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  • Materials and Techniques:

    cotton fabric flowers, silver beads, crystal beads, wax 'buds', wire, paper

  • 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 bridal wreaths. This example may have come from the Balkans or Eastern Europe and would have been worn flat, low down on the head, with the loops of silver beads lying over the forehead. All the wreaths are remarkably similar in materials and making, and suggest that 'folk' costume has evolved into traditional bridal wear and were commercially available, using materials that were available throughout Europe.

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

Strong wire circlet, covered with paper, to which is fixed at front and sides two rows of white cotton flowers with wired 'stamens' of silver faceted beads and, to the back, a single row of larger 'carnations'; the flowers are interspersed with wax 'buds'. Behind the flowers, top and bottom, is a row of silver paper leaves. At the front upper and lower edge are wired small circles of silver faceted beads, each circle with a wax 'bud' centre. At the back upper edge are sprays of tiny white 'star' flowers and, from the lower back and sides, a long fringe of crystal beads, small fabric flowers and silver elongated and faceted beads. The wreath fastens at the back with cotton ties.

Materials and Techniques

cotton fabric flowers, silver beads, crystal beads, wax 'buds', wire, paper

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

Wedding headdress of white fabric flowers, pearl and silver beads, silver leaves and wax buds with flower and bead fringes to sides and back. Oliver Messel Collection.


Cotton (textile); Metal beads; Beads; Wax; Wire; Paper


Beading; Hand stitching


Hats & headwear


Theatre and Performance Collection

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