SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Crawleys — or at least their apparel — have made it to South Bend.
From matriarch to maid, servant to soldier, bustles and baubles galore, finery for the fictional family from “Downton Abbey” has taken up temporary residence at The History Museum in the form of “Dressing Downton.” The exhibit is one last opportunity to revel in the lavish world that captivated audiences across the world, and for some, triggered obsession with afternoon teas, viewing parties and websites dedicated to all things “Downton.”
The show, which ran on ITV in the United Kingdom and PBS in the United States, follows the aristocratic Crawley family and the lives of those in their Yorkshire household in the post-Edwardian era, from 1912 to 1925. The show received worldwide accolades during its run, including the Emmy and Golden Globe awards for best miniseries before the final season aired earlier this year in the United States.
The costumes themselves are award-winning — quite a bit of them are new construction, but a surprising amount are either pieces of or entirely original dresses from the time period. You can travel through time with this exhibit, beginning with popular fashion at the time of the Titanic’s sinking and ending with the rising hems and plunging necklines of the 1920s.
The costume exhibit’s stop in South Bend has been in the planning phase for a couple of years now, according to Marilyn Thompson, the museum’s marketing director.
“When you’re thinking about this and planning it, your imagination creates images in your mind,” she said, surrounded by costumes, crates and other props in the gallery where the museum has set up the exhibit. “When reality comes, you think your imagination had no idea.”
Nancy Lawson, co-curator of the “Dressing Downton” exhibition, puts the show up and tears it down at the end of each run. The costumes came from CosProp in London and the exhibit was coordinated by Exhibits Development.
“The biggest problem with costume exhibitions, for me, is the mannequins, because we’re used to seeing costumes on people, and these mannequins can be sort of staid,” Lawson said. “But these costumes are not like costumes you see at your community theater, or your high school or college. These are the best of the best. There’s beautiful workmanship, and beautiful materials and fabrics. A lot of people will be drawn to this show — obviously the people who love ‘Downton Abbey’ are going to be thrilled.”
Lawson wants visitors to see the costumes in the way actors and crew got to see them while filming — close up, noticing the details the camera may miss.
“The rest of the costume can be extraordinary, truly extraordinary, and nobody gets to see that,” she said. “These costumes, which are iconic for this show, get to have a whole other life and be experienced in a more personal way. You don’t have that television screen — you’re right there.”
Lawson is always asked about the costumes — are these the actual costumes worn by Dame Maggie Smith? Yes, they’re the real thing, Lawson says. These costumes are not copies.
Some of Lawson’s favorite costumes are not elaborate. In fact, she calls them “simple” — the soldier’s uniform for Matthew Crawley, played by Dan Stevens, and the simple skirt and blouse worn by Lady Mary Crawley, played by Michelle Dockery. But they come from a poignant scene where, during World War I, Mary believes Matthew has died. While she sings to some convalescing soldiers, Matthew walks into the room and begins singing with her.
“It’s a very simple, quiet moment that I felt was very well written and acted,” Lawson says. “Here, we are telling a story, just like ‘Downton Abbey’ is a story. That platform that holds those two simple costumes tells a beautiful moment in the story. It’s not the silk and tiaras, the sequins and bugle beads, as much as I like that — and we have a lot of that in this show.”
The gallery at The History Museum where the show has been placed is one of the larger galleries the exhibit has been in. So far, tickets are selling well. Roughly 40 percent of ticket sales so far have come from local residents, Thompson said, while 40 percent come from the region and 20 percent come from the rest of the country. Once the Chicago stop sold out of tickets, the number of calls to South Bend for tickets increased dramatically.
The exhibit also has a supplemental audio tour for an additional $5 that includes information not found in the placards next to the costumes. Thompson says it’s a nice touch for more immersion in the show, and includes clips from “Downton Abbey,” as well as interviews from production staff.
In addition to the “Dressing Downton” exhibition, the museum is holding at least a dozen scheduled afternoon teas through the show’s run, as well as a music event in partnership with Fischoff competition winners the Jasper Quartet and a coordinated exhibit with local historical wardrobes through “Clothing Copshaholm,” on display in the Oliver mansion now.
This is also the first time in the history of the museum that an exhibit is scheduled with timed entrance tickets. A limited number of walk-in tickets will be available each day, but most visitors will need to buy a ticket in advance.
“Sometimes when I go to costume exhibits, they’re so crowded, you can’t see the gosh-darn costumes,” Lawson said. “Because it’s timed, people will really be able to enjoy the costumes. They’ll be able to walk around, see the backs, the sides and the front. They’ll see what they’re favorite characters wore.”
Source: South Bend Tribune, http://bit.ly/2dzsnRf
Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com
This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by the South Bend Tribune.