Episode 12: Queen Zenobia Gown

By Sotheby's

At Chatsworth, carefully preserved historical garments tell the story of some of British society’s most fashion-forward aristocrats. Among the Duchesses of Devonshire were several true tastemakers, notably Georgiana, wife of the 5th Duke – her flair for late 18th-century fashion was well documented in paintings by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds. Fashion played a special part in the life of Duchess Deborah, who wore the designs of her friend Hubert de Givenchy and whose granddaughter is model Stella Tennant. Duchess Louise, a highly influential hostess and wife of the 8th Duke, wore a particularly jaw-dropping gown to her ball in the summer of 1897, the social event of the season: “If you wanted to be part of the in-crowd, you had to be invited to this ball,” says Susie Stokoe, Chatsworth’s head of textiles. Sparing no expense, Duchess Louise dressed as the exotic, fictional Queen Zenobia, dazzling guests with hundreds of silver sequins, head-to-toe embroidery and a gold-tissue underskirt.

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