In 1902, every society woman in the Western world aspired to have her dresses made by the House of Worth, the premier haute couture name of the day. Worth’s 1902 Peacock Dress is a stunning feat of intricate goldwork embroidery, and perhaps the most dazzling star in their repertoire…. but Worth were not the only maker responsible for this gown. The extraordinary gold and silver embroidery was created by craftsmen in India, probably at the workshop of Kishan Chand in Delhi, who were practising a centuries-old art form handed down from one generation of zardosi to the next. The dress represents an extraordinary collaboration across continents in an age before telephones or email.
It is a two piece dress – bodice and skirt – that is so heavily hand embroidered in gold and silver that the base fabric cannot be seen. The pattern is a network of interlocking stylised peacock feathers, each of which is accented with an “eye” made from a real beetle elytra (wing cover). The neckline is accented with a lace panel embellished with rhinestones and sequins, more exquisite lace hangs from the shoulders, and the hem is encircled with white silk roses. It is a unique state gown of extraordinary quality and skill.
The Peacock Dress dazzles and entices the viewer to ask a hundred questions, and most of all to wonder… How was this feat accomplished? How did it look when brand new? And how did it feel to wear a dress like this?