has lived up to its reputation: we are now approaching the three year mark since I first pledged to do this.
At first, I wanted all the glory myself, but after a year of embroidery, I had to admit defeat and try Plan B.
Plan B – drafting in help from all of you – was also far too complex to be likely to succeed, and so we went to Plan C, and as soon as the decision was made to go to India for the embroidery, it seemed to fall into place. Of course we should do it the same way as Mary Curzon and M. Worth arranged it.
The first connection in India turned out to be less than enthusiastic enough to provide a good service, even in pursuit of a sample, and so we went to Plan C(ii). And by this time, the momentum had faltered.
In 2014, I want to see this thing done. I have been apprehensive about saying that, because of course we don’t yet know what the cost will be, but Barry has always advised me to plan for success, and not failure. So here it is: progress renewed.
First things first
The first priority is the small feathers I promised to make for the biggest donors. Not all of them have been made and delivered, I’m embarrassed to say; that is about to change. The next one is pictured above.
As for India, there have been regular emails back and forth as we have attempted to communicate fully about exactly what I need and exactly how to do it. An initial sample was not even accurate enough that the company showed it to me; they knew it wasn’t right, and asked me to send more pictures. I sent them a sample feather and an envelope of materials, and now they have a better idea. Having done some of the embroidery myself in that first false start has been a hugely useful exercise, now that I have to explain it to others.
The latest sticking point is that apparently at least two elements of the design cannot be found in India (huh??), and so we are casting around for a place that will not want to charge us to produce a minimum order of 25kg of goldwork materials. I can’t believe that I might end up having Benton & Johnson (who provided the stuff I was using) send their stuff to India for me. We soldier on – and meanwhile, to the rest of the outfit:
The hem of the Peacock Dress is circled in white silk roses. I have a source for these that is quite exciting – but first, I don’t think I have told you the whole story about the roses, so this subject will wait for another day.
I am still slightly unsure of the exact underwear layers, but I’m a mathematician and actually I’m just frustrated that someone didn’t write down the exact, only, one, single, correct answer to that question sometime in early January 1903. 😀 But obviously the general rule was not necessarily slavishly followed by everyone. I will finish reading The Cult of Chiffon (the famous manifesto on women’s underwear of 1902) just to make sure there isn’t some kind of definitive guide written down, but for the moment the layers, as I understand them, are as follows:
Camisole (ie corset cover)
Bust bodice (I have emailed the V&A for an appointment to see this)
Silk petticoat (underskirt)
I have learnt since the Oak Leaf Dress that the Edwardian silhouette involved gratuitous padding; I’m going to need it. My good friend Cynthia has recommended a book, which I now have, that will instruct me on the finer points of construction since I have some fairly fancy ideas about making underwear that’s more than just an afterthought. I am delighted to have found some impossibly soft, sheer cotton and cotton/silk muslin in the LA Garment District last summer, and though I’d love to buy antique lace from Lacis, I don’t think I’ll get the combinations of matching lace that will be convincing, so I’ve found a supplier of new, almost-100% cotton Mechlin lace in a variety of widths and matching patterns that are right for the period.
I have re-emailed the incredible Andrew Prince for a quote on the Curzon Jewels that he knew immediately when I showed him Lady Curzon’s Peacock Dress portrait; he never replied before, so I’m not sure whether he realised I was dead serious. We will see.
*sigh*. If only there was a historical shoe maker who was planning to release a 1900-1905 beaded evening shoe later in the year.
And that’s the state of play. I hope you’re still along for the bumpy ride!