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  • Materials and Techniques:

    silk velvet, beads, silk

  • Credit Line:

    Acquired with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Art Fund and the Friends of the V&A

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Like many designers, Messel was fascinated by costume and crafts. He collected items not particularly because he was researching for a specific production, but simply because they took his fancy. He amassed a collection of hats and headdresses, including several from Eastern Europe, like this cap, which is probably Hungarian or Polish in origin. There is also the possibility that he wore some of them at fancy dress balls, which were a popular recreation among high society in the early and mid 20th century.

The beading is very professional and the general quality of the whole cap suggest that it could be for an aristocrat. In Eastern Europe folk dress was adopted and developed by the upper classes into a national dress, often made of extravagant materials.

Oliver Messel (1904-1978) was Britain's leading theatre designer from the early 1930s to the mid 1950s, working in every aspect of entertainment - ballet, drama, film, musical, opera and revue - as well as in interior decoration and textile design. His lavish, painterly and romantic designs informed by period styles, were perfectly in tune with his times and earned him an international reputation. By 1960, however, Messel's style had become unfashionable, having no sympathy with the new 'kitchen sink' school of theatre. He increasingly concentrated on his non-theatrical painting and designing and eventually retired to the Caribbean, where he began a new career designing and building highly idiosyncratic luxury villas.

Physical description

Cap of deep purple silk velvet, the crown gathered into a central button. Around the sides is fixed a deep band, undulating on the top edge, encrusted with clear and grey bead embroidery, and, at the front, a similarly decorated panel which rises into three curves at the top edge; the band and panel are stiffened and lined with a pale blue silk, which forms a narrow band at the top edge. On the crown and back are fixed grey satin ribbon bows with short tails. The cap is lined with pale blue silk.

Materials and Techniques

silk velvet, beads, silk

Object history note

Messel collected costume artefacts mostly out of interest in dress and crafts, not because he was necessarily researching a for a particular production.
Lord Snowdon, Oliver Messel's nephew, inherited Messel's theatre designs and other designs and artefacts. The designs were briefly stored in a disused chapel in Kensington Palace before being housed at the V&A from 1981 on indefinite loan. The V&A Theatre Museum purchased the Oliver Messel collection from Lord Snowdon in 2005.

Descriptive line

East European cap of dark purple silk velvet with heavily beaded sides. Oliver Messel Collection


Silk velvet; Silk; Beads


Machine stitching; Beading


Entertainment & Leisure; Hats & headwear


Theatre and Performance Collection

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