I think it would be fair to say that most girls like to dress up. In fact dressing up is one of the most girly activities I can think of; starting as small children we totter around in our mothers high heels, smearing her lipstick all over our faces and as we progress through to adulthood the more serious business of Fashion takes over as we experiment with different ‘looks’. Dressing up is not always all about pretending to be a Princess. Last year I was lucky enough to see “Worn to be Wild” a touring exhibition of fantasy costumes inspired by British wildlife and made by textile artist Kate Plumtree (http://www.worntobewild.biz and http://www.kate-plumtree.com), so when I discovered that it was coming to Guildford House Museum (www.guildford.gov.uk) I knew I had to see it again.
There are 17 costumes that make up the exhibition, each represents a British bird or mammal expressed through the medium of period costume. Beside each costume is a photograph of the costume being worn and also an image of the creature which inspired it. The show is an interesting sensory experience with touchable fabric swatches and Plumtree’s sketchbook folios available to browse while looking at the work, at least both these were on show at the Mottisfont Abbey exhibition. Sadly at Guildford House only the folio books are available. Another interesting contrast between the two venues is the method of display. Both are historic buildings but while Mottisfont is lighter and more airy giving the work the chance to ‘breathe’, indeed some of the costumes were suspended from the ceilings to give the impression of birds in flight, while others were hanging high up on walls or laid on the floor; at Guildford House where the display rooms are smaller and lighting is poor the costumes were all displayed on mannequins grouped together. This is a shame as each costume is beautifully crafted with interesting detailing on the back as well as the front, and in a couple of cases also including fabulous linings; but these exciting details were missing at Guildford where the viewer can only see the front of each dress.
Plumtree has used historic dress styles as a platform on which to base her animal creations, choosing fabrics carefully and then dying, printing and painting before further embellishing until the desired effect is achieved. Some of these amazing frocks would not be out of place at a Ball or Red Carpet function and my particular favourite is the simple corset bodice and hooped petticoat of the Pipistrelle Bat. (I am being dreadfully naughty by including a couple of photographs as photography was not allowed, but since I didn’t see any signs until I was leaving and had taken them at that point, it seems a shame to waste them when I could share them with you, and you may be inspired to see the show yourself. Apologies for the poor quality of images due to low light available and rubbish camera on my Blackberry!)
Pipistrelle Bat Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
The Bat dress has a feel of Victorian Gothic about it tinged with an air of eroticism. the Woodpecker pant suit has a definite 60’s “GoGo Girl” look to it, think Mary Quant, Biba, Twiggy! The splayed trouser ends are an interesting shape but the lining inside is bright red (sadly not shown at Guildford). This is something that could easily be worn today.
The above frocks show Plumtree’s skill and imagination as a costume maker. The incredible ‘feathers’ of the collar on the amazing silk and PVC slinky fishtail dress are made from rigilene plastic boning covered with fabric, while the romantic while ruffles of the Swan dress are every little girls dream of a fantasy wedding dress. The quirkiest costume has to be the quilted floor length gold coat covered in padded gold fabric points depicting the humble hedgehog. A perusal of the folio books complete with hand annotations by the artist offers an insight into the making process behind each costume.
Worn to be Wild is a touring exhibition by Kate Plumtree. It can be seen at Guildford House Gallery, Guildford, Surrey until 20th April 2013, admission is free. It then moves to the Gallery in Oldham from 27 April to 14 July and on to Maidstone Museum and Bentleiff Art Gallery from 20 July to 3 November. In 2014 it appears at Scarborough Art Gallery from 26th January to 22 March before moving on to the Tullie House Gallery and Museum in Carlisle from 28 June to 5 October. Although not a huge show it is well worth seeing, so if you have some time to spare when it is near to you it’s definitely worth a look.
(Note: Please do not share the images on this blog post. All copyright for costumes belongs to Kate Plumtree).