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Theatre costume

  • Date:

    1993 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Crowley, Bob (costume designer)
    Law, Jane (theatrical costumiers)
    Wheeler, Mark (milliners)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    [Theatre costume] Satin, silk, braid, gauze and buckram
    [Theatre costume] Satin and buckram

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Robert Fox

  • Museum number:

    S.108:1 to 9-1993

  • Gallery location:

    Theatre & Performance, room 105, case 10

  • Image in copyright

This costume was designed by Bob Crowley for Maggie Smith as Lady Bracknell in 1993. Stage costumes are not just beautiful in themselves, but give signals, not just about period, but about the character wearing the costume.

The setting is 1895, and this costume at first glance is a simple translation of historical dress, with tailored jacket and leg-of-mutton sleeves balanced by the width of the skirt. The resulting upright posture implies confidence and self-possession - both notable traits of Lady Bracknell. However, the designer touch comes in the exaggerated shoulder-line achieved not just by the width of the sleeves, but the wide lapels; they created a monumental feel, which is not one whit contradicted by the diagonal stripes at the waist, which, in another costume, would emphasise the smallness of the waist and hence fragility and femininity. The costume calls to mind the power-dressing of the 1980s, which became fashionable during Mrs Thatcher's term as Prime Minister, although it may be fanciful to see the 'Iron Lady' also reflected in the dark grey satin. The huge, plumed hat, adds to the upright structure and the impression of iron will and determination that are part of Lady Bracknell's formidable character.

Physical description

[Theatre costume] Late 19th century-style tailored jacket in grey satin with 'leg of mutton' sleeves, the fabric pleated at the shoulders, and wide lapels of dark grey watered silk edged in light grey braid. A integral white blouse with a high pleated collar, down centre front and to each side a vertical band of gauze woven with grey stripes, the central ruffle with a line of small grey buttons. At waist a broad pointed dark grey band decorated with diagonal stripes of white braid, the pattern repeated on the cuffs, the cuffs edged with pleated gauze ruffles. The back panels extending over the hips in stiffened pleats with two pointed 'tails' to back, the hems weighted with a band of buckram.
[Theatre costume] Late 19th century-style grey satin skirt, the hems weighted with a band of buckram.
[Theatre costume] Cotton underskirt
[Theatre costume] Wide brimmed grey hat decorated with feathers and 'bows' made of wide bands of striped grey ribbon.
[Theatre costume] Right glove of dark grey leather
[Theatre costume] Left glove of dark grey leather
[Theatre costume] Small handbag of dark grey taffeta on hessian, with metal clasp and short chain. The bag does not open.
[Theatre costume] Parasol of black watered artificial silk trimmed with a wide ruffle of black artificial silk woven with white stripes, and a handle of wood, painted black and carved with a pattern of small circles with a cross in each, and a metal ferrule.
[Theatre costume] Wig of dark gold blonde hair on net base with a small bun to back held in place with hairpins and curls to the right of forehead

Date

1993 (made)

Artist/maker

Crowley, Bob (costume designer)
Law, Jane (theatrical costumiers)
Wheeler, Mark (milliners)

Materials and Techniques

[Theatre costume] Satin, silk, braid, gauze and buckram
[Theatre costume] Satin and buckram

Marks and inscriptions

[Theatre costume] ' Jane Law / Worthing [tel no] '
[Theatre costume] ' Jane Law / Worthing [tel no] '

Dimensions

Height: 220 cm, Width: 100 cm, Depth: 100 cm
[Theatre costume] Height: 25.5 cm, Width: 38 cm, Depth: 38 cm
[Theatre costume] Length: 20 cm
[Theatre costume] Length: 20 cm
[Theatre costume] Height: 17 cm including clasp, Width: 24.5 cm at widest part
[Theatre costume] Height: 92 cm
[Theatre costume] Height: 14 cm, Width: 21 cm, Depth: 22 cm

Object history note

This costume was worn by Maggie Smith as Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest, Aldwych Theatre, London, 1993. The production was directed by Nicholas Hytner and designed by Bob Crowley. The cast also included Richard E. Grant, Alex Jennings, Claire Skinner, and Margaret Tyzack.

Descriptive line

Costume worn by Maggie Smith as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, Aldwych Theatre, London, 1993

Exhibition History

Theatre and Performance (Victoria and Albert Museum, Galleries 103 -106)
Theatre and Performance (Victoria and Albert Museum, Galleries 103 -106 01/01/2009-31/12/2009)
Theatre and Performance (Victoria and Albert Museum, Galleries 103 -106 01/01/2009-31/12/2009)
Theatre and Performance (Victoria and Albert Museum, Galleries 103 -106 01/01/2009-31/12/2009)

Labels and date

Costume for Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest
1993

Maggie Smith’s appearance as Lady Bracknell was
a much anticipated event, and this striking costume
demonstrates a perfect union of character, actor and
costume. The skirt is a simple affair but it is the bodice
that commands the attention and draws the eye to
the grande dame of English drama.

Play by Oscar Wilde, 1895
Aldwych Theatre, London

Satin, silk, lace, braid and feathers
Designed by Bob Crowley

Given by Robert Fox
Museum no. S.108:1, 2 to 4–1993 [March 2009]

Materials

Silk (textile); Paint; Wood; Cotton (textile); Metal; Leather; Wool (textile); Satin; Ribbon; Hair; Net (textile); Gauze; Buckram; Feathers; Taffeta; Burlap

Techniques

Painting; Carving; Sewing

Categories

Entertainment & Leisure; Stage costumes; Hats & headwear

Collection code

T&P

Qr_O100926
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