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  • Materials and Techniques:

    moiré silk ribbon, gold thread, sequins, paste stones, cotton lining

  • 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, Oliver 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 and Central Asia. While suggesting 'folk' dress, this cap is of high quality, suggesting that it was for a very special occasion. In many countries, folk dress was adopted and developed by the upper classes into a national dress, often made of extravagant materials.

Many society families kept costumes for use in private theatricals or charades and notes on some of the non-theatrical Messel costumes indicate that he too had a 'dressing up' box.

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

Stiffened triangular panel heavily embroidered with gold thread scattered with small gold sequins and red stones. Fixed around the panel, creating the impression of a bonnet, are two strips of wide black silk moiré ribbon with scalloped edge, which are formed into a bold bow at the back of the panel. From the back of the bow hang extremely long ribbon tails with shorter tails fixed to the side. The cap is lined with a black cotton with an all-over floral and foliage sprig design.

Materials and Techniques

moiré silk ribbon, gold thread, sequins, paste stones, cotton lining

Object history note

This cap belongs to Messel's collection of costume artefacts, which he acquired 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

Cap of stiffened wide black ribbons around an embroidered triangular back, with long tails of the same ribbon hanging down back and sides. Oliver Messel Collection.


Ribbon, silk; Gold thread; Sequins; Paste; Cotton


Hand stitching


Entertainment & Leisure; Hats & headwear


Theatre and Performance Collection

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