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The Art of Costume at Russborough House

Last weekend I made my way down to beautiful County Wicklow for the newly opened exhibition 'The Art of Costume' at Russborough House, organized by the Irish Costume Archive Project. A gorgeous Irish country home and dreamy period costumes? This had my name all over it.

I booked an early tour ticket as I really wanted to avoid any crowds and take my time in soaking the surroundings of the house. As I arrived there was hardly anyone around, the place gently waking up to the glorious sunshine, with birds playfully sweeping above the colonnade and the green metal chairs still unoccupied and scattered around the edge of the large park with its incredible vista.

As I was a little early for my tour I had a chance to have a quick browse around the shop, which was beautifully stocked with many quirky, vintage-style gifts. I had a quick peek inside the café too, beautifully styled and decorated. Later the same room would be throbbing with people - it is obviously a very popular place for local families to come and meet in. Both shop and café have been designed with attention to detail to to fit sensitively within the interiors and structure of the house, which is great to see, and not always a given in tourist locations.

My 10am tour was led by Jack who was a pleasure to meet - knowledgeable, enthusiastic and perfectly attired, sporting a very vintage 1930s look (which around these parts we obviously appreciate.)

Rather than being laid out in a separate display room, The Art of Costume exhibits are displayed organically within the various rooms, and are therefore enjoyed whilst taking the guided house tour. Interestingly the costumes were never referenced at all by the guide. Rather than a narrative or a chronological order, the curators have opted for the exhibits to be simply placed in visual dialogue with the specific room they are in, the idea being they are simply there for visitors to take in and enjoy as added visual elements to the beautiful surroundings.

You can expect to see a selection of costumes from movies shot in Ireland - from Normal People through to The Favourite, The Tudors, and more. My personal favourite (not surprising if you know me as you'll know I have an interest in military uniforms and their design) was the uniform worn by Liam Neeson as Michael Collins. Seen up close it was extraordinarily realistic and would have fooled anyone into thinking it was a genuine period piece, down to its leather lace up boots.

But the most wonderful surprise for me was the house itself: I had come for the costumes, and didn't expect I'd leave with eyes and heart full of the incredible beauty of its interiors, from its flamboyant stucco ceilings to the precious (and at various times pillaged) art collection, every item - down to the wedding photos - still reflecting the vibrant lives of the last owners of the property, Sir Alfred and Clementine, Lady Beit. The tour is also a loving tribute to this glamorous London couple, who counted amongst their friends Coco Chanel, Cecil Beaton and many others - a couple who lived fully and beautifully. Towards the end of their lives, not having had any children, they decided to gift their treasures to the Irish state.

Upstairs two bedrooms remain open for visitors to visit - revealing what is now hands down my favourite bedroom in Ireland - a (very Claridge's!) 1930s dream of pastel green and monogrammed tiles, with its rounded wall and communicating door with the 'male' bedroom next door, smaller and more austere, yet just as elegantly appointed. Suitcases and a silk dressing gown still propped and waiting, as if life might resume there any moment.

The Art of Costume at Russborough House runs until 16th October.


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