Lady Mary Curzon's Peacock dress

A close look at the bodice of Mary Curzon's peacock dress

Lady Mary Curzon’s Peacock dress is a firm favourite of visitors young and old to Kedleston Hall and it’s easy to see why. Despite its age the dress still has the same captivating effect on people as it did the first time it was worn to the Delhi Durbar in 1903.

Unbelievably the Dress is 115 years old and given its age, is still in a remarkably stable condition. Much of the work that the Trust does to behind the scenes is ‘preventative conservation’ rather than actively working to restore it.

Frequent monitoring and control of the environment inside its display case prevents deterioration of the fabric and delicate metallic embroidered threads. This stable environment  means that damage is less likely to occur and minimises the need to handle and interfere with the dress.

Glittering in the spotlights
Mary Curzon's stunning Peacock dress

As the dress is covered in metal thread embroidery, including silver and gold, the dress is very susceptible to damage if the environment is not controlled appropriately. Relative Humidity is very damaging to both textiles and metal resulting in tarnishing of the silver or mould on the textiles beneath.

Green beetle shells shimmer like emeralds
a close up of the peacock dress delicate embroidery

Overtime the display case has developed its own micro-climate. The slightest shift in external environment, such as moving the case and the dress to a different room, may cause the relative humidity inside to peak or trough.

The case has its own data-logger that records the temperature and relative humidity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and allows the team to keep an eye on the dress's environment.

can you imagine what it would have been like to wear?
a side view of the bodice of the peacock dress

Textile with heavy beading or decorative detail can be notoriously difficult to display without gravity putting strain on areas of the fabric, the Peacock dress itself weighs over 4.5kg!

The dress has its own custom made silk covered mannequin designed to fit an Edwardian lady’s figure which supports the form of the dress better. It plays a key role in preserving the dress, offering the hidden support required to protect the dress from damage.

A specialist consultant on displaying historic costume has been advising the House & Collections team on how we can better customise the mannequin. Hopefully we will be able to improve support and remove tension from the waistband, caused by the weight of the skirt, and improve the general appearance around the shoulders and hips.

The skirt would have made the dress very heavy to wear
the flowing skirt of the peacock dress

The dress was created by Parisian designer, House of Worth between 1901 and 1902 and was designed not only as a real eye-catcher but a political and cultural statement in itself. It definitely caught the attention of the world press, marking her as a leader of style in the same way as celebrities in the media do today.

" You cannot conceive what a dream she looked."
- A guest at the ball in 1903

The skirt is made of champagne coloured silk taffeta and is lined with densely woven Indian cotton muslin. The distinctive peacock feather pattern is created by intricate hand stitched embroidery. The ‘eye’ of each plume is set with iridescent green beetle wings, giving the glittering appearance of emeralds.

Lifting the layers
the peacock dress's delicate underskirt

The embroidery of the fabric was carried out in India by professional gold thread embroiderers. The fabric was then sent to Paris and made up into a two-piece dress of a bodice top and skirt. The bodice was embellished with lace and the trained skirt was trimmed with white silk flowers. The finished dress was then sent back to India for the Durbar.

Every inch designed to flatter and wow
The delicate lace draping across the shoulders of the peacock dress

Even after all these years the dress still has the power to captivate the room and for this reason it has been moved to its very own exhibition space in Kedleston Hall. It can now be the centre of attention as people enter the room, demanding the limelight it was it was always intended.